Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Indelible Ink

By Shawn Healy
The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum hosted an off-site program last evening in honor of famed Chicago journalist Mike Royko who died ten years ago this Sunday. A sold-out Chase Auditorium (533+) was entertained by close friend Rick Kogan and a cast of family, former colleagues, and lifelong allies.

Kogan began the evening by reading excerpts from Royko columns, concluding each segment with "Ladies and Gentlemen, the words of Mike Royko." As he completed his monologue, the balance of the cast took the stage and sat at tables meant to mimic those at the Billy Goat Tavern Mike helped make famous.

TV and print reporter Carol Marin was the first to speak. She reflected upon a childhood of reading four Chicago newspapers each day, and the scramble among her siblings at the dinner table for the Chicago Daily News. Royko's column was a resident on page 2. This spawned a career in journalism, and if her column in the Sun-Times yesterday is any indication, she did Mike proud. Marin ended by reading from Royko's column on the unveiling of the Picasso sculpture at City Plazea (since named after the venerable Mayor Richard J. Daley).

Marin was followed by Sam Royko, Mike's youngest son. Sam reflected upon his father's role of media watchdog and how these trying times demand more journalists in his father's mold. John Kass of the Chicago Tribune spoke next and acknowledged the 200-pound giant he carries on his back each and every day as the occupant of Mike's former place in the Chicago Tribune. He empathized with the difficulty that every columnist has in writing a daily piece, and chose Mike's obituary for a balloon salesman as a way of illustrating Royko's ability to make the exploits of the common man the stuff of legend.

Mike's oldest son David spoke about the strains that his famous career as a journalist placed upon his private life as a family man. Rarely did Mike ever mix the two, but David read from a rare column his father wrote about short-legged dogs and their travails when it snows. The object of this writing was his wife and their family pet.

Neil Giuntoli, the star of Hizzoner, arrived dressed the part of Royko's Boss, Mayor Richard J. Daley. Giuntoli read the December 21, 1976, column that Mike wrote the day Daley died. Although a proverbial thorn in the Mayor's side, Royko recognized his strengths alongside his weaknesses, and acknowledged that Daley embodied Chicago in so many ways.

Judy Royko, Mike's second wife, reflected upon the man he was. Kind, witty, a family man to the core, the best of what was reflected in his columns throughout the years.

Rick Kogan interviewed the world's greatest tavern owner, Sam Sianis of the Billy Goat, who called Mike a brother and claims that he's seen his ghost at the bar. Kogan also spoke to Studs Terkel at the end of the program. Studs recalled Mike's ability to constantly choose the right words, the remarkable quality of the five columns he penned each and every week, and the integrity with which he made his final career change. When Rupert Murdoch purchased the Sun-Times, Mike walked across the street to his lifelong nemesis, the "voice piece of northern Republicanism," none other than the Chicago Tribune. After all, according to Royko, "No self-respecting fish would be wrapped in a Murdoch paper."

The evening ended with a film clip of Mike holding court at the Billy Goat after a 16" softball game, and an invitation from Kogan to the audience to attend a private party at the Goat.

Although I am admittedly an unconventional Royko fan, the evening meant a great deal to me as someone who admired the man from afar. I came to appreciate Mike in college as I subscribed to the Tribune. I caught only the final couple years of his daily musings, but felt a personal connection to the man nonetheless. His death in 1997 was nothing short of devastating.

Upon moving to Chicago in 2001, I came across the compilations of his columns published upon his death, One More Time and For the Love of Mike. I read his tome Boss and later purchased a class set for my high school students to read. I tracked down old volumes of his articles, and tried to read as many of his 8,000 columns as humanly possible. I even read Ciccone's uneven biography. In the process, I received a priceless education on a city I have since adopted as home.

His widow, Judy, donated all of Mike's 8,000 columns to the Newberry Library for preservation and research. For the sake of his loyal readers everywhere, and relative newcomers like myself, let's hope they're all digitized soon and placed online for the public to enjoy and learn. Moreover, echoing the advice of Roger Ebert, the Tribune and/ or the Sun-Times should publish one of Mike's old columns every day. Long live the byline that became a legend, Mike Royko!


What Is An American?

