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The [Thursday] Papers

In at least one courtroom in America on Wednesday, justice was served.

The jury I sat on this week found for the City of Evanston against a 72-year-old woman who claimed she tripped on a misaligned tree grate and face-planted. She asked for about $20,000 in medical reimbursement and $70,000 for pain and suffering. We said no - and it wasn't even close. In fact, deliberations would have gone even faster if we weren't enjoying the pizza brought in for lunch.

Now, there was no question that the woman tripped and suffered injuries. There was a huge question, though, whether she tripped on the tree grate or something else, including her own feet. And even if we found our way to blame the tree grate, I doubt we would have found any differently seeing as how we determined that Evanston reasonably cared for its grates and that any misalignment - also in question - was not due to negligent maintenance.

I may write up more about the case later, because it was sort of fascinating in its own way, even though we essentially thought it was frivolous. For now, I'll try to ease back into the news. I can't catch up with everything in one day, people!

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GI Joe Media
"Upending the portrayal of Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz as a hero tragically cut down in the line of duty as he neared retirement, authorities on Wednesday said the Fox Lake officer died in a suicide he staged to look like a murder as it became clear he could face consequences for years of alleged theft," the Tribune reports.

Oh, one word must have accidentally gotten edited out of that lead. Let me fix it:

"Upending the media portrayal of Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz . . . "

*

"A 30-year veteran and fixture of the lakeside village, Gliniewicz was laid to rest after a funeral attended by thousands, at which he was portrayed as a selfless public servant who gave his life for his community."

Fox Lake has a population of about 10,000. Thousands attended his funeral not because they were residents aware of Gliniewicz's supposedly stellar service to the community, but because of the media portrayal of GI Joe after his death. And that's why he was "portrayed" the way he was at the service. If Gliniewicz himself had thought his death would receive as much attention that it did, he certainly would have planned it differently.

*

"[S]ome observers portrayed his death as evidence of an escalating war on police."

Again with the passive construction. Name the observers! Some of them work for the Tribune.

*

The Tribune's Rex Huppke lectures us today that #FactsMatter, but he works for an organization whose purpose is to deliver those facts. Oddly, he blames an ambiguous blob of people for botching the facts in controversial cases instead of looking around his own office.

When the news broke and the facts were few, there were ample opinions on the death of Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz.

He was a hero cop gunned down in the line of duty. He was the latest victim in a war on police fomented by the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Blue lives matter!" was the cry, as Gliniewicz's story - in the absence of facts about his death - slid neatly into a narrative that was never grounded in facts. (The conservative American Enterprise Institute recently looked at data from the "Officer Down Memorial Page" and found that "2015 will likely be one of the safest years in history for police.")

"Blue lives matter!" was the cry from whom? From the Tribune's John Kass and its editorial board, among others, that's who!

"[W]e have no time for investigations anymore. We have no time to sift through evidence and separate speculation from reality. So people leapt to their own conclusions and railed at others."

People in your own building! Which reports on unfinished investigations every day.

And then, of course, there's the obligatory Internet-blaming:

Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd said during Wednesday's news conference: "You have to understand, in this day and age, everything is instantaneous with the Internet."

Tell us something we don't know.

The Internet, an inanimate system of connecting computers, is to blame for the things that people post on popular platforms that appear on it! And who reaches the largest audiences through the Internet? Mainstream news organizations such as the one that employs Kass.

And where did Huppke find the information for his column? On the Internet.

*

Huppke is a serial offender. In 2012, he wrote a widely acclaimed satirical obituary for Facts, declaring that they had died "after a long battle for relevancy with the 24-hour news cycle, blogs and the Internet."

Because apparently before the Internet, newspapers always got their facts right. And note that Huppke blames the death of facts on "the 24-hour news cycle, blogs and the Internet," but again doesn't mention that organizations like his employer sit on the largest pieces of electronic real estate - and that blogs can hardly compete with them. (Also, "the 24-hour news cycle" only reflects the reality that we here on Earth live 24-hour days; the "news cycles" of the past were only determined by how long it took to mechanically publish and deliver something. There was never anything magical about, in particular, the morning newspaper "news cycle." In fact, I once worked for an afternoon paper, whose cycle was completely different!)

*

"[T] the official cause of death was from injuries suffered last week when Florida Republican Rep. Allen West steadfastly declared that as many as 81 of his fellow members of the U.S. House of Representatives are communists," Huppke wrote then.

As if elected officials up until then had always gotten their facts straight - particularly when it came to communists inside our government.

*

"People unable to understand how science works began to question Facts. And at the same time there was a rise in political partisanship and a growth in the number of media outlets that would disseminate information, rarely relying on feedback from Facts."

I've amply shown over the years that the legacy Chicago media rarely relies on feedback from Facts, so Huppke is off-point here. From the fanciful narrative about Barack Obama as weaved by David Axelrod and dutifully regurgitated by traditional news outlets here to aggressively ignoring locked-down reporting about Homan Square, just as it did with Jon Burge, the newspapers here have shown tremendous capacity to ignore Facts without any help from the blogs that have supposedly overridden its agenda-setting.

*

What's even worse is that no lessons will be learned from the Gliniewicz saga, just as lessons from the past go on unlearned. The media will not change its behavior. It never does.

*

Obviously the Sun-Times is guilty too.

"Fox Lake Police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, we are told, was a very good cop. We can see that clearly," the paper said in a September editorial.

