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NO! Trump has declared that over and over. Along with admonitions of “fake news.”

The truth is that the press of this country are the full-time keepers of the First Amendment — of the right to the truth. The people of the press are not always successful at telling the truth, sometimes because their sources lie to them, sometimes because they are not good enough at their craft, or sometimes because they can’t step beyond the personal agendas we all have. Journalists must try to suppress such bad behavior for the sake of truth and balance.

The press, too, are often the bearers of bad news, news we often don’t want to hear. But if we are to live full and honest lives, we deserve to have the truth available to us, even though sometimes we cannot bear to look.

Tonight, I watched a fairly new movie, “Shock and Awe,” the story produced by Carl Reiner of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain’s lonely battle to tell the truth about the fast roll of the Bush Jr. administration into war in Iraq in 2003.  Virtually every other major media was seduced by high level spin that Iraq was heading into nuclear capability and that with a powerful stroke the U.S.could turn Iraq toward democracy and help defend Israel and turn the nation into an oil pump for our nation.

Of course, none of that was the truth, and Knight-Ridder alone revealed as much, though they were largely ignored by most. The reason they got it right, while other media did not? Knight-Ridder worked the story hard instead of relying on government press releases and relied on mid-level government sources for their info, and not the highest level of government that had an agenda, not based upon facts but upon political aspirations and blind vengeance.

The press, when they operate independently, serve to protect the interests of the people, even from the accidental or intentional malfeasance of the government they elect.

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In search of new role for astronomy icon

Impending sale of Yerkes Observatory rattles Wis. towns

The University of Chicago plans to close the Yerkes Observatory on Oct. 1 and is weighing what to do with the property. In 2006, it was almost sold to a resort developer. (Courtney Pedroza/Chicago Tribune )

BY TED GREGORY

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WILLIAMS BAY, Wis. — Lately, Dianna Colman is recognized and stopped almost everywhere she goes. Her phone buzzes, too, with calls from New York, Texas, Georgia and California, among other places.

But the reason for her celebrity is hardly glamorous. Colman and a few others have taken on the complicated task of trying to save the cherished and renowned Yerkes Observatory — birthplace of modern astronomy, home to a pair of Nobel laureates and now for sale.

“Trust me,” Colman said after walking through the building one recent afternoon, “everybody around here is just saying, ‘Now what? What are they going to do? How are they going to do it? When?’ It’s a little frustrating, but it’s part of the process.”

“They” are the leaders of the University of Chicago, which owns the 121-year-old observatory and an estimated 77 bucolic acres around it in southeast Wisconsin. But for decades, Yerkes has been obsolete as a cutting-edge research center.

In March, U. of C. announced the observatory will close on Oct. 1. For an undetermined period of time, the institution is considering offers for what to do with the property.

The university’s decision to sell ratcheted up anxiety in the five towns surrounding Geneva Lake, a region known as a getaway for Chicago-area residents and sprinkled with extremely affluent families that have vacationed in their opulent homes here for generations.

In Williams Bay, the tiny village where Yerkes is located, the pending sale is making people particularly antsy. A dozen years ago, the university agreed to sell the observatory to a resort developer, but that episode ended with hurt feelings and no deal.

This time, the university and local residents are trying to be more deliberate, respectful and transparent. Yet concerns are emerging about the university’s intentions.

The Yerkes’ grounds, designed by the legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, include open lakefront footage on highly desirable Geneva Lake, and the observatory is so central to the region that its image is on Williams Bay’s village seal.

Distinctive and ornate, the building’s main feature is what’s touted as the world’s largest refractor telescope — with a 40-inch lens, 63-foot tube and total weight of 20 tons.

Carl Sagan and Edwin Hubble studied at Yerkes. Nobel laureates Gerhard Herzberg and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar worked there, and a third Nobel winner, James Cronin, was affiliated with Yerkes. Albert Einstein visited.

And, despite the university’s emphasis on more sophisticated reflecting telescope projects in Chile, Yerkes remains a welcoming educational and community center that offers tours, “star parties,” chances to look through the massive telescope, even astronomy programs for the blind.

