Monday, April 11, 2011

Chicago Tribune to Prentice: Drop Dead

Update: see the postscript at the end of this post.
click image for larger view
The 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.


Blair Kamin said...


You're asking a ridiculous question. Of course I had nothing to do with the writing of today's Tribune editorial. I already posted a strong piece supporting the preservation of old Prentice. You already linked to it on this blog. Stop casting aspersions when you have no grounds for them.

Blair Kamin

Lynn Becker said...

Not ridiculous at all. It confirms my original thesis. With its Pulitzer-Prize winning architecture critic simply shunted aside, this was an editorial about clout - nothing else. Look forward to seeing you continue to fight for Prentice even as the editorial board does everything it can to undermine your efforts. Responding to some of their more absurd assertions - see Vince Michael's post, link below - would be a good start.

Blair Kamin said...


It's typical of you to turn explanations of your outrageous flubs into self-serving putdowns of other writers. Congratulations on dragging down the level of Web journalism to a new low.

For your information, the Tribune editorial board writes what they think and I write what I think.
The editorial board is not bound to follow me and I am not bound to follow them.

Guess what? The New York Times editorial board did not always agree with Ada Louise Huxtable, either. Does that mean she was "shunted aside"? No, it means the Times editorial board had a different take on a given issue than she did. So be it.

It's a free country, Lynn, in case you haven't figured that out yet. And the editorial board of a newspaper has every right to express its opinions.

I look forward to you coming to terms with that hard-to-swallow truth--and to you stopping your gratuitous, self-promoting attacks on other journalists.



Michael said...

Have to agree with Lynn. Kamin has the architecture beat, the Trib writes an editorial about architecture, why would anyone assume he had nothing to do with it and wasn't consulted, even if we might assume (or not) that he wouldn't be the author?

Kamin seems to have a problem with blogs daring to poach on his turf. He might do better to have a problem with the editorial board doing so.

Lynn Becker said...

Oh my, poor Blair is offended. A critic who can't take criticism - what a surprise. Memo to Blair: your editorial board gets to have their opinion, you get to have your opinion: you don't get to dictate everyone else's opinion, most specifically, mine.

And my opinion remains that an editorial board at war with its own architecture critic is NOT normal, and that the only arguments put forth by the editorial board for demolishing Prentice that are not laughable and dishonest are those that express the Tribune's solidarity with Chicago's wealthiest, most powerful interests at the expense of the city and its heritage.

Blair Kamin said...

Your willful naivete amazes me, Lynn.

Newspaper editorial boards all sing in sweet harmony with their architecture critics? What are you smoking up there in Marina City?

I've worked at newspapers for three decades and, trust me, that sort of thing rarely happens in preservation battles like this one.

You're fond of trotting out the City News maxim, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." Well, I suggest that you take your own advice.

Check things out before you shoot from the hip next time. Do a little reporting and don't offer the feeble excuse, as you did with your recent slam on the Sun-Times' David Roeder, that you're a blogger and don't make calls and check out facts. That simply doesn't cut it.

I'm a blogger, too, Lynn, but I report what I write and I don't take cheap shots. My blog is infused with the values--and the rigor--of journalism. I would never pose an accusatory question, as you did yesterday, without having some factual basis for doing so.

To Michael's point--the old-fashioned split between bloggers and journalists is sooooooo over. Blogs are only as good as the reporting and analysis that goes into them. The day of the bloviating blogger is done.

I, for one, welcome the cut and thrust of arguments that come from all quarters, blogs included. I just expect them to have some basis in reality.

Over and out, Lynn. I'm sure you'll get the last word. After all, it's your blog. I'm leaving this time-sucking sideshow and going back to the main event: Seeing what I can do to help save old Prentice.


Lynn Becker said...

You actually sent me back to the Huxtable/NY Times issue, and what I found was that - while I'm sure they were instances of disagreement - when it came to a crucial battle like the one to save Penn Station, the editorial page supported the cause Huxtable championed - they didn't cut her off at the knees.

By all means, do spend your time working to save Prentice. And please don't spare your own paper. But please do spare us all your condescending lectures on the nature of journalism.

Since I believe we are now the last two people actually reading this thread, I join you in solidarity in pledging not to add anything further to it.

Readers everywhere applaud.

new house developments said...

Kamin seems to have a problem with blogs daring to poach on his turf. He might do better to have a problem with the editorial board doing so.

Anonymous said...

Nobody reads the Trib anymore anyways. Newspapers are shills for their Corporate masters. You will not get news, just subtle suggestions on how to think.