Notice, Undercover Reporting

Sunday Long Read, The Classic Read, The Sunday Oral History, curated by Jack Shafer: The Story Behind the Chicago Newspaper That Bought a Bar (2017) for Topic Magazine By Andy Wright (NB: Undercover Reporting: The Truth About Deception)

January 7, 2024

   The Story Behind the Chicago Newspaper That Bought a Bar (2017)

By Andy Wright for Topic Magazine

 (~15 minutes)

In the mid-1970s, a few Chicago newshounds sniffed out a new way to cover “Chicago-style politics”—the bribes bar and restaurant owners paid to city inspectors to avoid fines. The proprietors were happy to complain to reporters but, fearing retaliation, none of them would go on the record. So a pair of reporters at the Chicago Tribune proposed the idea of going undercover to buy and run a bar with a surveillance perch to record the shakedowns. The Trib’s lawyers nixed the idea, but when they made the pitch to Chicago Sun-Times Editor James F. Hoge, their Mirage bar was established and the game was afoot.

Coda: Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, the Mirage expose was assailed by the Pulitzer board as an exercise in “entrapment.” The Washington Post expressed its scorn for undercover reporting, insisting that its reporters were instructed to never misrepresent themselves. The Mirage story got passed over, but it prompted government investigations and convictions. And its legend lives on.

Classic Bonus: Read the Mirage series on New York University’s “Undercover Reporting” website, which owes its origin to the research Brooke Kroeger did for the excellent 2012 book, Undercover Reporting: The Truth About Deception.

Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.