By Shawn Healy
The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum hosted a teacher seminar last Friday addressing the issue of immigration from a variety of angles. A representative of the Dept. of Homeland Security, Robert Blackwood, spoke about the process of becoming a citizen, and Sam Osaki of the Japanese-American Citizen's League (JACL) recounted his internment experience during WWII. I highlighted the current political dynamics surrounding the issue, using a lesson plan we just developed as my guide.

The attached lesson provides a historic timeline of immigration with a backdrop of Grant Park in Chicago and a massive immigration rally staged there last May. It also includes four primary documents: synopses of the 1924 Comprehensive Immigration Law and the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, a op-ed piece written by Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO), and a summary of the McCain-Kennedy immigration reform proposal set to be considered by Congress this spring and summer. The lesson itself is a cooperative learning activity presented in seminar format where group members read one of the aforementioned articles, share these with the group, and begin discussing the specific elements active in the current immigration debate. Groups are ultimately asked to construct their own model policies.

We put our teacher attendees up to this task and a plethora of workable policies emerged. Beyond the guest worker, amnesty, and border security measures present in most congressional proposals, our group suggested the ongoing provision of human services to immigrants as they proceed down the path toward citizenship, the establishment of safety centers for illegal immigrants, steps to bolster foreign economies (poor conditions often spur emigration), and increased funding for cultural education.

These productive ideas and strong sentiments should be shared with our policymakers as they ponder monumental reform. We recommend just this in our ideas for follow-up activities tied to the lesson: a letter-writing campaign directed at Congress.

The issue is again bubbling to the surface with yesterday's shopping mall raid in the Chicago area and another march scheduled for May 1st. President Bush has placed his stake in the ground and urged congressional action on the issue this year, and both houses of Congress have obliged by scheduling hearings. There is no better lesson in democracy than the movement unfolding before our very eyes. What will you do to make your voice heard?

P.S. Should you desire a hard copy of the lesson, drop me a line at the following email address:


A Footnote in Blacksburg

By Shawn Healy
My earlier post today gushed about the triumph of "new media" in the midst of tragedy at Virginia Tech, but it appears I spoke too soon. A student photographer from the campus newspaper, The Collegiate Times, was arrested and had his camera confiscated by police because he matched the description of the assassin. While he was released soon thereafter, he has yet to retrieve his camera, carrying case, and the film within.

Rising to the Occassion in the Midst of Tragedy

By Shawn Healy
I was interviewing for my first teaching position in the spring of 1999 when the Columbine Massacre and its aftermath gripped the nation. America's schools were no longer safe in the public's eyes as copycats and pranksters lurked in the wings, playing upon public anxieties. 24/7 news coverage brought to troubled stories of Eric Harris and Dylan Kliebold to our doorsteps, TV sets, and motem connections. Upon entering the classroom, I recall school evacuations, the temporary installation of metal detectors, prohibition of backpacks, and a host of other precautions for fear of a tragic repeat.

Although I have since left teaching for other educational pursuits, last week's massacre on the Virginia Tech campus brought back similar anxieties. Having spent more than a decade on college campuses, I am familiar with the freedom of movement at all hours that enabled a crazed killer to wreak havoc on a rustic university town. Parallels to Columbine abound, but perhaps the most striking difference from where I sit is the difference in news coverage from Day One.

While "old media" outlets staked out the same ground they did eight years ago, "new media" offerings pushed the proverbial envelope and in many cases scooped their mainstream peers. At the forefront of this coverage was student journalists. While some of them were associated with traditional venues like the campus newspaper, others relied upon cell phone cameras, web logs, and social networking sites to tell a personal story that profoundly altered their lives. Even the killer himself embraced these technologies to tell his troubled stories, ultimately forcing old media channels to consider the ethics of unleashing this incoherent rant.

While the news trucks and cameras will soon depart Blacksburg, VA, the landscape of the campus and college life in general is forever altered. While it is difficult to rescue sunlight from utter tragedy, "new media" outlets rose to the occasion thanks to the very students targeted by one of their own.


First and Ten Again on the Football Field

By Shawn Healy
The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today in a case concerning the First Amendment rights of a football coach to send letters to potential players prior to their official enrollment at the high school for which he once worked. The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association sanctioned the school, Brentwood Academy, for illegal recruiting with a nominal fine and a two-year suspension from the state playoffs ( a true penalty for a ten-time state champion). In an earlier ruling the Court, with since-retired Justice O'Connor in the majority, deemed the TSSAA a state entity and thus beholden to the First Amendment. This airing will consider whether Coach Calton Flatt's First Amendment rights were violated.

