Skip to comments.Faker. Lowdown on low down Chi/Trib columnist Bob Greene, a victim of Bill Clinton's Disease
Posted on 09/17/2002 5:11:59 AM PDT by Liz
"You can listen to me, or read the news. Everything comes to an end." -- Carmela Soprano, last night.
Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene came down from the mountain head-first over the weekend, a victim of Bill Clinton's Disease.
Strangely, I am without tears. He's been in the business 30-some years, I've been in the business 20-some, and since I've been in it, there are three things everyone tells you about Bob Greene. Number one: He's a hack. Number two: He's a horndog. I don't think I'm even into the penumbra of libel saying that, because I am telling you, everybody in Chicago journalism has a story about Bob chatting up a sweet young thing with a gleam in his eye, and there was that incident with trying to pick up my friend who worked at Esquire, while he was on tour promoting his "Good Morning, Merry Sunshine" book, about what a great dad he is.
Did I say three things? I was wrong. The third thing you learn with your own eyes: This man wears the second-most preposterous toupee in the history of hairpieces, bowing only to Jim Traficant's. They all tie together, in my mind. The horndog requires the hairpiece, which is sort of a metaphor for his hack-ness, his false, treacly, icky prose that only fools the willfully blind.
It is wrong to exult in the misfortunes of others. I keep telling myself that. Nevertheless, this was a gravy-train dismount years in the making.
If you follow the link, you know the details: Greene had "a sexual encounter" with a girl in her "late teens" some years ago. The firing offense was that he wrote about her, a violation of Trib ethics. Given that the boning came sometime after the column appeared would seem to make the offense repugnant but ultimately niggling; as many have suggested, if it's a crime to sleep with someone you met on the job, half the newsroom had best be dusting off resumes. But one gets the strong impression there is quite a bit more to this one. Take this paragraph from the Trib's second-day story: During the last year the woman phoned Greene twice, sources said.
According to the e-mail, on the day after the second time, she received a call from the FBI suggesting she may be posing a threat to the columnist. Attempts to reach the Chicago office of the FBI were unsuccessful.
Why, one wonders, would the Federal Bureau of Investigation be interested in cleaning up after Bob's booty calls, and after a mere two phone calls? Could it be someone put up to the job? That's what I wondered, anyway. And note the Sun-Times' shiv-between-the-ribs, in their sidebar today, a timeline of his career: 1984: "Good Morning, Merry Sunshine," an account of his daughter's first year, is released. Many of his colleagues didn't know he was married or a father.
But ultimately I'm with John Scalzi on this one: He didn't deserve to be fired for pressing his be-wigged middle-aged body into the dewy flesh of a teen-ager; he deserved it for being a tired old master of slack, recycling the same old themes over and over and over, which are: My Pop The War Hero, Suffering Children and Those Were The Days. When Bob started writing about abused children in and around Chicago, I thought, OK, maybe he's finally found an issue that will redeem him.
And then I realized, no; these were just screeds, high-volume wind-ups on a judge or state agency that had very little finesse, reporting or craft-in-the-service-of-the-public, just repetitions of the crimes they missed/overlooked/excused, the details thrown out there like pornography and repeated in every installment: And then little Tony was made to sleep in a cage and drink his own urine, while the people who were supposed to protect him played cards and drank beer.
Not that this sort of thing can't be effective. But you can't crank your amplifier up to 11 day after day and expect people to still be able to hear what you're saying.
It started with the Baby Richard case, one of those awful adoptive/bio parent tug-of-wars we witnessed some years back. I wanted someone to suggest that maybe, just maybe, the adoptive parents? Who knew they had a contested adoption on their hands within a couple weeks after taking Baby Richard home? And knew the law wasn't on their side, but chose to drag the case out for years, appealing and appealing in the hopes of finding a judge who would rewrite the law? I wanted someone to wonder whether those people, who only gave up the kid after calling all the media to witness the transfer of this poor child, might bear, oh, a teensy bit of blame for how terrible it all turned out.
Bob didn't make that suggestion. Instead, according to my friends in Chicago, he showed up at the transfer, sobbed and cried, "I love you, Baby Richard." In front of the TV cameras.
Oh, but at least he was trying. There were so many more days he turned in rewrites of rewrites of rewrites: My First Day in the Newspaper Business. Ah, Those Beach Boys/Jan and Dean/Elvis Presley -- Weren't They Something? Life Was All So Much Better Then, Wasn't It?
I also was grimly amused by how he rewrote his personal history, calling himself a boy from "a small town in Ohio," when in truth he was from Bexley, a wealthy inner-ring suburb entirely surrounded by Columbus, which even in Bob's youth wasn't a small town. That was when he was pulling his faux-naif nostalgia act. When a more hard-bitten persona fitted, then he would be the kid who worked in the Citizen-Journal city room with all those cool reporters, banging out stories on manual typewriters -- not something you find in lots of small towns.
