SETTING A LOW BAR

Reagan-home demolition story does not pass journalistic standards—should have been reported merely as rumor and speculation

EDITORIAL REPORT BY MICHAEL RICONDA

Following online rumors and reports in major conservative news outlets like www.newsmax.com and www.foxnews.com that one of Ronald Reagan’s childhood homes would be demolished to make room for a parking lot for President Obama’s Presidential Library at the University of Chicago, both the University of Chicago and the White House Press Office have stepped in to refute the assertions.

Obama Press Secretary Jay Carney ridiculed the story, while the University of Chicago denied the rumors, but did admit that the home may be leveled to make room for a grassy strip accompanying an addition to the school’s medical research center. The demolition is currently awaiting the city’s review.

A clear problem with the report on the supposed conspiracy to tread on the spirit of Reagan, is that according to current information, Obama has yet to choose the site for his library and Hawaii is still considered a legitimate option.

Still, this has not stopped the initial author of the spin from attempting to portray his string of guesswork as real evidence of a grand conspiracy to spit on the memory of the popular former president.

William J. Kelly, the reporter who initially penned the article for a blog on the Washington Times website, continues to defend his theory, pointing to Obama’s tenure as a law professor at the University Of Chicago Law School, and Michelle Obama and presidential Advisor Valerie Jarrett’s former executive positions with the University of Chicago Medical Center.

“I proudly stand by my column and my right to tell ‘the other side of the story,’” Kelly wrote in an earlier January 4 FOX News article. “The side of the story that the mainstream media doesn’t tell. The real people side of the story.”

The house, which is located in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, was the home of Reagan’s family for a few months while the future president was about 4-years-old. In a 1988 interview, Reagan recalled his years at the address, speaking about a near-fatal bout of pneumonia and admiration for nearby fire crews who inspired him to become a firefighter.

The now-vacant home was boarded up after the University of Chicago bought the property and evicted its last tenants. It was originally slated for demolition in January, but a 90-day stay was been granted by the City of Chicago, making its future uncertain.

Though the Hyde Park area the home is considered a bastion of liberalism, many influential preservationists of the community would like to preserve both the historical significance of Reagan’s presence, and the aesthetic appeal of the old buildings, which later housed a working class black community.

Hyde Park liberals also are known to have a testy relationship with the University of Chicago, the school which ironically brought the world both Barack Obama and the decidedly conservative Chicago School of Economics, which Ronald Reagan was oft a champion of.

What we know at this point is that the University-which does indeed have ties to the Obama family-plans to knock the house down and is also seeking to be the site of Obama’s library. Hence, there is a possibility the site could be used for a future library’s parking. But it’s only a possibility strewn together through speculation and not a solidly developed truth!

To compensate for his lack of proof, Kelly launches a flurry of questions framed in a vaguely-accusatory manner. He suggests the home’s proximity to the University and to Obama’s own childhood home warrants suspicion and notes that the school has been aggressively pursuing the library.

However, Kelly’s questioning seems to cover for a deeper lack of substance. Eventually, even he admitted that nobody is sure who will get the library and where it will be cited, much less where visitors will park. Why should the president’s alma mater be regarded with such suspicion for seeking recognition and status?

Beyond the guilt-by-association which Kelly casts upon a school with personal connections to Obama, Kelly’s suggestion relies almost exclusively on conjecture.

Nonetheless, the blogosphere set itself ablaze with the story. News lines such as the Daily Mail and Newsmax carried the rumor without acknowledging its lack of evidence, and it went viral until the University and White House set out to address the rumors.

Beneath the spin, the real issue of whether the Reagan house will be designated as a historic landmark does remain. One might question whether Reagan’s former home warranted special attention, given that local resident Tom Rosen’s discovery of the home required delving into Chicago Police records because Reagan himself did not remember the exact location.

I am not inclined to believe that Obama or the University of Chicago are paragons of truth, but when the very existence of scandal is uncertain, they are not necessarily lying on the matter, either.

eople do lie, but people also cast smoke and mirrors to invite unwarranted attention to their loose theories. Fear sells, but if we should be afraid of anything, it is plowing over a possible historic site without giving it the appropriate consideration. We do not need a boogeyman to see that as a legitimate concern.

We should also be afraid as journalists of not applying the highest standards to ourselves! Clearly Kelly has not.