The Daily Herald just did a three-part editorial entitled “Our Dwindling Democracy,” in which their editorial board lamented a lack of local candidates. That’s certainly not a bad thought and they should be commended for it, but I can’t bring myself to do that, because that newsroom’s consistent failure to apply any kind self-reflective capacity bugs the crap out of me.
Don’t get me wrong, the DH did get a few things right. Illinois does have too many levels of local government and our nominating petition process makes it too easy to commit a mortal error.
That said, they could’ve been clearer about how campaigns take a mental toll and candidates can end up broke with nothing to show for it. They also forgot that many mayoral and city council gigs aren’t really “part-time,” and my infamous quote, “Threatening to throw someone off the school board is like threatening to stop beating them with a 2 x 4.”
But what really frosts my cookies is the Daily Herald has no clue as to their role in discouraging people from running for office.
Let’s start with their lack of any real journalistic effort. The last in-depth story the DH did was Melissa Silverberg’s magnificent series on the East Aurora School District. But that was back in May of 2016. If our local papers aren’t willing to expose the entitlement mentalities that often plague our local boards, then who will?
Don’t tell me they don’t have the resources to do it either. Ward & Jones is all of two people and I break more stories than the entire DH.
Take my recent series on the compromised Kane County Public Defender emails. The DH actually got their hands on it first, but they either didn’t grasp the magnitude of the problem or they simply didn’t care.
To make matters so much worse, the DH’s endorsement process is so fraught with peril that new candidates don’t have a shot.
Their automated notice system doesn’t always work. They put too many hopefuls in the same room which turns the interview into a debate. Editors rely on candidate surveys and an hour-long interview to make their final decision and then they endorse folks who fail to submit a survey and/or don’t show up for the interview.
The Daily Herald endorsed so many incumbents this round that I’ve been giving Geneva Second Ward alderman Rich Marks all sorts of crap grief for being the only they didn’t. So why should new candidates answer their call to run?
But where the DH’s holier-than-thou attitude truly falls flat is their political coverage, especially when it comes to new candidates. Here’s a perfect example.
Despite the plethora of pithy information Batavia mayoral candidate Jason Stoops provided at a local forum, Sue Sarkauskus chose to highlight his sanctuary city answer. I may be fond of Sue, but she knew damn well it was a meaningless question and she led with that low-hanging fruit anyway.
And sure enough! The Batavia crazies were all over Jason. Of course, the real headline was how well he performed against a 9-term incumbent, but that wouldn’t generate the next easy story, now would it?
Meanwhile, DH reporter Jim Fuller openly admits he pits politicians and candidates against each other to make his job easier. The truth is, the worst reporter can make mincemeat out of novice candidates who haven’t learned how to handle the press yet.
The day Harry Hitzeman actually gets a story right I’ll start rooting for the White Sox.
The ironic result of this vast hypocrisy is, beyond prepared statements, local campaign managers no longer let their clients talk to the press. And they carefully practice all forum and debate answers too – neither of which adds to the political process.
Given my carefully crafted argument, I’m going to ask the Daily Herald a question that’s just dripping with irony! “Why should anyone run for office when your journalistic standards are so low, your endorsement process borders on unethical, and your reporters regularly set up new candidates to get the next story and sell newspapers?”
So here’s my thought. Perhaps I’ll purchase a very large mirror for that main Paddock Publishing Arlington Heights newsroom. And perhaps the day will come when an enterprising editor or reporter stares into it and, in the words of the great cartoonist, suddenly shouts, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”
I won’t hold my breath.