Those who know Yerkes well say its wooded, parklike setting has an almost magical capacity to stir passion for astronomy and all sciences.

“We’ve loved it long enough,” Colman said, “that we figure it must belong to us by now.”

‘Enormous pushback,’ but ‘no secret plan’

The Geneva Lake area being what it is, the group Colman leads includes people with influence, education, experience and acumen. A retired McDonald’s executive, a former university executive vice president, a trial attorney, a psychiatrist and Colman, a Harvard MBA who worked in corporate finance, are the core of the Yerkes Future Foundation.

Packed rooms at public hearings underscore locals’ affection for Yerkes and the ambience of Williams Bay, a town of about 2,600 that three decades ago blocked a proposed golf course, townhouse, condo and convention center plan by purchasing the 230-acre site.

Williams Bay converted it to the Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy.

The village could borrow money to buy the Yerkes property, trustee Jim D’Alessandro said. But “there’s little to zero support for doing that” primarily because maintenance of the property alone could total $400,000 to $800,000 a year, said D’Alessandro, who is also president of the Williams Bay Business Association.

At one of those packed public meetings shortly after U. of C. announced Yerkes’ closing, trustee Marsha Engquist reminded university Executive Vice President David Fithian of a “long, arduous process that hurt painfully.”

She was referring to the university’s surprise announcement in 2006 that it had agreed to sell 45 acres of Yerkes land for about $9 million to a New York developer that planned to build a 100-room hotel and 72 homes. The agreement also called for preserving Yerkes and 30 acres around it, creating a conservation zone along the lake and providing more than $400,000 a year to support the observatory, in addition to several million dollars for educational outreach at Yerkes.

But “enormous community pushback” erupted over the university announcing an agreement without public input, said Charles Ebeling, a Yerkes Future Foundation member and retired McDonald’s executive. Residents also were angry with the anticipated traffic increases and changes to the property. In short order, the proposal died.

“We’ve reviewed that history carefully,” Fithian said at the public meeting in March. “We understand mistakes that were made and believe we’ve learned lessons. I want to assure you that we genuinely have no plan in place, no secret plan. There are no sidebar conversations happening. We’re trying to do better this time.”

U. of C. has created a Yerkes Updates website, where it reports that from April to mid-June, the university sought “expressions of interest” for the Yerkes land that balance “the current facilities and continued public programming with responsible financial stewardship of the property assets.”

The university also reserved the right to consider offers after mid-June.

Discussions about any such proposals will be confidential, the university stated, but the institution plans “ongoing engagement with the village board” while evaluating proposals. “What we hear will help guide the decision-making process,” the university stated on the website.

School officials declined interviews and wouldn’t discuss the number, type or origin of proposals they’ve received.

In an email, university spokesman Jeremy Manier said the institution has “been in touch with the (village) board periodically” and “will have more to discuss on the transition timeline in August.”

Weddings at the observatory?

So far, U. of C. has been “a class act, very responsive and helpful” to work with, Colman said. But dealing with a large entity that deliberates so long on each of the foundation’s questions has been “very cumbersome,” she added.

Engquist, the local trustee, is less pleased. She said the university has failed to share information with the village, which she called “a conundrum that doesn’t bode well.” She also criticized the university for leaving what she considered insufficient time to find a new Yerkes owner.

“I think their timing sucks,” she said.

Publicly, village trustees avoid expressing a preferred plan for Yerkes, a position that earned the board grief in a local editorial, which expressed fear that the village will be “steamrolled by some developer or other business concern that looks at Yerkes and sees only dollar signs.”

The preference of the Yerkes Future Foundation, which formed weeks after the observatory’s announced closing, is for the property to become an educational outreach and research center, as well as an event space for weddings and other functions, Colman said.

Whether those uses could sustain Yerkes is debatable. Ebeling and others say upward of $20 million would be needed to purchase the land and observatory and upgrade it. He added that “many local residents, either by themselves or with a few of their neighbors, could take care of this situation.”

