The [Wednesday] Papers
By Steve Rhodes
FInal Update: My aborted column yesterday was going to argue that the story of Juan Johnson was underplayed by the newspapers in particular and the media as a whole. This argument becomes even stronger, I think, when compared to the treatment given today to a judge's decision to sentence infamous bartender beater Anthony Abbate to probation instead of sending him to jail.
Both papers not only put the story on their front pages, but did so in an inciteful, outrage-exploiting manner. But Abbate's sentence is wholly reasonable, as Whet Moser shows.
The notion that Abbate should be held to a higher standard because he's a police officer is misguided. In a court of law, no one should be held to any standard higher or lower than the law. To do otherwise is plainly unconstitutional. Everyone is equal under the law.
The higher standard Abbate should be held to as a police officer involves standards of behavior and disciplinary action for violating those standards that are higher for police officers than run-of-the-mill office workers. That's reasonable.
For example, Abbate's job ought to be in danger - though without knowing more about the man, his record and whatever issues he may be trying to work out, I'm in no position to say what the outcome of that discussion ought to be.
Guys like Abbate aren't really the problem when it comes to police officers. Abbate's case was always overhyped, as if news directors had never seen somebody beat the shit out of someone else before. (And I'm wholly sensitive to the fact that a large male was beating up a tiny female.)
Abbate was a drunken lout who did a terrible thing while he was off-duty. I've yet to see anything about his on-duty actions to indicate a pattern of behavior. The problem with the police department rests with systemic abuse and corruption. Where were the papers, for example, when John Conroy was detailing torture in the pages of the Reader? For years they were absent.
And so on. This is a department, after all, that had a renown chief of detectives running a nationwide jewelry theft ring and which had a police chief not too long ago who lost his job in part because of his friendship with a convicted felon and murder suspect with reputed mob ties.
In contrast to the bartender with whom I have fully sympathy, Juan Johnson spent 11 years in prison for a murder he apparently didn't commit. Even given Johnson's alleged Spanish Cobra background, that's a far larger injustice. More importantly, it may be the result not just of a loutish officer, but one whom Rob Warden, executive editor of Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions, says may be connected to 40 other wrongful prosecutions.
The story of Johnson's jury award - the largest in Chicago history - was on the Trib and S-T's seventh and eighth pages. (That's a taxpayer payout, by the way).
Finally, chances are that Abbate won't even lose his job because the police board inexplicably has denied for years requests from Chicago police chiefs that bad actors be tossed from the force. That will be the outrage, not what the judge did yesterday.
And with all sympathy to Karolina Obrycka, the bartender on the other end of Abbate's blows - and let me emphasize, with true sympathy to her - I'm not too keen on the Tribune's front page headline "He Gets Probation - She Fears Police," or the swallowing whole of her claimed fears resulting from the Abbate beating.
I'm not saying she's lying. For all I know, she's suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and may suffer so for years to come. Again, all sympathy to her.
But as a reporter, you don't just willy-nilly report such claims, especially when a civil lawsuit is pending. Just tone it down, please.
Similarly, what's with the Sun-Times "Wife Was Conned Too" that exonerates Gina Hernandez based solely on the statements of her lawyer?
We'll see, but just because your mother's lawyer says she loves you doesn't make it true.
Noon Update: Please enjoy these fine offerings!
* "As much as I gripe about the customers, we tend to give them as much grief as they give us," our very own Patty Hunter writes in the latest installment of At Your Service. "It's not an accident we walk over and ask how everything is going while your mouth is full, then stand around until you answer. It's our only (legal) way of getting back at you. That's not real ginger ale you're drinking: it's clear soda with a splash of diet. You have servers who have nothing to do with you bothering your children or flirting with your husband. (Or, in the case of one Monday night, giving him a lap dance while I secretly take pictures with my camera phone. Blackmail anyone?)"
* "The rash of injuries has allowed some surprising names to float to the top of the SP ranks. Javier Vazquez may get no love from White Sox fans, but he leads the National League in strikeouts," our very own Dan O'Shea writes in Fantasy Fix. "He still has a losing record at 5-6, but the Atlanta Braves could be an interesting team to follow in the second half."
