On this week’s show – the voices of experience. Between them Paul Meincke and Phil Rogers have more than 55 years of accomplishment as Chicago TV reporters.
Meincke recently went into semi-retirement at Channel 7, and Rogers still has a few years to go. But they both took time to visit us, to talk a bit about the week’s news and to look back on decades of the TV news business. It’s a fascinating conversation.
Meincke told us that the recent unraveling of the Lt. Gliniewicz story in Fox Lake was unlike anything he’d ever witnessed.
“…to have been rational in committing an irrational act,” he explains, “to have planned it out like that, to have perpetuated a really evil hoax on his family, his community and the country. I’ve never seen anything turn 180 as fast as that.”
Rogers revealed some interesting insight into his newsroom during the early period after Gliniewicz died. He said it took about a day for the phone to start ringing.
“Let’s get through day 1, okay. Day 1 we have a police shooter,” he explains. “But day 2 is when the calls started to the newsroom.” “Something ain’t right,” he says the leads were telling him. “Something ain’t right. I’m a cop. Trust me, something ain’t right there”
Meincke had the same experience over at Channel 7.
“Yeah. We got calls – I got a call from a long-time experienced Chicago retired officer, a big picture guy. He says, ‘They’re not doing… they didn’t do the grid search. I’m watching your helicopter. Where’s the grid search? What’s going on here?’ I got a Facebook message from someone anonymous who said, ‘You guys are perpetuating a hoax. This guy committed suicide.’”
“The coroner was the first person to use the word ‘suicide’ on the record…did that with me,” Rogers explains. “So in other words we’ve been batting suicide around for a long time, and then I get done with the coroner and I walked in and I said, “We’ve got to have a meeting here, because we’re about to say suicide on the air for the first time and how are we going to do that?” And I mean we had a sit-down. 3 or 4 management people, where we decided yeah, the coroner said it. But I mean this was a very very big discussion because we have this hero that’s now – he’s pretty much been chiseled on Mt. Rushmore. And now we are going to be the first ones to use the ‘s’ word on television, and that was a big deal.
Both reporters said the pressure on Fox Lake City officials was enormous, because Gliniewicz was to have appeared before them the next day to answer questions about his finances. So they knew he was in trouble. But they had to put on a brave face as the media stirred up a frenzy about the”war on cops”, and four thousand police officers poured into town for the funeral.
Rogers says he wouldn’t have wanted to be in their shoes. “Because there is nothing on this planet holier than an honor funeral for a fallen police officer.”
You can see Phil’s Friday story on Gliniewicz here, in which he reveals that the disgraced cop stockpiled all sorts of military equipment and was training teens in the art of military assault.
We ask them how they’re seeing Governor Rauner these days.
“This is not your Jim Thompson kind of governor,” explains Rogers. “This is not even a George Ryan kind of governor or a Jim Edgar kind of governor, or even a Rod Blagojevich kind of governor, a guy who loved being governor. Bruce Rauner doesn’t really want to be governor. He doesn’t have any interest in the governor stuff. He came here for only two reasons – he wants to fix the finances and he wants to pull kind of a Scott Walker type revolution with the Unions.”
“Other than that I don’t think he cares. Paul and I saw him in Fairdale, and in Rochelle, is that where he came to visit?” asks Rogers.
“Right,” Meincke confirms. “In both places. It was a tornado…”
“Yeah, tornado aftermath and here’s where I really formed my view on this, and that was he was walking through the damage down there and was bored and was looking at his watch,” Rogers claims.
“It was like do I really have to do this, because I really just want to go back to Springfield and take on Madigan again. I mean to me that’s his deal, and all this other stuff of state government I think he’s really not very interested in. So, what you’re seeing unfold down there, this war with Madigan is his full-time gig.”
But, in the long game, is Rauner winning the war, we ask? Both say it’s possible, because the citizenry’s getting tired of the fighting.
“Once you get past the fringes of the edges that make news, so you’ve got this bunch on the left and this bunch on the right, you’ve got this giant thing in the middle and they just want these guys to stop it, okay. They just want them to come to some kind of accommodation,” Rogers asserts.
And Meincke offers a sobering prediction.
“But there’s not going to be a return to collegiality. That’s just not going to happen. There’s too much in your face, too many stands. That’s not going to happen.”
Both Meincke and Rogers began their careers when commercial television news was at its zenith. Today’s media landscape is much different, as we know. And the role of local television news operations – even dominant ones like theirs – is changing every day. Of particular concern to them is the rise of partisan broadcasting.
And Rogers says Fox News got it started.
“I used to say and I really believed this, I used to say that Fox News was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party. I’m starting to think the Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of Fox News. Because now the politicians are pandering to the network. It used to be the other way around, and there is absolutely nothing healthy about that.”