The News-Gazette has a long history of extreme right-wing editorial columnists. In the 1940s and 1950s it was Eddie Jaquin. From the late 1980s until his downfall in the late 1990s it was John Hirschfeld, who was also the paper’s CEO and corporate attorney.
Jim Dey follows very much in this line. Opinions page editor Dey, apparently, based on the topics chosen and rhetorical style, writes the lion’s share of the unsigned editorials. He also writes two bylined columns per week that often overlap in subject and style with the daily unsigned editorials.
Jim Dey is very smart. He especially likes playing the ‘pseudo-intellectual’ who is smarter than the intellectual professors.
Sometimes he surprises. He reluctantly agreed with charging a Chicago cop in the killing of Laquan McDonald. Many of the unsigned editorials and bylined columns, however, make many of us cringe. Some are downright sick, twisted. Some of these may be written by others, such as News-Gazette president John Foreman.
Trigger warning: Jim Dey is a con artist.
Trigger warning (some at the News-Gazette may find what comes next to be difficult, disturbing or challenging): Jim Dey is a con artist. He is both con and artist. As a con, he misrepresents issues, and uses slippery rhetoric. Yet he is a true artist: a master of tendentious argument, who skates perilously close to outright lying.
Dey picks at weak points in an argument like a scab until he draws blood. But a weak point by no means refutes ipso facto an entire argument.
One of Dey’s favorite rhetorical tactics is the straw person ploy. He makes stuff up to create a straw target, which he then proceeds to knock the stuffing out of. Another ploy is to simply leave out inconvenient key facts.
Dey is a master at misinformation and disinformation. He makes his readers stupid. Dey is hypocritical. His motto is ‘Take the high road of principle if it serves your ideological end. If not, take the low road.’
Dey can be fun. No, it’s true. Take his ridiculously over-the-top turns of phrase. “Victim classes.” “Grievance departments.” “Authoritarian knuckleheads.” “Liberal bigots.”
Not funny at all is the snake-like, venomous Dey. He takes things personally. He engages in ad hominem attacks continually.
Dey is obsessive. Like a dog chewing on a bone, he can’t let things go. Steven Salaita. James Kilgore. The failed redistricting referendum.
Dey—and the News-Gazette—is defensive. He just has to get the last word in.
Dey has no fully thought-out, consistent ideas that add up to a political philosophy. Limited government, ‘free enterprise’—these are mantras, slogans that he repeats robot-like.
Dey and the News-Gazette are all in for Governor Bruce Rauner’s ‘turn-around-and-go-backwards’ agenda. Right-to-work-for-less zones. Busting public sector unions. The only problem is that they have never shown empirically how exactly these “business-friendly,” aka ‘trickle-down,’ measures will improve the Illinois economy (July 17, 2016).
One group that has spelled out in detail how to solve the budget mess is the bipartisan, nonprofit Center for Budget and Tax Accountability (CBTA) that I discussed in the November, 2015 Public i.
What about free speech? For libertarian-leaning Dey, you would think that he consistently supports free speech. In fact, he is inconsistent, even incoherent. What Dey consistently favors is ‘free speech for me but not for thee,’ a patently hypocritical stance.
The Steven Salaita case is the single best example. Through it all, Dey adamantly refused to acknowledge that Salaita’s was an open-and-shut case of academic freedom and First Amendment rights.
One of those leading the charge in destroying Salaita’s career, Dey later completely contradicted himself in a tightly-argued, carefully-worded column written applauding a free speech legal decision (November 10, 2015). Extrapolating from this case, he argued that the same free speech logic applies to so-called “political correctness” controversies at universities including Missouri, Yale, and North Carolina.
Dey never mentioned Salaita in this column. Yet he can’t defend speech many of us don’t agree with—Christian fundamentalists protesting against Arab Americans—without also defending speech he doesn’t agree with—Salaita’s “profane, anti-Israeli tweets.”
Online commentators were quick to point this out (November 10, 2015). Ratiocination: “Strange that Dey took a rather different position with regard to Steven Salaita’s speech… Hypocrisy, double-standards, incoherence. Jim Dey.” Automan: “Ratiocination busts Dey on a hypocrisy foul. Would you like to enter a plea, Mr. Dey?”
When it comes to free speech and “political correctness,” therefore, Dey ties himself up in illogical knots.
For more than 25 years, “PC” has been a right-wing ideological stick to beat lefties with. Earlier, it was about the curriculum, the canon. Today, it is about speech codes, microaggressions, trigger warnings, and renaming buildings. For a master of deception like Dey, these latter are the gift that keeps on giving.
Dey lacks the courage of his convictions
But Dey lacks the courage of his convictions. Why he, and others like him, slander, slight, and caricature is because otherwise they would have to seriously engage admittedly difficult, hard issues. Racism. Sexism. Inequality.
