The most important story in the news today – which will totally unreported – is that today is the anniversary of one of the major tragic milestones of modern journalism.

On this date, March 21, in 1997, one of the best journalists in U.S. history wrote his last column.

Mike Royko won just about every journalism award possible as he covered Chicago and the rest of the country from the 1960s until his death 17 Aprils ago. He wrote his last column for the Chicago Tribune on this date, then left on vacation. He got sick and died a few weeks later.

What made Mike Royko the best?

It was a variety of things that most in the media seem to have already forgotten.

He didn’t follow the herd. He looked at stories from a different angle. He saw the humor in almost everything. He knew how to look past the headlines and sound bytes and find the real story.

He was funny –hilarious, actually. His humor was so strong because it was based on facts.

When George H.W. Bush broke his “no new taxes” pledge, Royko wrote about that, and ended with this classic line: “Read my lips; I am in deep do-do.” Those who read that remembered how Bush, as the Vice-President in 1984, said that during the upcoming debate with Democratic VP nominee Geraldine Ferraro that he did not want to “step in any deep do-do.”

A few years later, when Clinton was trying to get Congress to raise taxes, then-Speaker of the House Tom Foley stood up and urged members of Congress to “stand and deliver.”

A veteran, Royko had his first newspaper job while in the Air Force. He once famously wrote that only veterans deserve to have the day of for Veterans Day.

One of the first to oppose the war in Vietnam, Royko did not gloat when LBJ declared he would not run again in 1968. Instead Royko pointed out some of the vulgarities printed about LBJ, and concluded: He may not have been the best president a people could have. But we sure are not the best people a president could have.

A lifelong Chicago resident, Royko was very familiar with the history of many ethnic groups, and he wrote that “stand and deliver” was an Irish phrase which robbers used; it basically meant “stick ‘em up!” He wrote a column about that topic (see it HERE).

When an incompetent Chicago official replied to one of his questions with a “no comment,” Royko wrote: I don’t blame him. If I did something that stupid, I wouldn’t want to talk about it either.

When Warren Beatty and Fay Dunaway made Bonnie and Clyde look like American heroes, Royko interviewed the survivors of the lawmen they had killed. After RFK was killed, Royko went to a movie theater where a comedy featured murders with guns, and wrote about how America was laughing at this nonsense instead of mourning.

When Chicago’s whites were panicking about desegregation of the public schools, Royko wrote about how while their parents were protesting outside the school yard, the children inside were learning to play together. He also reminded Chicagoans of the race riots of the 60s – the 1860s – when Irish and Germans were resisting the idea of living with people from another ethnic background.

“There will never be another Mike Royko,” wrote one of his editors after his death. Royko was not afraid of satire and loathed political correctness. Those things, said that editor, were no longer considered acceptable by mainstream media types.

He was right; but Royko's kind of reporting and commentary and approach to journalism is among the things that America desperately needs now.

I just hope that enough people start understanding that to make the media moguls willing to make that change.

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Comments (1)

Thank you Dean Close for (a) remembering and (b) writing about this anniversary. Serendipitous timing, too, as tonight I'll be reading some of Dad's work at this year's Story Week: Festival of Writers "Chicago Classics" closing program: Thanks again Mr Close.
By: David Royko on March 21st 1:32pm

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