Do journalists have ethical standards anymore? Overlooked story about a Chicago Tribune reporter gives me doubts

Posted: April 30, 2023 by John Ruberry in culture, media, News/opinion, opinion/news, politics
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By John Ruberry

Late in 2021, the father of Chicago Tribune City Hall reporter Gregory Pratt, died. Father and son shared the same name, but the younger Pratt hadn’t seen his dad since he was five. That is, until shortly before the passing of the older Pratt, which the reporter, in a behind-the-pay-wall column, movingly wrote about in the Tribune. 

Last week, the Chicago City Wire, a newspaper often dismissed as “fake” and “pink slime” by liberals, noticed something in Pratt’s column, a link to a GoFundMe page organized by a cousin for the reporter, to defray the senior Pratt’s medical bills, That GoFundMe link should have immediately raised eyebrows. But it was the “fake” source that got the scoop.

The Chicago Tribune’s lead City Hall reporter Gregory Pratt solicited and received at least $1,790 in donations in a fundraiser benefiting his family from sources he covers– including elected officials, political consultants and lobbyists.

The donors included Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who gave him $150, along with Evelyn Chinea-García, the wife of recent mayoral candidate, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia ($500) and former Illinois Deputy Governor and State Attorney General candidate Jesse Ruiz ($100).

Three members of the Chicago City Council Pratt covers – Ald. Gil Villegas (36th), Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th) and Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th)– also contributed to Pratt, along with Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner and lobbyist Michael Alvarez ($250) and Chicago political operatives Rebecca Carroll, Eli Stone, Carolyn Grisko and Joanna Klonsky, who recently worked for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Chicago City Wire, and several other papers, are published by Local Government Information Services, which was founded by conservative activist and WIND-AM radio personality Dan Proft in 2016.

I wrote about these publications here at Da Tech Guy last year.

A Twitter fight between Proft and Pratt ensued, which led former Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass to respond in the comments thread, “When a news organization gives editorial control to billionaire Bolshevik like George Soros, that news organization has no credibility. Any comment @chicagotribune @CTGuild @royalpratt???

Kass’ referral to @CTGuild is in regard to the Chicago Tribune Guild, the union representing Trib reporters. It is the organization that fought with the longtime conservative columnist at the Tribune over a 2020 column highly critical of Kim Foxx–you know, Jussie Smollett’s protector–where Kass brings up how Foxx and other big city Democratic catch-and-release prosecutors are funded by leftist billionaire George Soros. The Guild, of which Kass was not a member, in a biased manner deemed that column as anti-Semitic. The Guild’s protest led to a de facto demotion for Kass.

Pratt, whose Twitter handle is @royalpratt, displays the Chicago Tribune Guild logo on his Twitter page. 

As legendary baseball announcer Mel Allen used to say, “How about that?”

To be fair, for all I know, Kass and Pratt are best pals. Then again, probably not.

Proft and Kass’ objections to the GoFundMe linkage are fair. Could those donors who work in politics, and who Pratt is expected to cover without bias, expect more sympathetic coverage if he knows they contributed to his dad’s GoFundMe page?

I don’t know.

Here’s what the New York Times, on its ethics page, says about possible improprieties.

Personal relations with sources: Relationships with sources require the utmost in sound judgment and self discipline to prevent the fact or appearance of partiality. Cultivating sources is an essential skill, often practiced most effectively in informal settings outside of normal business hours. Yet staff members, especially those assigned to beats, must be sensitive that personal relationships with news sources can erode into favoritism, in fact or appearance. And conversely staff members must be aware that sources are eager to win our good will for reasons of their own.

Which brings me to beat reporting. Years ago, the Trib used to move around reporters in a seemingly bizarre fashion. For instance, Bruce Buursma went from the religion beat to covering the Chicago White Sox. Such transfers create more-rounded journalists –and since Chicago’s two baseball teams went nearly a century for one–and over a century for the other–between World Series titles, a faith reporter might have been just what baseball fans reading the Tribune needed at that time.

Sadly, for reporters coving elected officials, mostly but not exclusively on the left, politics is their religion. They are not journalists, they’re activists playing on the same team.

Here’s one more old story. Jay McMullen, who later married Chicago mayor Jane Byrne, was for over twenty years was the City Hall reporter for the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Sun-Times. Eventually his bosses viewed McMullen as being too cozy with the pols he covered–so he was exiled to the real estate page. McMullen later worked for his wife during her single term in office.

Note: Two days ago, I emailed Gregory Pratt about my intention to write a blog post about the GoFundMe page controversy. I received an out-of-office reply that suggested I contact another person. As of the evening of April 30, I have not received a non-automated response from either of them.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

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