I should stop. It's unseemly to pick on a target who is, ultimately, so small. She's just jealous, you're thinking. Yeah, that must be it.
But finally, I have to say this: Bob wasn't entirely to blame for what he became. There were times, quite a few times, when he showed real flair, an ear for the music of writing and reporting. Some of the pieces he did for Esquire were wonderful. I recall one about has-been child star Kristy McNichol that was a masterpiece of giving someone just enough rope to hang herself.
He visited a Texas socialite with a 2,000-square-foot closet and made the whole scene sound like a Fellini movie. And I will never forget the report from inside the Trojan condom factory -- yes, they are "individually tested," it turns out.
Maybe he had a masterful editor there, with a deft pen, an industrial-grade De-Smarmifier and a big can of Mawkish-No-More. Magazine editors certainly have a luxury of time that their newspaper counterparts don't. But couldn't anyone at the Tribune sit this guy down and say, "This is the third consecutive column you've done on singing your favorite '60s songs into your daughter's Fisher-Price My Little Microphone. As your friend, I'm telling you, it's time to stop." Maybe someone did. And maybe he or she was ignored. Which might explain why, suddenly, the Tribune is so very touchy about sex with the sources.
Whew. Where did that come from?
To counteract the bad feelings of thinking about Bob Greene half the day, I read this Miami Herald story, apparently run in celebration of the paper's 100th anniversary, by Gene Miller, a legendary editor there. You want to know why people spend their careers working in journalism for crappy pay? Because on any given day, something like this might happen: When police demanded a correction in 1995, Broward Managing Editor Joe Oglesby obliged: ``A Nov. 18 story about the firing of Oakland Park police officers Brian Rupp and Jay Santalucia incorrectly reported that they allegedly engaged in oral sex with juvenile prostitutes for 23 minutes during a videotaped sting operation. In fact, the tape is 23 minutes long, but the sex act lasted only part of the tape.''
Or this: Fred Andersen was a cantankerous rewrite man with a Nazi slug in his lung -- allegedly -- and a fondness for martinis. Cops never concerned him. He'd pretend to be one. From his newsroom desk, he would telephone a crime scene and proclaim, ``This is Chief Andersen at the Bureau. Gotta couple of questions.''
He seldom lacked creativity. After a spectacular Apollo moonshot at Cape Kennedy, Andersen quoted Sargent Shriver on his brother-in-the-law, John F. Kennedy. The assassinated president, Andersen wrote, would have approved from his Rocking Chair in the Sky. The next day Shriver denied he had ever talked to the reporter. Explained Andersen: ``If I'd reached him, he would have said it.''
On days like those, you don't mind Bob Greene so much. Newsrooms are big places, after all.
What a great line that could apply to every smarmy politician and/or celebrity in our pitiful society. You just can't be doing the interns or teenagers!
According to the e-mail, on the day after the second time, she received a call from the FBI suggesting she may be posing a threat to the columnist.
Any truth to this? Did she want some money, perhaps she was lonesome, what?
Perhaps Greene had seen Play Misty For Me, too many times and was spooked.
What context did Greene write about this "late teen" anyways? Is the original column available?
LOL! whata line.
I don't know anything about this case but it is common for journalists to notify police authorities of anyone they are "afraid" of.
As in the actress Wynona Rider's theft case. It has come out that she made a ritual of this - shoplifting pricey stores, cutting off electronic price tags, etc.
Word gets around and I betcha other lesser knowns did the same thing - maybe Wynona even told them how to do it.
Finally I surmise the store got sick of it and decided to prosecute the actress, to make lots of waves, to show they would not countenance this anymore.
The fact that the store had all the proof they needed to go to court shows they were lying in wait for her, knew exactly what shw was going to do, b/c she had done it so many times before.
Bob Greene always amazed me with his dazzling ability to churn out wretchedly-ordinary 8th-grade book-report prose and earn a big-city paycheck for it. To paraphrase an old radio buddy who now does mornings in Vegas, it's as if Bob sat down one day and wrote ONE very long column...and each deadline, he'd just hack off a piece of it and turn it in. Like another chorus of "Hey, Jude." Or "Second verse, same as the first," from "Henry The Eighth" by Herman's Hermits.
There was, in 1968, a DJ on WKNR in Detroit named Bob Greene (same spelling) who did on radio pretty much the same thing the columnist did in the paper - sound bland as tapioca and get paid for it. I always wondered if they were the same guy.
I just hope Greene has some bucks in his 401-k.
Interesting point. And I made a note to listen to the Dahl broadcast Wed. Should be an eye-opener to a lot of us in Chicago. Thanks for the heads-up.
Man, what a weird photo! Sort of a crazy, confused phase between "Saturday Night Fever" and "Urban Cowboy".
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