Real journalism with real facts gave Chicago a beautiful central library, the Harold Washington Library.
It was the 1980s, and a bulldog Chicago Sun-Times reporter, Charles Nicodemus, revealed how a second-rate plan for a new central library — to be housed in an abandoned Goldblatt’s store on State Street — would never work for the most basic of reasons: The floors were not designed to safely hold the weight of so many books.
Before long, thanks to “Nico” and this newspaper, Chicago found the good sense to chuck the Goldblatt’s idea and build an entirely new and appropriate library instead.
We remind you of this not to brag. It’s just that we’ve been thinking a lot more lately about how our work — and the work of journalists across the country — really matters.
And we dread the damage being done to a free press, an informed public and our American way by a president who says black is white, good is evil and real is fake. We worry about the deep and lasting damage that he and his quasi-official state media operation, Fox News, are doing to our country.
Look no further than what President Trump had to say on Tuesday in a speech at a convention for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“Stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news,” the president said, motioning to reporters at the event, whom he routinely calls “the enemy of the people.”
Trump was annoyed this time because much of the non-Fox news coverage of his trade war with China and other countries has not been overly flattering. Most news outlets have reported the hard truth, based on real facts from the most credible sources, that Trump’s tariffs have American manufacturers and farmers worried as hell, especially in big agricultural states like Illinois.
This offended the president, who insists on always feeling the love. So he lashed out, as usual, and called it fake news. And he called it fake news again. And again.
And the VFW crowd jeered at the reporters.
It’s a funny thing, but if you repeat a falsehood long enough, a certain percentage of people will begin to believe it. If, for example, you tell people at least three times that a Scotsman’s kilt is really called a sari, some of those people will begin to believe it’s called a sari.
This willingness to believe any old nonsense, if repeated often enough, is called the “illusory truth effect,” wrote Lisa Fazio, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University who led a study three years ago into the phenomenon. “Repeated statements are easier to process, and subsequently perceived to be more truthful, than new statements,” Fazio wrote in summarizing her research.
But truth is truth, and real news is real news. How strange we feel the need to say that. And real news makes a real difference, almost always for the better.
It was because of reporting by the Sun-Times and others over many years — culminating in news coverage of the shooting of 16-year-old Laquan McDonald by a police officer — that true reform of the Chicago Police Department finally is being pursued. The Sun-Times pushed for federal court oversight of efforts to reform the department, and a consent decree between the city and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is about to be finalized.
It was because of Sun-Times reporting that former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew, who’d been sheltered from prosecution, finally was charged with manslaughter in the death of young David Koschman. When the nephew went off to jail, if only for 60 days, it was a good day for justice — for all — in Chicago.
It was Sun-Times reporters Jim DeRogatis and Abdon Pallasch who told the world in 2000 about singer R. Kelly’s pursuit of underage girls for sex. That haunts Kelly to this day, and lately his career has been taking a deserved tumble.
And it was the Sun-Times last year that challenged a plan to combine two South Side public golf courses into one fancy “championship” course. We asked: What will it cost taxpayers? Where’s the study that shows such a course would be used? How do you keep prices down so regular Chicagoans can afford to golf there?
We never got good answers because there were no good answers. And that golf course scheme has rightly stalled.
Just recently, a Sun-Times news story helped a pawn shop owner find a man to whom he wanted to return nine $100 savings bonds. You — our readers — located the fellow for us: a homeless veteran.
Heck, once we even got a kid his stolen dog back. As soon as we put the dog’s photo in the paper, it was quietly returned.
Real news based on real facts. Not a fake in the bunch.
And, not to get mushy about it, but what follows is a little better world.
A kilt is never a sari, no matter what this president might say.
Send letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org.