With less than eight weeks to go before a primary election involving contests for U.S. senator, Illinois governor and Cook County Board president, it might seem like an odd time for a news organization to fire its veteran political editor. But that's what happened Friday at Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32.
In a move that caught most staffers by surprise, Jack Conaty, 63, was forced out after 22 years as chief political correspondent. Many of his Channel 32 co-workers learned the news when they read it on Phil Rosenthal's Chicago Tribune blog. By then, Conaty had taped his last "Fox Chicago Sunday" show and left the station for good.
Insiders said the timing of Conaty's departure was dictated by the expiration of his contract, which the station chose not to renew. It's not clear whether Channel 32 will designate a replacement in time for coverage of the Feb. 2 primary.‚ "We appreciate all of Jack's hard work and dedication during his time with Fox Chicago," his bosses said in a statement. It was Conaty's choice to exit without fanfare, simply telling viewers and co-host Dane Placko on his farewell broadcast:
"After many years, Fox Chicago News and I are parting ways. It's been my honor and privilege to spend some time with you on Sunday mornings. I will miss that. To all of you, all the best in the future and thank you."
If Conaty seemed to lack the hard-charging passion of a Mike Flannery, an Andy Shaw or a Walter Jacobson, he made up for it with an air of wry detachment and utter bemusement at the circus of politics. His professorial demeanor may have stemmed from the six years he taught English in New Haven, Conn., before turning to broadcast journalism. After on-air stints in Florida, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., he was among the original cadre of reporters who helped launch Channel 32's news operation in 1987.
"Jack may not be young and hip and glib, but [as an interviewer] he is so strong," said one admiring colleague. "His Chris Matthews way of burrowing into a guest can be done only by a reporter who knows what he's talking about.‚ And Jack always knows what he's talking about."
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