Cheap Seats 2021
The Ultimate Dear John Letter - 05/26
By Rich Trzupek
I’ve asked a mutual friend who regularly corresponds with Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass to share the following with Kass. I hope he’ll favor us with a reply.
You and I grew up on the same side of town at roughly the same time. You know what Hegewisch was like when we were young. You know at least from your time with the Daily Calumet. I know because I grew up there, on Escanaba Avenue. You know that, in contrast to what is being portrayed today, Hegewisch was never a rich, white neighborhood untouched by pollution that transformed into a poor minority neighborhood that is exploited by “polluters”.
In the sixties and seventies Hegewisch was a working class, predominately Polish neighborhood surrounded by a sea of steel mills that, along with the Ford plant on Torrance, and the Amoco (now BP) refinery in Whiting provided good work for its inhabitants. Whatever pollution to which today’s residents of Hegewisch may be exposed pales in comparison to Hegewisch back then, when South Works, Republic Steel, Wisconsin Steel, Interlake and all the other mills spewed air pollutants with little or no controls. You know this.
I review our mutual history not to suggest that we should return to those dirty old days or even to suggest they are the logical point of comparison for the challenges that Hegewisch faces today. My point is rather that Hegewisch was never a rich, white neighborhood that white folks left, became mostly a minority neighborhood that then heavy industry and “polluters” suddenly saw as a convenient target to spread poison. That story is bull-sh*t and you know it.
The heavy industry that’s left, the brownfield sites, the landfills, the refinery – basically all of the sources that people infected by “environmental justice” fever bitch about when they talk about Hegewisch – predates my old neighborhood’s transformation to minority majority status. Everything I listed are remnants of the boom times, not a matter of exploitation.
So my question for you buddy, given what you know and I know, and given your position on the editorial board of the Trib, is why a world-class hack like Michael Hawthorne is allowed to repeatably paint a picture of my old neighborhood that has only a passing resemblance to reality? Who the hell is minding the store in Tribune Tower?
Creating a false Hegewisch narrative is entirely consistent with Hawthorne’s M.O. He pretends that his stories have scientific bases. They don’t. He uses, or rather abuses, those pieces of science that support his chosen narrative and ignores or minimizes those pieces of science that don’t. I could (and may) write a book about irresponsible reporting about science with Smiling Mike’s work as Exhibit A. He’s a fraud, a charlatan, a deceiver and a moron. He also needs a better brand of mouthwash, but we’ll give him a pass on that one.
He’s the guy who wants readers to believe natural gas is now dirtier than coal. That’s crap. He’s the guy too dumb to figure out why air quality gets worse on the Fourth of July. His demonization of ethylene oxide and Sterigencs was disgraceful, vindictive and just plain stupid. I have no idea why any responsible editor would give the guy five paragraphs on page 17 much less page 1, top-of-the-fold.
You would be amazed at the number of people in my business who hold Hawthorne and his work in utter contempt. And I’m not just talking people who work on the industry side of things like me. There are legions of good, honest people who work hard to protect the environment in Illinois and the health of its citizens who are equally contemptuous. I’m talking about past and current employees of Illinois EPA and USEPA who understand the damage that Hawthorne’s irresponsible reporting ultimately causes as he exploits the ignorance of readers who trust the bastard. Like me, they actually understand the science behind environmental issues. We’re scientists and experts. The folks I’m sure Hawthorne gets a lot of his stories from are people like Howard Lerner and Keith Harley (Google them) who are not scientists, but advocates.
The General Iron situation is just the latest example of the kind of mess Smiling Mike can create with his selective reporting. That plant will be, by any measure, a pee-wee in terms of air pollution. When one considers all of the remaining industrial sources surrounding Hegewisch, all of the traffic, all the natural sources, all of the area sources – when one adds all that up – the idea that a source the size of General Iron will be anything but a blip on baseline noise in terms of air pollution is unsupportable.
General is not a client of mine, if you are wondering. I just still have a soft-spot in my heart for my old neighborhood and it pisses me off to see a mope like Hawthorne stir up so much unwarranted trouble when somebody tries to bring jobs back to Hegewisch. This latest generation on the southeast side deserves much better than this sort of blatant exploitation by what used to be a trusted source of information.