Chicago Dispatch: En Route To Obama Nation

I meet a nice woman in the airport who’s flying to California for her lesbian sister’s shotgun wedding. With Proposition 8 looming on the left coast, gay couples are rushing to tie knots. My new friend tells me that thousands of Mormons have been bussed into Cali to pass out hateful literature at busy intersections. Let’s hope at least a dozen of them get bulldozed.


On the Jet Blue cruise to Chicago I watch cable pundits holler, shout, and bicker. They’re past pathetic; if I ever become a hollow nonsense-slinging vulture please print this dispatch and deliver it to my country club. Clicking from “Morning” Joe Scarborough and tight Tucker Carlson to the Fox News frauds, I vindicate the decision to kill my television six months ago.


I’ll avoid canonizing Studs Terkel all week long. Not because he doesn’t warrant it – few Americans deserve the superlatives that writers have already pinned on him – but because I’m sure that every conscious observer on a pilgrimage to Chicago is already praising him plenty in their coverage. Still, it’s important to note at least one lesson that young journalists like myself can learn from Terkel’s legacy.


In his excellent obituary yesterday, Boston Globe Staff Writer Mark Feeney remembered how smooth Studs was with subjects. “He was the least intimidating of interviewers, with a famously warm and empathetic manner,” Feeney wrote. “As Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko said, ‘I could never imagine someone replying ‘no comment’ to Studs.’”


I’m an asshole in real life, but as a writer I know that subjects are useless unless you kiss their egos. Studs did that naturally, whereas I have to pretend. Nonetheless, I’m proud to know better than pundits who berate their guests. Too many reporters – particularly physically attractive, morally reprehensible young women vying to become high profile right wing hack bitches – think that’s how it’s done. They learned from the likes of Michelle Malkin and Bill O’Reilly. I learned from dudes like Studs Terkel.


Now let’s see if I can get just a few folks in his hometown to be half as candid with me as they were with Studs. As I head out to cop a Cubs hat and assimilate with Chicagoans, I’ll keep this quote of his in mind: “When you become part of something, in some way you count. It could be a march; it could be a rally, even a brief one. You're part of something, and you suddenly realize you count. To count is very important.”


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