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The [Thursday] Papers

Someone finally asked John Conroy what he thought of the Guardian's reporting on Homan Square. It was WBEZ on Wednesday, and what he said was devastating:

"I don't think I've seen anything like this before where a reporter comes in and there seems to be such anger at the reporter and a few words in his story, which are provocative but nonetheless the basic facts are borne out.

"Seven attorneys have now said they had clients in which they couldn't reach . . . not seven clients - dozens, scores, we don't know.

"I don't know why there was such outrage that this was reported. People get scooped all the time . . . Get over it."

I'd sure rather be on Conroy's side than Frank Main's.

*

"There's been so much blowback by the press here and others saying it didn't happen . . . it couldn't have happened because [there are] press conferences there. The press was in the building the day Andrew Wilson was tortured [by Jon Burge] in Area 2."

*

And when the rest of the Chicago media finally picked up the story:

"The dailies covered it like you'd cover a fire, with no context."

*

Based on what I've been hearing from local reporters, and based on what I already knew, I believe what Tracy Siska told the Atlantic is true:

"I think that many crime reporters in Chicago have political views that are right in line with the police. They tend to agree about the tactics needed by the police."

*

Now, some local reporters went apeshit about what Siska said next:

"They tend to have by one extent or the other the same racist views of the police - a lot of urban police (not all of them by any stretch, but a lot of them) embody racism."

I discuss what he means on The Beachwood Radio Hour #46: Explaining Chicago's Black Site. And I agree.

*

Now consider what Conroy wrote in the 1996 article "Town Without Pity" about the media's failure to follow his Burge stories:

"The media might have been on the case if the public had demonstrated significant outrage or if individual reporters had felt some kinship with the victims."

Instead, local reporters are mocking the NATO activists identified as victims and ignoring the other 99 percent whose civil liberties are at stake and are people of color.

*

On Tuesday, Guardian reported that:

Figures obtained by Chicago's First Defense Legal Aid under a freedom-of-information request found that in 2013, lawyers were able to visit clients in police custody citywide for only 302 out of 143,398 arrestees - a rate of 0.2%. These statistics reveal a very different picture from the portrayal in the Chicago police "fact sheet" which claims that "an individual who wishes to consult a lawyer will not be interrogated until they have an opportunity to do so."

That number is far worse - worse than 0.2% - at Homan, from everything we've seen reported.

Conroy on Wednesday said himself that he had seen these statistics.

"Less than one percent. What happened to the others?"

Some are simply choosing not to call an attorney, Conroy surmised.

Others simply can't afford an attorney.

But when WBEZ host Niala Boodhoo asked if the real problem was detainees simply not being given the opportunity to make a call or see a lawyer, Conroy said:

"Bingo."

*

Here's Conroy's interview - listen to the whole thing.

*

Eliza Solowiej, the executive director of Chicago's First Defense Legal Aid, said something else newsworthy to the Guardian this week:

"The mayor's office says they are considering giving [arrestees] access to the phones early on, posting our number and a know your rights notice. I expect movement on that this month to show they aren't getting in between people and their lawyers. Opening up the phone lines between their arrestees and legal aid is what it will take to watchdog their promises."

So there's plenty for local reporters to follow-up on, from the General Orders I discussed on Wednesday to Solowiej's stats to the possibility of the mayor's office taking action to the, um, actual story of Homan Square.

And if local reporters find that everyone in the Guardian stories - which now number about a dozen - are lying, then that's a pretty fabulous story too. But you can't knock a story down out of your head; you have to do the reporting for that, too.

*

For example, here's what Siska told the Atlantic about the way CPD handles arrestees:

Siska: We changed that rule. What used to happen at Homan Square is that prior to a year ago, if you get arrested and you get brought down anywhere in any district, you would not pop up in the city computer as being arrested until they processed the police report, which could take anywhere from an hour to 15 hours. If they "arrested" you, then they have to report it. But if they don't "arrest you," nefarious things could happen and they could interrogate you without a lawyer. And they would move you around from district to district. So [for example] if the family shows up or the lawyer shows up and they say you aren't here but you are, they've denied you access. But if they say you're at [district] 17, then move you to 15, and then 12, they can question you without counsel. At Homan Square they don't process paperwork about your arrest. You're just gone. No one knows.

At some point they have to do the paperwork and prosecute you. After they get your confession, you wind up back in the paperwork.

Basu: What's the incentive for doing the paperwork then?

Siska: About a year ago, we changed the rule. After arriving at a CPD facility, [officers] have 20 minutes to one hour to put you into the system, and you appear on the system city-wide. Any officer anywhere in the city can find where you are. And anywhere they move you to, every time you move, [officers] have 20 minutes to one hour to put you in so you show up on a computer. Each time you move, your right to phone calls and Miranda rights starts all over again.

That's pretty detailed inside knowledge. Yet, while Siska has been called by news agencies worldwide, only WBEZ here in Chicago has bothered to interview him.

*

Disclosure: Again, Siska is a friend. What he says is still true.

*

Meanwhile, the Columbia Journalism Review's local correspondent Jackie Spinner, a former Washington Post reporter on the faculty of Columbia College, weighed in on Wednesday with "The Guardian's Homan Square Story Was Huge On The Internet - But Not In Chicago Media."

Disclosure: Spinner linked to both my podcast about Homan and Wednesday's column.