“We wouldn’t be messing around if we didn’t think we could do it,” he added, “but I’m not writing the check to take care of it.”

Village President Bill Duncan noted that building on the property’s lakefront would be complicated by its slope and location in an environmentally protected corridor.

Also, Duncan said, residents have made it clear that any plan to build a dense residential development on the property “isn’t going to fly.”

Local resident Nathan Bond, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, said he would support development on the Yerkes property, if the observatory and land that immediately surrounds it would be preserved.

Construction of single-family, detached homes might generate tax revenue to preserve and maintain the core of Yerkes, he said. Bond added that he doesn’t like the idea of building on the site but he is “desperate to see it preserved.”

“It’s a complex situation, and it requires a complex solution where probably no one would be totally happy in the end,” Bond said. “That’s how compromises work.”

Residents, he said, must decide what the essential elements of their community are.

Duncan said he expects to hear the university’s ideas for the property around mid-July.

tgregory@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @tgregoryreports

https://www.wgtd.org/playlist/community-matters/community-matters-060218

 

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our Great Apple Oak awakes to summer

apple.news/Avf7ioM-7TRak1vf_AC2Pxg

One thing not to be so thankful for this Thanksgiving week is that McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant business with 37,000 locations worldwide, announced that it has no room in the modern world for Ray Kroc’s first McDonald’s location in Des Plaines, Illinois. The historic non-operating museum restaurant, rebuilt to original plans on its original site in 1985, and since become a popular tourist destination, is slated to be demolished within a month, with relics preserved and land donated to the city.

Of course, the Des Plaines restaurant was actually the ninth McDonald’s ever built, including the McDonald brother’s very first location in San Bernardino, California, now long gone, except for a cement and bronze marker at the site (Update: Those commemorative bronze markers have since been chiseled out and stolen). But DesPlaines, now apparently destined for the same treatment, is where Kroc really launched the chain, attracting throngs of local customers while showing off the potential of the business to prospective franchisees. It is also where Kroc’s successor as Chairman and CEO, Fred Turner, began work flipping burgers for one dollar an hour.

In his autobiography, Grinding it Out, Kroc recalls the beginnings: ” It was in DesPlaines, a seven-minute drive from my home and a short walk from the Northwestern Railroad Station, from where I could commute to the city.” He recalled the opening: “Art Bender, the McDonald brothers’ manager, came to DesPlaines and helped me and Ed (McLuckie) open that store on April 15, 1955. It was a hell of an ordeal, but the experience was to prove invaluable in opening other stores.” Ray said he would “drive down to DesPlaines each morning and help get the place ready to open. The janitor would arrive at the same time I did, and if there was nothing else to be done, I’d help him. I’ve never been too proud to grab a mop and clean up…in the evenings I would commute back to DesPlaines and walk over to the store. I was always eager to see it come into view, my McDonald’s!”

There are plans for historic displays at McDonald’s new corporate headquarters, now being build in the hot, growing business district of West Chicago, however something quite tangible will be lost when that early neon-swaddled McDonald’s — Ray Kroc’s first — no longer exists, and on its original site. Of course, the museum restaurant could be reconstructed, indoors or outdoors, in conjunction with some other museum, such as the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago or the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, where the Wright Brother’s shop and Thomas Edison labs stand, but that would take some doing, and some caring, from the corporate folks at McDonald’s. We’ll see.

It was 1969, as the first Boeing 747 double deck planes were coming off the line. I had just gone to work in the public affairs department at the HQ of the Allstate Insurance Company, in Deerfield, Il. I was initially assigned to the Accident Prevention Section, and reporting up to Don, then Allstate’s director of safety.

Don was chatting with us one day, and mentioned that Allstate had taken on part of the reinsurance for the first 747’s. Reinsurance is a way to spread risk, in which large insurance company’s like Allstate would provide insurance to back up another company’s insurance policy.

