unPHILtered – Phil Ponce's Blog

Where Political Ghosts Lived

Tonight we’re doing a segment on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Nixon debates–the first of which took place at the now-torn-down CBS building at 630 N. McClurg Court.  You know the bullet points:

  • Kennedy looked tan and fit; Nixon looked as though he’d been embalmed.
  • People who saw the debate on TV thought Kennedy won; those who heard it on the radio gave it to Nixon.
  • Both Kennedy and Nixon believed it was critical in determining the final outcome of the race.

I worked at WBBM-TV when it was still located on McClurg Court.  Studio 1, where the first and pivotal debate took place, was located near the front of the building and I’d walk by it every day on my way to and from the newsroom.  Later, Studio 1 was used for the Phil Donahue show, the Mike Ditka show and as a news studio.

But because of the debate, Studio 1 was a point of pride for people who worked in the building.  Invariably, when we had visitors, we’d show them Studio 1 and mention the debate in somewhat reverential tones, expecting the visitor to be impressed.  They often were.  When I used to tape the public affairs show “Common Ground” in Studio 1, it would sometimes occur to me that I might be sitting at or near the same spot where they stood.

To share the same physical space that great people once used or where a great event took place is an odd feeling–both cool and creepy at the same time.  And I have to say that most of the times I walked past the studio, I would think about Kennedy and Nixon for a split second.  It was almost as though their ghosts were still there, each at his podium, one looking like a Hollywood star, the other gaunt and pasty – two historic figures in an enduring tableau.  That space is now gone; my only memento–a half-brick retrieved from the rubble by a friend.

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A Mid-Term Report Card

Recently, a Chicago Tribune story had a headline asking if President Obama was the “Velcro president,”  that is, whether he was being personally blamed for too many things.  We are now coming up to the half-way mark of the president’s term–a good time to assess how he’s doing overall.  And that’s exactly what I will do at a public forum tomorrow evening at Loyola University Chicago.  Some of the questions we’ll ask a top-notch panel include:

  • To what extent has the president kept his campaign promises?
  • Have the media been fair in holding him accountable?
  • Assess the media coverage thus far
  • Is it still credible to assert that there is a liberal bias in the media?
  • How effective have conservative media outlets/commentators been in shaping public discourse on the president’s decisions?

Below are the particulars (as lifted from a Chicago Headline Club press release):

TUESDAY: Ponce Hosts Media Panel to Assess Obama’s Midterm Performance

WHAT: Chicago Tonight anchor Phil Ponce and a panel of distinguished journalists and commentators will discuss media coverage of President Barack Obama, at “Promises Kept/Promises Broken: The Media’s Midterm Assessment of Barack Obama,” a forum at Loyola University Chicago.

•    Mary Mitchell, columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times
•    Paul Green, director of Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University, and political analyst for WGN radio
•    Alden Loury, publisher of the Chicago Reporter, an investigative bi-monthly focusing on race and poverty issues in metropolitan Chicago
•    Dan Miller, a policy advisor at the Heartland Institute, the Chicago-based free market think tank

WHEN: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14

WHERE: Loyola’s Water Tower Campus:  Kasbeer Hall, on the 15th Floor of Corboy Law Center, 25 E. Pearson St. A campus map is available at: http://www.luc.edu./valuess/campus/vt_watertower.html

DETAILS: Admission is free and open to the public, and there will be complimentary refreshments. The event is sponsored by Loyola’s School of Communications and its Student Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Chicago Headline Club, http://www.headlineclub.org

If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and join us!

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Who’s Your Daddy?

Of all the things that have been written about Mayor Daley’s decision not to run again, what Mary Schmich wrote in the Trib resonated the most with me.  She wrote that Daley was the city’s father figure, warts and all, and that love him or not,  Chicagoans may have grown to depend on him more than they care to admit.

I think Mary’s on to something.  At its core, political leadership can tap into our need for authority figures who we think have our interests in mind and make us feel safe and protected.  Taken to an unhealthy extreme, you have Kim Jong Il.  But there can be a type of transference that takes place in which familial instincts kick in to the political arena.  And that ain’t necessarily a bad thing.

I once read a book about losing one’s father in which the author uses the following analogy.  Imagine living in a house that overlooks a mountain range.  Some days you look at the range and others you don’t–but you always know it’s there.  One day you happen to look at it and you notice one of the mountains has disappeared. Gone.  And there is an empty spot where a mountain once stood.  It’s jolting.  The void is real and disconcerting–a feeling which can last for some time.

Right now the scrum to replace Daley is just beginning in earnest.  And eventually there will be a new mountain in the range.  But it’s hard to imagine one as imposing as the old one–even if the old one had scary drop-offs, unexpected crevasses, and the potential for the occasional avalanche.

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A Word About the N-Word

Recently I was at the DuSable Museum and heard a talk on the history of Chicago’s African-Americans by Timuel Black.  Black is 91 years old, a noted local historian, educator and activist who personally knew a “Who’s Who” of prominent black Americans, including Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, and Ralph Metcalfe, to name a few.  Black is the kind of person who has forgotten more than the rest of us will ever know.

Black spoke about his family’s own remarkable history, telling the audience that his ancestors were once slaves of the family of future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black.  He said that a relationship with Hugo Black’s family continued into the 20th century with that family acting as informal “sponsors” to his own.  Timuel Black said that, because of that relationship, his own father was given some latitude by whites in their hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.  With a touch of melancholy in his voice, Black said,  ” He was considered Hugo Black’s n_____.”

Hearing the word in any context is jarring to me.  But in the context of this speech, coming from this speaker, and in that location, it felt totally appropriate.  It was used in the context of history by a person who had the authority–and the right– to use it.

I thought of that in relationship to the most recent flap over the word– its use by talk show host Laura Schlessinger, who then left her radio job as a result.  Is there a First Amendment issue?  No, you can use it.  But there are real-world consequences, sometimes serious ones.  Should there be?  That question is the basis for an ongoing and complex debate.

Mary Mitchell wrote about it recently in the Sun-Times and cut the Gordian knot when she wrote:  “Yes, I recognize this prohibition is a double standard.  But given the painful history the word carries, this is a double standard that whites ought to be able to live with.”

Mary’s right.  There’s probably no other word like it in our culture.  It shouldn’t be that hard to understand why.

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Don’t Let Your Boss Read This

Ever roll your eyes when a colleague was on a charm offensive with the boss, buttering him or her up in a way that was obvious to everyone in the workplace but the Buttered One?  Well, news flash:  fawning over and flattering your boss can actually get you ahead!

According to a new Northwestern University study, subtle sycophants succeed.  Flattering the boss (and your co-workers) can be an effective career strategy, but it has to be done with a light touch, otherwise it can come across as flagrant scheming or manipulation.  As the Wicked Witch of the West so famously said, “These things must be handled delicately.”  

The author of the study is quoted in the Sun-Times as saying you should be indirect.  So, instead of saying you think your boss is brilliant, ask how she was able to pull off a move so successfully: “Eunice, how did you manage that?”  The author goes on to say that before you pour it on, acknowledge your boss’s modesty and aversion to compliments (yeah, right!)

Also noteworthy–the author’s observations that some professions lend themselves to flattery and ingratiating behavior–politics, law, and sales (I’m shocked!)–while others may not–engineering, accounting, or finance.  And that may explain why people from the first cluster tend to end up as bosses themselves.

Anyway, I’m sharing all this information knowing that a person with your exemplary traits has far too much integrity to ever misuse it.  But I do have a question for you:  “How did you become the kind of discerning person that reads a blog like mine?”  I sincerely want to know.

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