Why the National Media Keep Beating Up On Chicago

There are a few reasons Time, Vice, and the New York Times have found a big, easy target here.

A battered Chicago postcard

Photo: Ratko Radojcic

Earlier this year, in the space of just a few weeks, Time put Rahm Emanuel on its cover, spotlighting his fight against “crime and failing schools”; a New York Times Magazine cover story focused on Chicago’s massive housing inequities; Vice, from its new outlet on HBO, gave viewers a tour of “Chiraq”; and, most infamously, The New York Times Book Review ran a piece by the DePaul professor Rachel Shteir that basically called her fellow Chicagoans boosterish bloviators blind to all of the “urban apocalypses here.”

Plenty of other cities—Baltimore, New Orleans, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington, to name a few—have higher murder rates and arguably worse schools. Why do the national media seem to have chosen Chicago as their punching bag du jour?

It’s a big, easy target. Chicago’s “Big Shoulders” image—it was the city that “built the American dream,” to use the historian Thomas Dyja’s words—makes any fall from that perch seem that much more momentous. “We were the future,” says the Northwestern professor Bill Savage.

The Obama factor. Chicago’s problems never used to be much of a national story (unless a governor got indicted). But after a skinny Chicagoan became president—a man whose team has included a Daley, our current mayor, and one of the country’s most powerful political advisers—the light of press attention shone more brightly. “When you look at what’s wrong [with the country],” says Savage, “you look at Chicago.”

It’s our turn. In the 1970s, New York City “was collapsing,” the Reader media critic Michael Miner points out. “The Summer of Sam, ‘Ford to New York: Drop Dead.’ ” When Los Angeles hit hard times in the early 1990s, it “was just as much of a [media] whipping boy,” says Savage. Chicago is a logical third. It will be somebody else’s turn soon enough. Prepare yourself, Houston (which is projected to surpass Chicago in population by 2030): You may be next.




1 year ago
Posted by mark3k

You forgot the most important reason: it's deserved. our crime is so high.

1 year ago
Posted by sanscomplique

I'd thought the push for examination of Chicago's 'urban crises' was linked to the University of Chicago being so prolific in the fields of criminology and sociology. The implication from the media channels above could be seen as "Where has this study gotten you?"

1 year ago
Posted by craigslistans

Mark3K is right, the crime rate is high in Chicago and it has an underclass that's overwhelming the city. It's a harrowing story for the rest of the nation. And Houston isn't "retarded," whatever that means. That sounds like more elitism from people who think that anything in Texas must be backward. Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country and has wonderful cultural institutions. The city has the only openly gay mayor in the country. Houston's ugly as all get out, but it's not retarded.

1 year ago
Posted by NonProfitGuy

Thank you! I was just thinking about this yesterday in regard to crime. As an 80's baby, I distinctly remember the intense media focus on LA's "gang culture" during the early to mid 1990's. The media, music and movies of the time certainly didn't help. Although I love the music and movies from that era, someone less amenable to Hip-Hop culture would and did frequently misinterpret its symbolism and instead used it to indite the whole city.

Today in Chicago, there is a similar process going on. People point to an individual like Chief Keef as an impending sign of Chicago's demise. Never mind that that are equally nihilistic and untalented rappers from many other parts of the country. Unfortunately, a few bad neighborhoods steal the spotlight. I've seen tourist websites advising people to stay away from Chicago just on reputation alone. Like any major city there are significant trade-offs that must be made, and admittedly, Chicago isn't for everyone.

Here's what I tell people when they bad mouth Chicago:

1. Companies and people continue to move to Chicago. Major business operations have relocated to the Loop. Each year we absorb thousands of college grads who come because we have jobs and the "it" factor other places don't.
2. We are a world class city. Chicago is known throughout the world. We have world class museums, universities, parks and attractions that all but a few cities wish they had.
3. It's one of the most creative cities in the country with excellent theater, music, food, art, fashion and design.
4. It's like any American city in that it has good and bad areas, and naturally some areas will get worse as others get better.
5. Also like other American cities, violent crime tends to be confined to a few areas. Someone going to Englewood is there for only two reasons: 1. They live there or 2. They are doing something they shouldn't be.
6. Millions of tourists still come here! When international tourists pick one city to visit in "fly-over" country, they choose Chicago. Working in the loop I see many tourists speaking foreign languages fumbling with maps. There are many reasons to visit here unlike one trick ponies like Indianapolis (Indy 500) Milwaukee (Beer), or Detroit (Urban Decay).

1 year ago
Posted by moe

Don't comment or buy into the Hype Chicago. Have strong skin and ignore the hype.

1 year ago
Posted by safefood

'Who Says IL Lawmakers are LAZY?'--there was MUCH Shenananigans happening with the legislators...one you did NOT include...and there is still time to contact Gov. Quinn on his website to VETO SB 1495--that was a bill that was shelled...THEIR phrase--when a bill is stalled in the rules committee and not moving along--they SHELL it into another one moving! SB 1495 the ELECTROLYSIS LISC. ACT not includes a plan to gut Illinois' 40+ year history of requiring food managers to take a 15 hour training class and pass a test with 75% or higher and every 5 years take a renewal class....no test! IF Gov. Quinn does not VETO SB 1495...the training will go down to 6 1/2 hour and a test...and no renewal...repeat the class AND TEST every 5 years....and ALL FOOD HANDLERS-wait staff/hosts/bussers/etc would have to take a 2 hour class every 3 years...then renew--the cost would also go up since IL Dept Of Public Health would no longer provide the test and retakes.....no one in the public could protest it...they couldn't FIND the original bills...it became hidden in SB 1495--PLEASE contact Gov. Quinn to VETO HB 1495--INTEGRITY.....seems to be lacking in the process! And FOOD SAFETY is not their priority!
It's sad to see when Sen. Dick Durbin has been such a great champion of food safety on the national and international level!
thanks for your help!

1 year ago
Posted by djan1812

Houston isn't ugly. It's actually a very beautiful place,albeit very hot(about 10 degrees hotter than Chicago during the summer);but the rest of the year,while Chicago trudges through month after month of snow,ice and brown slush,Houston is balmy and green. But,since Tx. has no state income tax, the property taxes in Houston are way too high, higher even than Chicago's North Shore.

1 year ago
Posted by Phoenicia

My question is, why does the media see their role as beating up scapegoats instead of telling us the truth. Why are we living in a propaganda state, where trials and violence and crime are invented by the authorities in order to "teach us a lesson."

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