Clearly! Today the same editorial page claims it was never so clear, as we shall see. But first:

These truths cannot escape us, especially when four police officers are slain across the U.S. in nine days.

On Friday, a lone gunman ambushed Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth, 47, of Harris County, Texas, while he fueled his patrol car. Goforth was shot 15 times, allegedly by Shannon Miles, in what officials described as a "coldblooded execution." Two days earlier, in Sunset, Louisiana, police officer Henry Nelson was killed with his own gun while responding to a domestic dispute. And two days before that, Louisiana state trooper Steven Vincent died after being shot in the head during a traffic stop.

Their deaths are senseless, brutal and tragic for those who loved them and for a society that relies on these men and women to stand on the front lines of crime to protect us in matters big and small.

These days cops are being scrutinized like never before as videos of police officers behaving badly, even criminally, continue to surface. This is an important technological development that we hope ultimately will force police departments to do a better job of training officers to deal with the public and aggressively weed out morally corrupt cops. There should be no tolerance for an officer who abuses authority.

But the vast majority of police officers are, like Gliniewicz, among our nation's most honorable men and women, doing a job fraught with peril. That should not even need to be said.

They deserve our respect and appreciation. Our baseline understanding should be that we need them more than ever.

I've done police reporting in four states over the last 25 years - even before the Internet! - and I can tell you that a segment of the law enforcement community always feels like it is under fire, and given a bad shake by the media. I can also tell you that the media always bends over backwards to valorize police officers and give them every benefit of the doubt. It's nonsense.

*

The Sun-Times: "Lt. Gliniewicz Laid To Rest: 'Now The Nation Knows He's A Hero.'"

Once the media spread the meme far and wide - using it to sell newspapers and induce clicks by sewing together a pleasing All-American narrative born of tragedy. Now it wants to hold everyone to account for the falsehood but itself.

*

"The world wants heroes, and we in the news media are always eager to supply them, especially when law enforcement gives its stamp of approval," Mark Brown writes for the Sun-Times.

Not everyone in law enforcement gave its stamp of approval, I can assure you, but on the media, yes, Brown is right.

*

"This is a man so committed to preserving his gung-ho image - as well as his survivor benefits - that he shot himself not once but twice, the pain from the first shot into his bulletproof vest failing to deter him from his plan."

I was under the impression that the first shot - into a bulletproof vest - was designed to help support his story. Facts matter!

*

"There's a lesson here for all of us. Even now the truth gets lost between the mythmaking and the cold, hard facts."

Again, there is a lesson here, and not for the first time, but for the zillionth time. Does anyone really think Brown's employer will finally learn it?

*

"I know that it is now incumbent on us in the news media to tear down the legend of G.I. Joe as eagerly as we built it up."

Please name those in your newsroom who were the eagerest.

*

"I'm most interested in the process that led to Gliniewicz being held up as a hero. It starts, as I suggested before, with a thirst for heroes . . . The news media knows this and stands ready to please. Dead heroes work best. Nobody wants to speak ill of the dead. People are more willing to suspend their natural skepticism that tells them all men and women are flawed. We smooth out the rough edges of a life and show only the good, often the only part we are shown."

Right. So stop doing it! It's that easy.

*

"The only thing to prevent that hero treatment would have been a signal from law enforcement to tread softly because something didn't add up. No signal was forthcoming."

First, you shouldn't have had to rely on a "signal" from law enforcement. Just do your job as journalists. That's all you need.

Second, again, not all members of law enforcement bought the story from the get-go. Get better sources.

Third, in case you think this is all hindsight from me, I can truthfully tell you that I had several conversations immediately after this incident with Tracy Siska of the Chicago Justice Project, and based on our experience and instinct, we believed that something was wrong right away. We might have ended up being wrong, but even if Gliniewicz had turned out to be the kind of victim so many thought he was, the media coverage of his heroism was totally overcooked, as was the misguided attempt to blame Black Lives Matter. One reason why I can refer to the coverage in this column as easily as I can is because I saved those stories for just this sort of review. I, you see, have learned from experience.

*

The Sun-Times clearly hasn't learned its lesson.

"There is no reason for embarrassment, no cause for apology, for wanting to think the best of a person, especially a police officer," the paper says. "Cops do a vital and dangerous job, and it is only right that we should have their back. But you were duped, for which you deserve an apology."

That apology, though, the paper says, should not be forthcoming from itself, but from Lake County officials. It's always someone else's fault.

"[T]hey fed the 'hero' story line."

And we were obliged to buy it!

*

"The possibility that Gliniewicz' death was a suicide was quietly speculated from the beginning, of course."

Of course!

*

Of course, that's what I've been saying. But it's disingenuous for the Sun-Times to say now, because it seemed unaware in real time that "suicide was quietly speculated from the beginning, of course." If it was aware, then it is doubly guilty for ignoring that possibility and forging ahead with its hero narrative.

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Fantasy Fix: Bears Week
Langford, Jeffery, Cutler, Bennett.

Kool-Aid Report: 10 Reasons To Watch
Hank Williams Jr., Erin Andrews, New Jack City, Matt Slauson's milkshake.

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Unsequestered.



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Posted on November 5, 2015


MUSIC - Blues Fest 2017.
TV - 'The Worst FCC I've Ever Seen.'
POLITICS - Minimum Wage Hikes Work.
SPORTS - On Joe Louis, Race And Sports Heroes.

BOOKS - The Blood Of Emmett Till.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Artist As Alchemist.


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