Even now, 35 years later, it still seems improbable, almost impossible. That a newspaper and a watchdog organization could team up on an undercover operation that was so deep and so thorough is still mind-blowing three-and-a-half decades later. So is the audacity of what was done, a form of undercover reporting that was awarded a Pulitzer and then had that award taken away after colleagues questioned the ethics of such an investigation. But it all happened and what transpired at the Mirage Tavern, a bar that for a short time was used by the Sun-Times and the BGA to out graft and shakedowns by city officials, still resonates to this day.
The actual undercover part of the reporting took place at the Mirage Tavern, 731 N. Wells St. (now Brehon’s Pub), during 1977. But it was on January 8, 1978 that the first reports from Pamela Zekman and Zay N. Smith hit the front pages of the Sun-Times: payoffs, shakedowns, kickbacks, and tax fraud galore, all by city officials under the hidden eye of a team of reporters. The corruption that the investigation exposed has become the stuff of legend, both in Chicago and the world of journalism.
So, starting tomorrow and continuing for the next month, we’ll repost each original story as it first appeared in the Sun-Times on its corresponding date 35 years ago. Along the way, we’ll share other photos, stories and tidbits from the archives of both the Sun-Times and the BGA. Due to time and the quality of microfilm, some of the stories won’t be in the best of shape, but they’re still readable and worth the effort.
Bookmark this page to follow all the stories.
Special thanks is due to NYU who has a thorough archive of the original articles.