click image for larger viewThe Chicago Tribune took time off from its second favorite activity of bashing labor to concentrate on its first: shilling for the overprivileged. In a pre-emptive strike as brazen as it was disgusting, the paper used their editorial page to call for the destruction of Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital, currently the focus of a major preservation battle.
Alderman Brendan Reilly recently won a 60 delay in Northwestern University's intention to file for a demolition permit for the structure, pending a re-use study currently being completed by a team headed by Landmarks Illinois. That study should be released soon, but the Tribune couldn't wait. It swallowed Northwestern's arguments whole, especially one about how the building "uses only one about one-third of the square footage that could be comfortably built on the site." Translation: let's have another massive, sidewalk to sidewalk behemoth of the type that has made the Northwestern hospital campus one of the most oppressive and unattractive districts in the city. Has anyone at the Tribune editorial board actually taken the time to go see it? Or the the full empty block Northwestern has already leveled just across the street, which stands behind cheap, ugly fences with no sign of life?
The Tribune tries to hide behind their support for saving the old County Hospital to justify its action, but that just falls into their standard MO. County Hospital was, of course, a government agency, and we all know - because the Tribune tells us - that all government is bad and infantile, so throwing a sop on saving County Hospital is a good way to humor the children. To the Tribune, however, a private interest like Northwestern is sacred, never to be troubled with tough questions; only served.
The only remaining question is Trib architecture critic Blair Kamin's role in this. Did the Trib editorial board do this to defuse Kamin's potential opposition to demolishing Prentice, or did they do it with Kamin's active participation? His readers deserve to know.
Postscript: And Blair did respond, with suitable umbrage, in a comment you can see appended to this post. "You're asking a ridiculous question," he wrote. "Of course I had nothing to do with the writing of today's Tribune editorial."
I responded that, given the timing of the Tribune's editorial coming so close on the heels of Kamin's April 4th article, the question was anything but ridiculous. This is Chicago, where a City News Bureau editor once famously ordered a cub reporter, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."
The fact that Blair had nothing to do with the writing of the editorial is a two-edged sword. On one edge, it leaves his journalistic integrity unsullied. On the other, what does it say when a paper's editorial board rushes into print an editorial directly contervailing the views of its Pulitzer-Prize winning critic that doesn't even acknowledge that he made them?
As I mentioned originally, the claims in the Tribune editorial are deceptive, dissembling and largely untruthful. Vince Michael does an excellent job of taking them apart one by one, and you can read his analysis here.
Later on Monday, Blair, whose writing is often so measured it can be difficult to make out where he stands on a controversial issue, made himself exceptionally clear: "It would be a travesty to demolish old Prentice." Let the battle be joined.