In an editorial, “Wrong priority,” Dey argued against the Champaign police department paying for a new position “to investigate complaints of police misconduct” (February 25, 1991). Twenty-five years later allegations of police misconduct continue, but his views remain the same.
Writing about racial profiling, he says, “the reality is that it’s not the low-crime, upscale neighborhoods that require attention from law enforcement, but poor neighborhoods that have serious crime problems” (May 26, 2016). Count the racist stereotypes! Poor + black = high crime. Fact of the matter is that where you patrol is where you find folks to stop. Fact is that there are more police calls from white UIUC student neighborhoods, but less patrolling and fewer arrests.
Has Dey, and the News-Gazette, discussed or proposed constructive policing and criminal justice reforms? No. One who has is Norm Stamper, 34-year police veteran and former Seattle police chief during the 1999 World Trade Organization“Battle of Seattle” protests. Stamper calls for structural policing changes, because the whole system is broken. Instead of a few“bad apple” officers, it is the entire “barrel” of police and policing that is rotten.
This brings us to the key question: is racism, and sexism, about a few individual ‘bad apples,’ or is it about systemic, institutionalized prejudices and practices? Will a few reforms suffice, or are fundamental, structural changes necessary? Obviously, Dey and those who agree with him think it’s a couple of ‘bad apples.’
Trigger warning: Jim Dey is a racist
Trigger warning: Jim Dey is a racist, in the dictionary definition of “harboring prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism against members of a different race or ethnic group based on the belief that one’s own race or ethnic group is superior.”
Columns by African-American Studies faculty member Sundiata Cha-Jua cast a clear light on this reformist vs. structural divide. The paper is to be applauded for inviting him to contribute. Yet no columnist has elicited such reader criticism and editorial undermining.
Why this is so, is simple. No band-aid, reformist DINO he, Cha-Jua attacks Dey’s world, the world according to the News-Gazette root-and-branch, focusing laser-like on racism.
Dey reluctantly admits to a few ‘bad apples.’ Cha-Jua—and Norm Stamper—claim the whole ‘barrel’ is rotten.
To be sure, there is a generational, plus a town vs. gown, divide here. In the last 50 years undoubted progress has been made in making American society less racist and less sexist, due notably to the civil rights movement, Voting Rights Act, and increasing gender equality. Equally clearly, the U.S. is still deeply racist and sexist, as the Black Lives Matter movement, the evidence of microaggressions, and the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act all attest.
People on either side of the divide are both right and wrong. Significant progress has been made, and much more progress is necessary.
Yet Dey’s m.o. is to diss people and policies whenever there is an opening, ignore everything else, rinse and repeat. His hyper-partisanship—law and order, ‘free enterprise,’ limited government—trumps constitutional principles and civil liberties.
We expect the fourth estate to deliver the news. What we get is a fifth column in a newspaper wrapper infiltrating, poisoning our psyches with its anti-minority, illiberal, twisted editorializing.
What makes Jimmy run? Prejudice, not principle.
In the Sunday October 2 Commentary section, Dey and the editorial staff ran completely off the rails trumpeting far-right positions throughout. Where they outdid themselves was, however, in endorsing “Nobody for President.” Not ‘vote your conscience,’ but “nobody.” It is the only such newspaper non-endorsement endorsement I have seen. Nationally, not a single major paper has so far endorsed Trump.
Criticism came quickly. In not supporting Clinton, one letter writer said, “You’ve failed your readers” (October 5). Another argued it is “cowardice” not to endorse Clinton, and “a lack of leadership… to refuse to take a stand against…Trump.” “This is the time to set aside your well-known loyalty to the Republican Party and do what’s best for the country” (October 8). “What the editorial board has presented, under the cover of being a reasoned editorial opinion, is a sub-rosa endorsement of Trump… Newspapers all over the nation have swallowed their conservative pride and endorsed the more qualified candidate. The [News Gazette] board has not, and its strategy is either cowardly or hypocritical, or both” (October 12).
Yet this position should come as no surprise to readers of this series on the News Gazette. Hillary-haters to the end, at the same time they could not damage their undeserved ‘respectable Republican’ posture and go on record for Trump. Individually, president John Foreman publicly endorsed Trump in his November 6 column. I speculate that the majority of the like-minded editorial staff will also vote for Trump. However, I take Dey at his word, and wager that he will vote for nobody, his twisted acumen contorted by his unprincipled principles.
2016 has shown Republicans for what they are. Locally, it reveals that any claim of the News Gazette to be the advocate of good government, conscience of the community, and exemplar of professional journalism is prima facie politically and morally fraudulent, bankrupt.
David Prochaska formerly taught colonialism and visual culture in the UI History Department