“He Works for the People of Illinois”
Republican for U. S. Senator
Suite 4406, 30 E. Huron Street
Chicago, IL 60611-4723
Toll-free tel. (866) 706-ANDY
Toll-free fax (866) 707-ANDY
Web site: www.AndyforUSSenator.com
January 10, 2008
Mr. Sam Zell
435 N. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
WHY NEWSPAPERS ARE LOSING READERS
I thought I would send you an open letter as the new CEO of the Chicago Tribune to explain why newspapers are losing readers and losing credibility with the American public and the People of Illinois.
Newspapers often complain that not enough people run for office. Papers decry the fact that successful business people avoid politics like the plague. But when individuals with some experience in life actually do run for office, they are abused and insulted by the print media. Consequently, only a complete idiot or someone who cares very deeply about our democracy will run the gauntlet of being a candidate for office.
Let me compare and contrast the way newspapers treat candidates, with the way they are increasingly treated by broadcasters.
Recently your competitor for advertising dollars, Channel 7, ABC Chicago decided voters wanted more information and less filtered information about candidates. They invited me (and others) to either submit a prepared 5-minute statement or offered to produce one for free at the station. I accepted the free offer.
The three candidates who are running are now juxtaposed on a web site:
You can get a sense of who the candidates are, how they present themselves, and what is important to them, since the candidates obviously prepared their own unfiltered presentation. I hope voters like me and decide to vote for me. But anyone and everyone can compare and contrast me to my opponents, and also get some answers to questions which the station created.
I don’t know when print media started “endorsing” candidates for office, but they have persisted with this practice long after the public has lost any confidence in newspaper endorsements. Why is that?
Perhaps my experience as a senate candidate will offer you and other publishers, and ordinary citizens, some perspectives on the flawed and very likely outdated process of endorsing candidates.
I was invited to a debate at the Chicago Tribune in December and appeared. One of my opponents was “too busy” and failed to make the date, although his campaign schedule (on the web) showed it was vacant on that day. The Tribune editors could not have been more gracious and professional. But wait. How will I appear on the day of judgment (endorsement)? As an ignorant buffoon with the temerity to challenge the corrupt Combine? As a caricature? No one knows.
As a young law student, my professor Roger Finley said “Nothing is so unrecognizable as your own case when it is being regurgitated by a reviewing court that is ruling against you.” I guess the same is true for newspaper endorsements.
Last month I also appeared at the Pioneer Press for an editorial interview. They kept me for 1-1/2 hours and we had a spirited and intelligent debate. But when the Pioneer press decided to endorse my opponent, I was reduced to an epithet. There was no mention of my worldwide reputation, my experience in the Middle East, my year in Baghdad, or my successful battles against corruption in Illinois [see AndyMartin.com]. Reading the Pioneer paper you would have thought I was something of a jerk who wanted to ride on a train. Is that a reasonable portrayal? Most people would say no.
Last month I also had to break an appointment with the Peoria Journal Star. I offered to reschedule, but they said they were too busy. To date I have not heard. Running a statewide campaign in a state 400 miles long, in bad weather, is a challenging process, especially given Illinois highways. Add normal family challenges and you often need to revamp a schedule. If a newspaper is too busy to hear from a candidate for statewide office, what are they too busy doing? A few days ago a Journal Star reporter reduced my campaign to an epithet. Maybe that’s what readers in Peoria want and expect. Maybe Peoria voters will go on the net and find the Channel 7 videos. The information is there for them to access.
Yesterday I was interviewed at the Daily Herald. The editorial page editor seemed to be in a hurry, even though I was the invitee, not the initiator. He was interested in a 25 year-old lawsuit. As a public interest lawyer I have filed hundreds of public interest lawsuits. These cases are designed to vindicate public rights. I have one pending to block the budget shenanigans by the Governor concerning the RTA/CTA. There were no questions about that case, which is of vital concern to Herald readers.
And so it goes.
Here are my conclusions. People today expect facts, unfiltered, so they can make their own decisions about politics and candidates. “Editorials” that smear and abuse candidates for office turn people off. The Pioneer Press reported in deadpan fashion that one of my opponents wants to take away jury trials to protect the assets of wealthy doctors, as though that was a rational suggestion. What? As Senator Bob Dole would have said, “Where’s the outrage?” The Pioneer papers endorsed the comic book candidate-to be cannon fodder for the Democrats in November.
On the issue of the First Amendment, I take a very liberal approach, despite my generally conservative views in other areas. I am close to an absolutist. Let people publish. But hold publishers accountable for the truth. I do not favor censorship. But, on the other hand, if publishers persist in abusing participants in the political process, it won’t be long before more and more readers turn off, and tune out the newspaper channel.
For myself, I love print media. I read the Tribune, Sun-Times, New York Times and Wall Street Journal every day for starters. Frankly, despite my conflicts with a small number of Tribune reporters, I think the Tribune is an outstanding editorial product. I hope that you make changes gradually, and only on a very measured basis. I’ll have more on that later.
My guess is that unless the print media start telling their readers the truth, and reporting factually and accurately about candidates for office, without “endorsements” that reduce successful individuals to rubble, qualified candidates will continue to avoid entering the political arena, and newspaper readership will continue to decline. That would be sad.
You and I are alike in many ways. We have both survived by defying the conventional wisdom. And perhaps in this letter I am again suggesting where you may again defy the conventional wisdom of newspaper editors of yesteryear, so that future newspaper readers will have access to candidates on a more reasonable and unfiltered basis.
Voters as well as writers are free to disagree with me, but no one can erase my outstanding career of 40 years public service. Trying to do so only undermines confidence in the publishing industry.
See you on February 6th.
With personal regards,
P.S. Thirty years ago, Tribune editors wrote that I was an “absolutely brilliant campaigner.” The views of that era did stand the test of time. You will be happy to know that the Durbin/Martin race is going to sell a lot of newspapers between February and November.