Spinner wrote:

"The city's two main dailies, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, quickly reported that city police denied any wrongdoing in pieces that offered little original reporting. The CBS affiliate in Chicago also reported the police denial. The local papers and TV stations have since covered protests from groups demanding that the facility be shuttered.

"But more than a week after the initial story, local enterprise reporting remains scant. The most notable examples are a few oddly framed stories, from the Tribune and public radio station WBEZ, suggesting that the focus on Homan Square is misplaced and that, according to local defense attorneys, abusive detentions and interrogations may actually be routine and widespread. If true, that would seem to be worth digging into - but the local coverage, especially in the Tribune, put as much emphasis on possible overreach by The Guardian as it did on police abuse."

That "possible overreach" refers to, presumably, use of the term "black site," which has local reporters jumping out of their skin. But that's what Homan's been called for years, as evidenced in part by real-time tweets I showed on Wednesday.

Be that as it may - and I also discussed on my podcast why I thought use of the term (which didn't come from Ackerman, as incorrectly stated by local reporters) was totally justified, and Conroy noted the facts about it were borne out - it's incumbent on reporters to get past it, unless they are searching really hard for a reason to dismiss the reporting of more than a dozen stories in several outlets outside of Chicago.

*

Most interesting to me from CJR, though, was this:

"Craig Newman, managing editor of the Sun-Times, declined to comment for this story. So did reporters I reached out to at both local papers. An editor at the Tribune did not respond to requests for comment."

Are you fucking kidding me?

I'm not sure I can capture all the layers of irony about that in one sentence, but I'll try:

"In an article for the industry's leading journalism review about Chicago journalists' response to the Guardian's journalism, Chicago journalists refused to comment about their response to the Guardian, just as the Chicago Police Department has refused to comment."

*

In this interview with MSNBC, Ackerman notes that lawyers and activists tried to interest Chicago reporters in this story for years. I know for a fact that is true.

-

Among the questions I hear local reporters asking: If this is happening, why have no lawsuits been filed?

That's a very weird question. First, I'm confused about whether the Chicago media's defense is that this isn't happening or that it's happening everywhere.

I would turn that back on the Chicago media: If you are reporting that it's happening everywhere (and they are) and that Homan Square isn't anything special (it is), then where are the lawsuits?

That's an odd bar to set. The first lawsuit to come out of the Burge tortures was about a decade after Conroy started writing.

More to the point, that's a question to ask the lawyers making the allegations, not to make in your head to justify not pursuing the story.

I can think of plenty of reasons why there haven't been lawsuits from Homan (though there have been other cases arising out of Chicago on the matter):

* Lawsuits take time and money.

* Legal aid lawyers who don't reach their clients don't even know whom they would sue on behalf of.

* Reluctant clients.

* Standards in the law that might advantage police and make cases hard to win.

* Who knows. It's a good question. Go ask it.

But again, from the Tribune, just as I pointed out on Wednesday, it's not as if this isn't being argued in court papers in the rare cases that go to court:

Attorney Michael Deutsch represented one of the three protesters prosecuted under the little-known state terrorism charge that police sought after federal authorities expressed little interest in charging the case. Deutsch and other lawyers challenged the handling of their clients by police, especially their difficulties getting access to the men at Homan Square. They filed a motion to suppress any statements Brian Church, one of the NATO 3, gave while being held at Homan square.

Deutsch said prosecutors withdrew Church's statement to police as trial evidence so the motion was never argued before a judge.

"I think that's the reason (they withdrew it) was to avoid that kind of inquiry into what happened," he said. "If you can't find your client, you can't present yourself so that's what happened with Brian Church. We weren't able to find him for almost 24 hours."

Get it?

*

UPDATE 3 P.M.: "First Defense filed suit demanding access to clients during questioning in 2002," Curtis Black writes for the Chicago Reporter, "noting CPD's record of coercing false confessions, hundreds of which had been thrown out of court in the previous decade."

*

Another complaint I'm hearing is that the NATO activists aren't credible because . . . they have issues with NATO?

I find this incredibly odd, because no one lost more credibility during the NATO 3 trial than the Chicago Police Department (and the Cook County State's Attorney's Office).

If you don't believe me, just go back and read coverage of the NATO 3 trial and, in particular, Mark Brown's columns (also cited by Conroy) in the Sun-Times - lost to linking through the various iterations of the paper's website but available on databases including through the Harold Washington Library. I can at least offer this slice.

Then again, the Chicago media's stories about the big NATO meeting here focused on keeping order and controlling protesters, not protecting the civil liberties of those who wanted - for good reason - to protest.

That's not a helpful mindset.

Siska to the Atlantic:

"I think The Guardian, especially Spencer Ackerman, comes at it from a civil-rights perspective."

And that produces a different story than focusing on the political triumph of Rahm Emanuel holding an international military security conference here.

*

It's odd how the media assigns credibility. Rahm Emanuel and Barbara Byrd-Bennett, for example, have been shown to have outright lied multiple times, yet they can get Op-Eds published in the local papers any time they want - and their statements are still taken seriously and reported at face value.

Has anyone yet shown the NATO activists to have lied?

*

And more to the point, again, what about the 90 percent of victims in this story who are people of color? Who gives them a voice?

-

The Beachwood Tip Line: Voice lessons.



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Posted on March 5, 2015


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