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Friday, March 25, 2005

Jim Warren, Suddenly Camera-Shy

I consider Jim Warren, my former boss at the Chicago Tribune, a friend. He's been wonderful to me and my wife, and he's an all-around stand-up guy at a company and newspaper populated by too many, er, stand-down guys?

Also, he seems to believe that he will die if he does not appear on television at least weekly. Jim, can you come down to Channel 2's studios for our 6 a.m. Sunday show that will reach maybe 25,000 homes if we're lucky? No problem. Hey Jim, you wanna drive all the way across town from the Tribune Tower to the far northwest side at 5:30 p.m. on the day before Thanksgiving to be on the local PBS newscast? I'm there.

Of course, Jim is a national figure as well, owing to his residency on the McLaughlin Group, his frequent appearances on MSNBC, and his gig in the morning doing analysis for Fox News. In fact, a quickie Nexis search shows him making about 38 appearances in the last 90 days on MSNBC's "Hardball," "Countdown," and "Scarborough Country," Fox News Channel, CNN's "American Morning," CNBC's "Kudlow and Cramer," and, apparently, "Good Day L.A." Topics of discussion included Terri Schiavo, the Lefkow murders, and Rudi Giuliani's chances in 2008. Jim Warren will show up at your doorstep if you have a professional grade video camera and some studio lights handy.

All of which is fine, and adds to his eccentric charm. But Jim, come on. This is from an NYU J-School paper account of a visit by Warren, his lovely wife Cornelia, and their son Blair.

Washington, in Warren's opinion, is a small, self-absorbed town where only the big, obvious political issues receive coverage, while the smaller agencies that actually affect most peoples' lives are largely ignored. The Washington media are one "big echo chamber," he said. Instead of doing shoe-leather reporting, running around the FDA or the HSS and putting in the extra legwork needed to really run the truth to ground, said Warren, too many reporters sleepwalk through the role of "White House Guy" going to dinner parties, being herded into planes like cattle, and getting fed lies by the White House press secretary.

In such a culture, said Warren, some reporters succumb to the temptation of becoming celebrity pundits, appearing frequently on TV news talk shows.

"I did a ton of TV shows, in part because I liked it and because it was clear that it is the coin of the realm there, especially if you work for an out-of-town newspaper,"€ he said. "Part of my frustration came from the fact that people got to know me for being on TV instead of what I was writing about."

Echo chamber, Jim? You helped build it. You did a ton of TV shows? So I guess that jacket and set of TV-friendly ties perpetually hanging in your office are there as reminders of your lost years in TV-land?

Somewhere, there are some very confused cable talk-show bookers right now, wondering if you are the same person they have on speed-dial.