“Chicago? Umm, No Thanks, We’ll Take Afghanistan.”

Welcome to another Monday in August. President Bush has left behind Crawford, Texas for a brief jaunt through Utah and Idaho, the Pope held Mass yesterday for one million in his native Germany, and Shiites and Kurds are sending a draft constitution to Iraq’s parliament that would give the country a federalist government guided by Islamic law.

In other words — according to the headlines in most of the nation’s major papers — life goes on.

But not, apparently, in Chicago. There, life is “nasty, brutish and short,” as Thomas Hobbes famously said. Or so it seems if you rely on the Chicago Tribune’s crack online team, which is up to its old tricks, giving the impression that the world — or at least your world — is about to end.

CJR Daily noted in early July the Tribune Web site’s propensity for scare tactics and obsession with violent crime. Still, even we were a little chagrined to find the following lineup of stories midday today, beginning with this crash-heavy package:

“Bystander killed in cop chase”
“2 die at raceway”
“I-394 reopened after crash”
“New: 4 killed in Indiana crash”

In short, a young Mexican immigrant perished when a suspect fleeing from police slammed into the passenger side of her car, two people died and six were injured when a race car flew off a dirt track into bleachers, a highway was just reopened after a fatal accident Friday, and a chain-reaction miscue on the Indiana Toll Road took an additional four lives this morning.

Readers are given a bit of a break with the next two headlines — “State taxes burn smokers” and something positive, “Update: Stem cell advance reported” — before the deluge resumes:

“Update: Relatives face bomber”
“New: Synthesizer innovator dies”
“New: Cops seek cyclists in shooting”
“Fan injured at Stones concert”

A second positive headline, “Band adds 3rd Chicago show,” is thrown into the mix, but the lineup ends true to form with the final item, “Lakefront walkers face perils.” Notes the teaser: “The death of a Chicago girl who was struck by a car while she tried to cross Lake Shore Drive resulted in 17 years of improved safety for pedestrians — until now.”

Such is the online Trib’s thirst for the gruesome, alert readers will note, that most of those items aren’t even from Chicago.

For readers of the Tribune who can’t get their hands on a printed copy, the paper’s home page is the face the newspaper presents to the world. And invariably the message the world gets when logging on to the Web site of the nation’s sixth-largest paper on any given weekday is this:

Life is short and miserable, and death is coming fast. So be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Edward B. Colby

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.