and the U of I Takeover
- During the period in early 1995 that the state legislature forced
Sangamon State University into the University of Illinois system,
the local media were particularly one-sided. Here's a letter I wrote
to columnists at the local newspaper about their claims to objectivity.
Letter (Never Printed...)
- February 26, 1995
Doug Finke, Kevin McDermott, and Amy E. Williams
- Statehouse Insider
- The State Journal-Register
- Springfield, Illinois
Dear Statehouse Insider:
I was interested in your column of February 26, in which you ridiculed
the notion that the State Journal-Register and other Springfield
media are "pawns of Hasara and other Republican bigwigs." Although I might
not have phrased a critique of the media in the same language used in
the anonymous letter to which you referred, the influence of political
considerations on media coverage is worth taking seriously.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about. I am a faculty member at
Sangamon State University. I have been very interested in media coverage
of SSU's merger with the University of Illinois and of the accompanying
amendment to state labor law that effectively ends faculty collective
bargaining at SSU. It is not unreasonable to ask whether the one-sided
presentation of the issues has been brought about by the newspaper's strong
support for the merger.
At first the media in Springfield simply ignored any information critical
of the proposed merger. When the State Journal-Register, Channel
20, and other local media mentioned the topic at all, you omitted anything
Only after the voting began did your newspaper mention the legislation's
anti-union nature. And then you just quoted Ron Ettinger, the union's
Legislative Director. Your paper did not verify that his interpretation
of the bill was accurate.
Only after the voting in the General Assembly was just about over did
the JR mention that the legislation might lead ultimately to higher
tuition and more selective entrance requirements at SSU&emdash;two points
I had made in a column I submitted to the
Journal-Register on January 19. (When I called the editor, Stephen
Fagan, two weeks after submitting my column, he assured me he would run
it. I'm still waiting.)
The JR's Doug Pokorski went beyond omission when he ran a story
three weeks ago claiming that the legislation would not affect SSU faculty
at all except for the change in the university's name. Since he knew about
the anti-union language at the time, his article was clearly deceptive.
When the vote was finally over, the JR's Kevin McDermott gave
a few more details. But he still failed to point out that the bill's anti-union
language came at the explicit demand of U of I President Stanley Ikenberry.
Similarly, there has been no mention in your newspaper of the fact that
the anti-union language came as a last-minute surprise in a bill that
the House Higher Education Committee voted on without having had a chance
On other issues, your own Statehouse Insider column ordinarily reports
on the kind of maneuvering that occurred over this bill. But where did
you discuss the successful pressure on holdout Republican legislators
to vote for a bill they actually opposed? The rumored behind the scenes
efforts by Karen Hasara to remove the union-busting language so that she
wouldn't have to vote for it during her mayoral race? The explanations
made by legislators on the floor of the House and Senate that everyone
in the room knew were ludicrous on their face, as many acknowledged privately?
After Bernard Schoenberg interviewed me about a question I raised at
a mayoral forum concerning Hasara's support for union-busting legislation,
he did print my explanation. However, he did not note (as I had told him)
that the Journal-Register's editor had not printed my column despite
saying he would do so. Nor did Schoenberg say that when I complained to
him about the newspaper's one-sided coverage of this issue, his only response
was a smile.
The Journal-Register's approach to this issue is not unique. The
television stations have been equally enthusiastic about the merger and
equally resistant to presenting opposing views. Two weeks ago, for example,
Channel 3 in Urbana said that "most faculty" at SSU support the legislation.
They didn't say how they reached that conclusion about a faculty that
is very divided on this issue. Did someone tell them that? Did they ask
one or two faculty members? Who knows.
I don't question the right of the State Journal-Register to take
strong editorial positions or even to present one-sided coverage of the
news. The First Amendment guarantees you the right to be as misleading
and one-sided as you choose. But the fact that state law is being amended
to explicitly destroy an existing bargaining unit&emdash;something that
is unprecedented, with obvious implications for members of other unions
statewide&emdash;should be addressed in more detail by any newspaper that
claims to be objective and fair.
It would be nice to see this letter in print. Why don't you give it to
the editor and suggest he run it as a Sound Off column? I'd be interested
in his response, as well as yours.
- Dennis Fox, Ph.D.
- Associate Professor of Legal Studies
- Associated Faculty, Psychology
Not surprisingly, media coverage remains one-sided.