Chicago Sun-Times in the Graveyard Spin

Spatial disorientation is a term used to describe a condition in which a pilot has an erroneous sense of his position relative to the plane of the earth’s surface.

When a pilot gets disoriented, he goes into what is known as the Graveyard Spiral, a telling moniker.

Spatial disorientation is believed to have led to John F. Kennedy Jr.’s fatal plane crash into the Atlantic Ocean. What JFK, Jr. believed was the horizon turned out to be the water.

The Chicago Sun-Times is proving that spatial disorientation can also be used to describe a media property that has gone into a financial and intellectual Graveyard Spiral.

Let’s first take a gander at the financial picture.

Since the indictment of its former boss Conrad Black in November 2005, the Sun-Times Media Group has seen its market cap slashed by 75% and its stock price cut in half. Last year the company’s advertising revenue was down 14%.

Current Sun-Times management greeted the dubious Conrad Black conviction with glee, a curious response for a property with declining revenue and circulation, until one considers the ideology that now drives the editorial board.

Shortly after Black’s conviction, Cheryl Reed, the Sun-Times’ new editorial page editor, issued a sanctimonious ukase about the paper returning to its “liberal, working class roots” and rethinking its positions on issues like “Bush’s war in Iraq.”

And who’s bringing working class chic back to the Sun-Times?

Enter Cyrus Freidheim.

Cyrus Freidheim, the CEO of the Sun-Times Media Group, is the subject of a grand jury probe and 173 wrongful death suits related to his previous tenure as CEO of Chiquita Brands International during which some $1.7 million in payments were made by the banana-producer to a U.S. State Department-designated terrorist group in Colombia.

Invoking the “working class” on behalf of a paper run by Herr Freidheim, a morally ambiguous corporatista, is a Kristi Yamaguchi-caliber rhetorical salchow.

While Ms. Reed is slashing facts and reason from the editorial pages of the Sun-Times like Cyrus Freidheim through a Colombian rain forest, someone might also let her know that “Bush’s War” to which she referred was supported by more than 70% of the U.S. Congress, including by reputed “liberal, working class” icons Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

And I thought Cindy Richards’ columns assailing the evils of air conditioning (I’m not making that up) and Richard Roeper’s acute case of Peter Pan syndrome were amusing.

Like many of her columnists, Ms. Reed’s declarations should be accompanied by a laugh track.

An advocate of intellectual pluralism, I am disinclined to welcome the extinction of any outlet except those that themselves have abandoned a belief in intellectual pluralism, as the Sun-Times has done.

Best-selling author and nationally syndicated columnist Mark Steyn recently yanked his column from the Sun-Times because the paper’s editors pulled a piece he had written in defense of Conrad Black.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson once observed that “compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”

And so it will bring the Sun-Times to its ultimate resting place.

On the intellectual side of the ledger, the dialectic of the Sun-Times’ new management is a sort of unintentional post-modern surrealism that would have André Breton saying, “Enough!”

Mr. Freidheim, Ms. Reed and the other deep thinkers at the Sun-Times are suffering from an erroneous sense of their market position relative to the brave, new world facing a second place, second rate daily newspaper with no suburban reach.

The Sun-Times may believe they are positioned as a bulwark against the Chicago Tribune, which is suffering a much slower but similarly real demise.

In actuality, the Sun-Times’ premium on hypocrisy-riddled, liberal pontification at the expense of local news gathering will position the paper in an ice cube next to the wooly mammoth.

The disoriented management will not pull out of their Graveyard Spiral by replacing Mark Steyn with big government dogma.

Ms. Reed must not have received the mimeograph but parachute pants are out, The Golden Girls is off the air, and people don’t read newspapers just because they are there anymore.

Now that we’re up to the present, let’s look into the future.

When the Olympic Games come to Chicago in 2016, the Chicago Sun-Times will be a fading cautionary tale of high-flying liberal ideologues who confused the horizon for the water.