“Innuendo, Lies, Smears, Character Assassinations and Male Chauvinist Tactics”

Jane Byrne WTTW copy

Jane Byrne

The upshot of this frantic deadline mission was that the early editions of the Tribune that hit the streets Saturday evening had the story blasted over its front page and spilling into multiple inside pages, and the Sun-Times didn’t. The Tribune’s headline screamed, “Secret City Report Cites Waste, Incompetence.” The lead (or “lede” for nostalgic romanticists of the linotype era) of the story on page one was a classic:

Exclusive report: A SECRET evaluation of the City of Chicago prepared for Mayor Byrne last spring at her request by a hand-picked team of advisers and later shelved by her administration found widespread waste and incompetence in the city government she inherited. The secret report, obtained Saturday by the Tribune, was apparently ignored, however, as the mayor and top officials of her administration deemed its recommendations for a general overhaul of the city’s governmental structure and the dismissal of several clout-heavy department heads politically inexpedient.

Chicago Tribune ReportWhen the Sun-Times’s Otwell saw that his paper’s exclusive had gone out the window, with the story already written in house, he was able to promptly recover and feature it on the front page of the later Sunday edition of the Sun-Times. Proving the adage that when it rains, it pours. both the Tribune and the Sun-Times had been gifted a new story element by Mayor Byrne. Splattered across the top of its later Sunday edition, the Tribune headline read, “Tribune barred from City Hall: Byrne.” The story lead explained:

Within hours of a published report critical of the way the city was run prior to her administration, Mayor Byrne called The Tribune city desk Saturday evening and said she would throw the paper’s reporters out of City Hall Monday morning. “Today’s paper was the last straw, “ she said. “Your paper will not have privileges at the City Hall press room. Never again will I respond to reports in the Chicago Tribune.”

The shocking new story line immediately seized the attention of all Chicago’s media as the television news departments now jumped into the mix with fevered stories and speculation on the imminent death of the First Amendment and the Mayor’s ongoing predicament of how to walk back her untenable promise.

The late edition of the Sunday Sun-Times also prominently featured the Tribune’s ouster and reported that a statement released by Byrne’s press secretary and husband Jay Mullen to the City News Bureau said:

“The Chicago Tribune has engaged in innuendo, lies, smears, character assassinations and male chauvinist tactics since Jane Byrne became mayor.”

Byrne added in an interview with the Sun-Times that the Tribune articles were but the latest in a long series of unfair attacks on her administration. She called the task force’s findings “ridiculous,” the Tribune’s reporting, “yellow journalism,” and said that the newspaper “only printed 85 percent of the story.” The Sun-Times story went on: The mayor said she would refuse to answer any questions posed by Tribune reporters and would refuse to comment to other reporters on stories carried by the newspaper.

Jay McMullen

She also repeated directly to the Sun- Times, “I will never, ever talk to them [the Tribune] again.” She also dismissed the advisory study itself as “unbelievable, naïve and superficial.”