WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Buying a Bar to Report on Corruption

Feb 20, 2018

The Chicago Sun Times bought a bar in downtown Chicago in 1977 – The Mirage Tavern – and used it to uncover city corruption.  Reporters worked as bartenders and wait staff at the tavern.  Microphones and cameras were hidden throughout the premises. Columbia Journalism Review called it "undercover journalism’s greatest coup" in a recent article that looks back at the investigation.

Shop Talk panelist Jasmine Crighton believes we’ll never see another investigation like this again.  She said it raises some ethical questions, and she said Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee successfully argued against giving a Pulitzer Prize to the reporters because they obtained information through deception and misrepresentation.

Panelist Rich Egger wondered if the end justified the means, but it’s tough to argue against the good work done by the newspaper.  And he said the reporters did not try to entrap the city workers – the workers offered to overlook potentially dangerous problems, such as electrical flaws, in exchange for money.

Panelist Will Buss said the undercover investigation can be justified because it documented wrongdoing that the newspaper vetted and verified to the hilt.

Buss said he was taught to always go out for lunch; in other words, get out of the office.  At one job he frequented a diner near city hall and would sometimes come back from lunch with a story. He thinks there are similarities between that practice and the Sun Times series.

Jasmine Crighton is News Director of NEWS3 at Western Illinois University and Will Buss is the Director of Student Publications at WIU.