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on being skeptical of journalism: part I

This post was originally featured on my blog What the Health Now? before being transferred over to Three Times Per Day.

I get it, journalism is hard. Less and less people are subscribing to newspapers and it’s no secret that people like cheap thrills. But an article in the Chicago Tribune last week stooped low, far too low to not call them out for it.

The article was about a set of bond deals intended to earn money for the Chicago Public Schools system that ended up doing the opposite. In it, the Tribune went to town on some of the only people attempting, regardless of success, to raise money for our underfunded education system.

I’m not going to pretend that I know much about bond trading, but I know it’s kinda like playing the stock market. You win some, you lose some.

Regardless, this post is not about whether the article was worthy of publication or not. This article is about one particularly shitty approach they took to turn their reader against a public figure.

Okay, I am rambling. Time to get to the point. Here is a direct quote from the article (appropriately in Courier font) which you can read in its entirety here:

Cepeda has an MBA from the University of Chicago and spent more than 10 years as a banker before founding A.C. Advisory. She also married into one of the most influential political families on Chicago’s South Side. Her late husband, Harvard-trained lawyer Albert Maule, was a grandson of Corneal Davis, a longtime state senator known for delivering black votes for Chicago’s Democratic machine. Maule later was appointed to the city’s police board by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.

“Five months before Maule died of cancer in 1995, he helped Cepeda start A.C. Advisory, according to a 2013 Tribune profile. The firm got its first contract with CPS months later, and Cepeda continues to advise the district and the city. A.C. Advisory received about $4.7 million in fees on CPS deals from 1996 through 2013.”

Okay, so lets dissect this a bit. They begin with the fact that Ms. Cepeda has an MBA from one of the best business schools in the world and how she spent 10 years in finance prior to starting her business. But, oh wait, don’t be fooled, they continue– “she also married into one of the most influential political families on Chicago’s South Side.” 

And if that isn’t dirty enough, they KEEP GOING. 

“Five months before [her late husband] died of cancer in 1995, he helped Cepeda start A.C. Advisory, according to a 2013 Tribune profile. The firm got its first contract with CPS months later, and Cepeda continues to advise the district and the city. A.C. Advisory received about $4.7 million in fees on CPS deals from 1996 through 2013.”

That’s right. Now, Cepeda, a Chicago Booth graduate and an accomplished banker, established her firm and got deals with CPS thanks to her husband, who was political royalty in the South Side (Chicago’s utter disregard of the South Side in all things political, financial, and otherwise important can be topic for another post).

But, since they mention it, why don’t we go and check out that 2013 Tribune profile, appropriately titled:

Adela Cepeda carved her own path to success

Yep, you read that right. The Tribune published another article last year in which they praised Cepeda for being a self-made woman. This year, they decided to instead spin her as a husband-made wife. What were you thinking, Jason Grotto and Heather Gillers? But what do you have to say for yourself, Chicago Tribune??
The evidence is much more compelling in your 2013 article. For example, what they don’t mention in the recent article is that she met her husband as an undergraduate at HARVARD. Yes, that’s right. She was accepted as a Latina female to the most competitive university in the world. Ms. Cepeda came to Chicago to be with her husband whom she met at Harvard, and who was an attorney from Connecticut but had a grandfather who was a state senator from the South Side of Chicago. Cepeda, herself, ascended to Vice President of Smith Barney.
The 2013 article reads:

“Five months before Maule died in 1995, at age 40, he helped his wife draw up papers for A.C. Advisory Inc., a firm focusing on municipal finance.”

The recent article says:

“Five months before Maule died of cancer in 1995, he helped Cepeda start A.C. Advisory…The firm got its first contract with CPS months later, and Cepeda continues to advise the district and the city. A.C. Advisory received about $4.7 million in fees on CPS deals from 1996 through 2013.” 

You don’t have to be a comparative literature major to realize this shows a blatant lack of integrity in the 2014 article, which purposefully implies that Maule used his family’s political history to gather clients for Cepeda and that it began a precedent of an unqualified wife handling and receiving big chunks of tax payer dollars.

The good news is, Grotto is off to Harvard in the Fall, where he, like Cepeda, can study finance, economics, and accounting and can give journalism a rest. I’m still not sure what Heather’s excuse for demeaning the success of another woman is, but maybe she got that from her husband as well.

Again, I get it. Journalism is hard and journalists have to try more and more to make a story. But please be skeptical of all that you read, people. And all that you hear, too.

Over and out,

-r

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