As a former high school football coach I am particularly interested in the outcome of this case, First Amendment implications aside. While I admit that illegal recruiting undermines the spirit of interscholastic competition and occurs in both public and private schools, I think that this particular incident is particularly harmless. I served as head freshman football coach, and my boss, the varsity head coach, used to send out letters to all male newborns at the local hospital welcoming them to the football family. That Coach Flatt did the same to 12 eighth graders already committed to attending Brentwood Academy, merely inviting them to practice, seems like a senseless gripe.

Justice Alito's position on this case may prove pivotal given his replacement of O'Connor and her position as part of the 5-4 majority last time the case was decided in the High Court. Alito's pro-free speech record as a District Judge may predict another victory for the old football coach.


The Great Firewall of China

By Shawn Healy
I recently penned an article on Internet censorship in China for Social Education magazine (April issue), so I wasn't astonished when I was alerted by a fellow blogger that Fanning the Flames is banned in China. The Wizard of Odds, a site dedicated to college football, sent me this URL. A simple test shows that my regular musings about freedom and the First Amendment fail to penetrate the Great Firewall.

I consider this a badge of honor.


Sorrell's Last Stand

By Shawn Healy
Amy Sorrell requested and was granted a public hearing to challenge her dismissal from Woodlan High School outside of Ft. Wayne, IN. Scheduled for May 1st, the hearing will precede a school board meeting considering her fate.


From the Press Box to the Witness Stand

By Shawn Healy
The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum held a program on Wednesday evening titled "From the Press Box to the Witness Stand: Sports Journalism and the First Amendment." A distinguished panel represented both sides of the issue, pitting former US Attorney Anton Valukus against Sun Times sports columnist Rick Telander, with Lester Munson, a Sport Illustrated editor, serving as moderator.

The panel focused specifically on the steroids scandal that has enveloped the sporting world, and baseball specifically, for the last several years. Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, were subpoenaed in a federal investigation surrounding a grand jury leak related to the prosecution of the Bay Area Laboratory Company (BALCO). They used portions of this leak to write their expose of the steroids controversy in Game of Shadows, and refused to divulge the source of their information. As a result, they were threatened with jail time and avoided the slammer only because their source ultimately confessed.

Telander took a passionate stand on the side of his brethren, planning to set camp outside their jail cell for the sake of the integrity of his profession. By no means an ideologue or a politico, Telander became a First Amendment activist because this case struck so close to home.

Valukus, on the other hand, is more concerned with the integrity of the grand jury process. The leaker in this case was the defendant's lawyer, and the reporters refused to divulge this information, impeding the investigation and prosecution of those guilty of producing and marketing illegal steroids.

Munson, an attorney by training, but a journalist in his current life, followed this story closely and was scooped by the SFC journalists. He sided with Telander, claiming the wave of prosecutions and subpoena-issuing to journalists has had nothing less than a chilling effect. Journalists routinely burn their notes, delete their emails, and refuse to share sources even with their editors in response to the tense climate for modern reporters.

As an observer, I saw the merits of both sides presented, recognizing that this case is by no means a slam dunk one way or the other. Telander recognized this conundrum, but argued that we must err on the side of a free press when placed against the engine of government. We are left to examine the current landscape outside of steroids and baseball, and Gene Policinski does an excellent job of placing the BALCO case in context.

One cannot ignore the current clash between the Dept. of Justice and members of the press, from Judith Miller through Josh Wolfe. The latter, a San Francisco blogger, was just freed from jail after striking a deal with prosecutors. His call for a federal shield law echoes that of Telander and others, and the corpses on the field of battle may give Congress the munition it needs to further fortify the Fourth Estate.


Standing Up for Student Media

By Shawn Healy
At the same time that Indiana high school journalism teacher Amy Sorrell is fighting to keep her job after publication of a pro-gay rights editorial in the student paper, Michigan joined Washington and Oregon in a growing wave of states considering legislation to strengthen student press rights. The bill would transfer editorial control to student journalists, similar to laws in six other states.

The relationship between student publications and administrators need not be adversarial as this article in the St. Johns Sun illustrates. The importance of teaching the tools of the journalistic trade is what matters most, along with allowing students to experience the trials and travails of journalism parallel to the the existence of a professional reporter.

All affected students are receiving a lesson in the First Amendment, for better or worse.


Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at