Don told us he had seen the loss projections on the early 747’s, and said that based on that, he would not be flying on them. We were stunned. I think it was several years later, after I had left Allstate and forgotten about Don’s cautionary admonition, before I booked a flight on one.

I just looked at the records of the giant craft, and since their first production, some 1500-plus 747’s have been manufactured, and 61 hulls have been lost, around 4%. However, a large percentage of those hull losses resulted in no loss of life, and many others were due to external causes such as terrorism and pilot error. In general, the planes have been incredibly safe.

But Don was right: statistics can be scary.

Chuck Todd of MSNBC closed his Sunday feature news program this morning by thanking the audience for watching his “show.” This grates me no end. To me, he is degrading an important news program by referring to it as a simple entertainment — a “show!”

Semantics matter, even in this world of reality TV and Trumpness.

A program implies, to me at least, something of importance. A show is just that, some Barnum & Bailey entertainment.

So, let’s call a spade a spade, and let’s call news by the name “programs,” and comedies, etc. “shows.” Such respect of semantics might help us begin to define the difference between the two terms in our contemporary lives, where, thanks to the one who calls himself “the President who is making America great again,” a meaningful “program” has often been denigrated to a mere “show.”

Bring on the Clown

Learn about PR from the man whose hair, ego, and finances are all about puffery.

Donald Trump

CEO, the Trump Organization
New York City
October 24, 2004

It’s hard to tell if Donald Trump truly is a ruthless, self-serving billionaire with a weakness for Ottoman decor, or if he just plays one on TV. Either way, one thing’s certain: Nobody beats Trump at PR.

So it was that, at the behest of his front man Howard Rubenstein — the closest thing public relations has to Vito Corleone — Trump found time one recent Sunday to school 4,100 PR pros in the art of self-promotion at the Public Relations Society of America’s fall conference.

Accompanied by his now-standard royal trumpet fanfare, Trump trotted out his usual Darwinian script on how to make it big in business: Always hit back, only harder; don’t trust anyone, especially loved ones; and never underestimate the power of a good prenup.

But that’s not why Trump was addressing the flacking masses. He is himself the king of hype, with a genius for winning attention for Donald Trump and thus the Trump Empire. Why that is became clear in a streak of mean-spirited, profanity-laced, misogynistic asides that, true to form, melted everyone’s heart.

LESSON ONE: DISH DIRT, LIBERALLY.

Mid-riff on humility, of all things, Trump got big yucks for this digression: “I was walking down the street with a very young and beautiful woman named Marla. Did anyone ever hear of Marla? I have. Trust me, it cost me a fortune. It wasn’t worth it.” Trump isn’t above dissing himself, either, if it will score him a few points for color. “I think I get terrible press,” he observed. “If there’s half a sentence that says ‘his hair is terrible’ or ‘he looks like s — t,’ I take it very personally.”

LESSON TWO: KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID.

Part of Trump’s PR power is his black-and-white view of the universe. He hews to a simple character narrative of brash-businessman-with-a-big-ego that makes even SpongeBob SquarePants appear complex. “All my life I’ve been successful,” he began. “All my life.” When it comes to business, Donald is always, always doing “great,” despite an occasionally contrary opinion from his accountants in Atlantic City.

LESSON THREE: THE EXPLETIVE IS MIGHTIER THAN THE IDEA.

Trump regaled the crowd with his savvy strategy for managing headlines when the media thought his real estate empire would collapse in the late 1980s. “I said to the press [long pause], ‘F — k you!’ “

LESSON FOUR: SEX SELLS. MENTION SEX. A LOT.

Trump knows that settling into a stable relationship would make his PR hits drop faster than the fat diamond he just gave new fiancee Melania Knauss. In the course of a 30-minute address, he managed to make at least 15 references to women and/or the woes of marriage.

The look, the ego, the swearing, the sex. Crass, sure — but in that way, brilliant. He nailed his message, and he won 4,100 fans. It was all part of Trump’s signature (and carefully copyrighted) strategy: not just style over substance, but style as substance. Sadly, it works like a charm.

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