* "An unlikely collection of holiday-themed songs, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album was released in 2003." Find equally fun facts about Neil Diamond, Lenny Kravitz, Q-Tip, Neil Young and Hank Williams in Trivial Pursuit!
* Ignorant Abbate Outrage. Few people go to jail for beating someone up in a bar.
* City Privatizes Streets, Too. Worst contract ever.
* Holding Reform Hostage. State senate president John Cullerton does a dirty deed.
The universe has really been conspiring against me this week.
On Tuesday I went to the Mercury Cafe to work in an attempt to break out of Beachwood HQ. People often ask me if I work out of coffee shops and such, and the answer is No. At Beachwood HQ - my Wicker Park apartment - I have stacks of everything I need, from newspaper clippings to books to blueprints for armored car heists, as well as news and diversion on the TV, radio, and stereo. My apartment is my office, and everything is just where I want it, more or less. For example, I wish my dirty laundry was down in the washer right now instead of skulking around the place taunting me, but still.True enough, I don't have air conditioning. But I haven't lived with air conditioning since my college dorm. I have a nice air tunnel through a window facing the park (that would be the park named Wicker), caused in part, I theorize, by a metal or aluminum awning thing, and a cross-breeze. I also employ a tripartate fan system on the worst of days.
But I decided to try to get out this week. So on Tuesday I went over to the Mercury Cafe on Chicago Avenue, where they have free Wi-Fi, milkshakes, and a mix tape that includes both old Dylan and old Replacements. So, sort of heavenly.
Problem: I forgot my power cord. It only took a couple hours for the battery to run down on my iBook G4.
Fortunately, a friend called and then stopped by with her power cord for me to borrow.
Problem: Though she too has a Mac laptop, the cord's prongs were not a fit for my, um, receptacle.
And then, suddenly, my laptop went to sleep and could not be awakened. Could not even be re-started. It fell beyond sleep and into a coma.
I packed up all the things that I had brought - including reams of materials for a variety of work, as well as bills and such - and sullenly walked to my car to drive home. The one thing that worked in my favor was that I parked on a neighborhood street gambling that the risk of getting tagged for (ridiculous) permit parking was less than the risk of getting tagged for (ridiculous) meter parking right in front of the Mercury. What, I'm supposed to plug the meter every hour leaving my livelihood unattended? What a royal pain in the ass. And what would I do, set an alarm? I mean, really, who pays attention?
And then, acting upon a nagging feeling, I ruffled through my stuff just to make sure I hadn't forgotten my friend's power cord; she had beseeched me to keep it safe. Sure enough, I had. I trudged back to the Mercury and there it was, so crisis averted. But I could feel my serotonin levels dropping.
Upon my return home I was finally able to get my laptop up and running, but by then I had lost time and energy. Other duties were pending.
This morning I posted my work for NBCChicago.com and got to the Mercury even earlier, determined to make this work. Once again I ordered a milkshake and a chocolate croissant, got myself set up, re-creating my desk at home (though this time the table with the tall-backed cushy king chair was already taken), and eagerly tried to set in on the day's work.
Problem: The Mercury's Wi-Fi network was nowhere to be found. I eventually learned that their router was down.
It's times like these that you re-evaluate every decision in your life. How did I get to this place? Why me? Why is life so hard?
I packed up my things again and headed home.
Which is a long way of telling you that today's Beachwood will be late. I have a few things to post in our other sections, then I'll post a column. Unless by then I've been utterly defeated yet again.
Any glitch by ComEd or Speakeasy at this point could do me in.
The [Tuesday] Papers
* Walgreens: Beer Is Back! "Woo-hoo!," says Homer Simpson of Springfield.
* DePaul Law School Saga Aboil. Jonathan Turley weighs in.
Today's Beachwood comes to you live from the Mercury Cafe, where the milk shakes and the tunes are equally scrumptious.
The Papers is on the way. Here's what else we've got so far:
* Our Olympic Day! Our celebration is a little different than the one Chicago 2016 has in store.
* Stop the Violence. Twenty-four hours of programming.
* Legal Fiction. Are judges getting carried away with literary pretensions?
* The ghost ships of Sammy Sosa and the off-season Bulls. In SportsTuesday.
And on NBCChicago.com:
* Springfield's Special Session. Square dancing!
Posted on June 24, 2009
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