Chicagoland Review – 10 points on Episode 2 & 3

CJP’s latest installment in our running review of “Chicagoland,” CNN’s ‘docudrama’ on our fair city.

Chicagoland Review: 10pts on Episode 2 & 31.  Context:  It was verified in episode two that there just is not going to be any context whatsoever to the events covered by Chicagoland. It seems the producers picked a spot in time to turn the cameras on and just could not care less about providing viewers with the context to properly understand the events that were unfolding when they started taping.  I am not sure if this journalism or some sort of reality show. It’s certainly not GOOD journalism.

2.  The Unchallenged Billion is back:  That’s right folks, once again we hear about the billion dollar shortfall CPS is facing — with CPS bureaucrats now citing reasons like declining revenues, pay hikes, and steep pension increases.  It ‘s hard to take any reporting on this issue remotely seriously that does not mention the impact of TIFs. Oddly, while CPS continues to assert that it has no money to support local community schools, if the schools are charters then they’ve got plenty of dough. This entire anomaly goes unchallenged in Episodes 2 and 3, despite the fact that this kind of financial shell game is at the heart of school privatization schemes across the nation.

3. “Listen to the Facts”:  This exact quote was uttered by Barbara Byrd Bennet, the Chicago Public Schools CEO. Too bad the schools have put forth few facts that have not been completely blown out of the water by rigorous reporting by Catalyst and WBEZ.  I don’t think there is any credibility to a single fact they would put out.  If CPS told me I had 10 toes, I would stop and count them a couple times.

4. The Fiction of Job Creation:  In the second episode of Chicagoland, the Mayor is seen responding to a question about the fact that some reporter has not been able to find a single expert that says investing taxpayer dollars to build a new basketball stadium for private DePaul University is a good investment. In response, the Mayor quotes huge numbers of jobs that will be created – but these numbers, of course, remain unverified, as well.  Now, one would think that a global news network like CNN would have the resources to at least attempt to review the accuracy of the Mayor’s claims, but no, those numbers go unchallenged — and the producers undertake zero examination of the fact that Chicago is going to use something like $150 million in TIF funds to develop the DePaul stadium and related hotel projects.

5. Community vs. Institutional Responsibility for Violence:  Nowhere in the first three episodes has there been analysis by CNN about who is responsible for the violence in these communities.  In Episode Two, we see the Mayor stop by a community anti-violence event and offer his support. They don’t particularly need him to be there — but they sure could use the taxpayer-funded city resources the Mayor is diverting away from these communities to serve the ultra rich, like the $150,000,000 that we are investing in the DePaul Stadium and surrounding area.  At the event, the Mayor talks about addressing the violence with better policing, prevention and summer jobs.  Wow, got to give it to him for his lack of originality. Daley said the same thing at the same events for 25 years. The Mayor should at least cite Daley at the source of his schtick.

By far the three worst issues with the documentary so far have been the coverage of the march at Fenger, the discussion between Principal Elizabeth Dozier and restaurateur Billy Dec, and the conversation between the Mayor and Dozier. Why?  Because all of them are perfect examples of the utter lack of institutional responsibility but CNN blows the reporting of all three. The Mayor cites the pension issue and of course it goes unchallenged.

6. The March:  There is nothing wrong with schools organizing peace marches, but as has been proven before in Chicago more times than I can count, they have very little long-term impact in communities. Why? Because the roots of the problems these communities confront are much deeper and much more systemic. A march is not going to lead to true economic development, build schools, and create living wage jobs. What will? The full and total commitment from city hall to invest in communities, support not basketball stadiums but large scale investment in low and no-skill living wage job creation, and investing heavily in our public schools.

Donate Button7. Fundraising for Public Education: I am not blaming Dozier for seeking out funding opportunities, but clearly there are systemic problems with our society when school principals are forced to raise private dollars to support basic services within their schools. This kind of fundraising discussion should be to support some sort of expensive extracurricula activity that CPS just doesn’t have the funds to support, like a class trip to the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.

It turns out that the filming at Fenger occurred last school year. That makes it easy for Chicagoland producers to do a little digging to examine the impact on Fenger now that it is no longer a turn-around school. Of course, the producers have done nothing of the sort. Thankfully, Catalyst has:

“Fenger lost 36 of 100 staff members, including 10 teachers, four security guards and the school’s social worker.”

Anyone want to guess how this affected the quality of education and atmosphere at Fenger?

8. Holiday Weekend Violence: Chicagoland talks about the bloody weekend Chicago experienced over the Fourth of July in 2013. All this is a replication of a consistent media hyping Chicago violence.  No weekend I have ever heard of starts on Wednesday, and trying to use the numbers from this weekend to compare to other weekends throughout the year is simply wrong. The violence levels certainly are not good, but exploiting violence in underserved communities to scare up ratings is dishonest and disgusting.

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9. Cook County Trauma: I though the idea to go to Cook County was interesting – and could have been applauded if they had actually done any reporting while they were there. It’s a hell of story about why all the shootings from the south side end up at Cook County hospital – including the University of Chicago Hospital’s refusal to take adult ER patients who also happen to be overwhelmingly non-white and poor — but then that would be adding context to the issue, and it seems context just does not fit well in this “reality” show.

Chicagoland could have been one hell of a series if all they focused on was the impact of violence on Cook County’s patients, staff and communities — and if the series had contextualized why Cook County gets so many shooting victims from the south side of our city. Actually, Chicagoland could have been one hell of a series if they focused on just one of the issues facing Chicago and actually explored it thoroughly and honestly. It’s not like there’s a shortage of drama in the political shenanigans that drive resource starvation and human misery in our city.

10. Gun Control as Weak Link: Once again in Episode 3 we watch an unchallenged claim by our Mayor take center stage.  There is little doubt that gun control does have a role to play in impacting the character of violence in Chicago. However, once again there is no discussion about poverty, racism, and segregation in Chicago. Nore is there any examination of the institutional policies that have brought us to this point and that are reinforcing the systems to ensure that power and resources stay allocated as they are.  CNN could have asked the Mayor at least one simple question to contextualize the issues at play here: namely why an investment of $150 million dollars for a private institution that supports the economic benefit of very rich white people is appropriate when we are divesting from schools because we don’t have the money to support.

But they haven’t, yet. And I won’t hold my breath that they will in upcoming episodes.

Tracy has nearly two decades of experience researching and working within criminal justice systems. When Tracy began pursuing a career dedicate to system reform, he found that no single organization existed to promote evidence-based discussions among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Recognizing that citizens in Chicago deserved the right to demand transparency in their criminal justice system, Siska established the Chicago Justice Project. He received his Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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