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The Weekend Desk Report

On the same day that Rahm Emanuel executed a Friday news dump of hundreds pages of documents in the Laquan McDonald case, the mayor placed the same Op-Ed in both the Tribune and Sun-Times.

Shame on those papers for - once again - participating in Rahm's cynical media manipulations. It's not as if Rahm hasn't had ample forums to express his views on the case. You need to give him an even bigger megaphone?

Worse, the Op-Ed isn't vetted, and is filled with misleading assertions no reporter, editor or news organization should allow to get past them. And this isn't the first time - the papers have long seemed enamored with unverified press releases from elected officials posing as opinion pieces, perhaps because they feel they get some reflected gravitas from the people they clearly hold in high esteem despite what their news pages tell them every day.

Today in particular, I hope the editors of the Tribune and Sun-Times are embarrassed by allowing Rahm to play them by recognizing that his Op-Ed was timed to coincide with the release of damning documents that places his future in grave danger.

Rahm being forced to resign has to now be considered a real possibility. His Op-Ed is reminiscent of Garry McCarthy's media appearances on the morning of the day he was fired - furiously spinning to maintain credibility and keep his job. I don't know if he can. He, now, is the distraction.

*

"Hundreds of pages of newly released Chicago police reports from the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald are most striking for one simple reason: They are dramatically at odds with the dash-cam video that has sparked protests across the city, cost the city's top cop his job, and embroiled Mayor Rahm Emanuel in scandal," the Tribune reports.

"The reports, released by the city late Friday, show that Officer Jason Van Dyke and at least five other officers claim that the 17-year-old McDonald moved or turned threateningly toward officers, even though the video of the October 2014 shooting shows McDonald walking away, and the scenario sketched out by Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez in charging Van Dyke with murder contends he was walking away as well."

These officers clearly lied, and yet they have remained on the streets in their jobs. This alone would have been reason enough to fire McCarthy, unless he was truly hampered by the union and the feds; the fact that more than 80 people have now appeared before the federal grand jury looking into the McDonald shooting suggests that the feds are climbing the ladder into the command staff to find out who knew what and when - and that it doesn't look good for the Chicago Police Department. Nor for Rahm.

*

On Thursday, the Tribune editorialized that "Rahm Emanuel burned by instinct to control the story."

A day later, they let him try to control the story.

First, the editorial.

"Emanuel's administration went with its default response, which is to deny requests made under the state's Freedom of Information Act, run out the deadlines and extensions and go to court, if necessary, to stall.

"We've seen this when journalists sought to get the data from the city's traffic cameras, the 'repeater lists' of cops who have been accused of misconduct multiple times, the e-mail chains related to a $20.5 million no-bid contract that led to a federal bribery indictment against former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett."

The list of examples is a lot longer than that, my friends, as Rahm has embedded secrecy into the DNA of city government far deeper than his not-exactly-forthcoming predecessors. But the Tribune (and Sun-Times) editorial page is complicit too, as enablers who fiercely endorsed Rahm's re-election despite these severe breaches of democracy and the mayor's attacks on their own newsroom colleagues.

Now, suddenly, the Tribune editorial page has discovered that Rahm "has boasted that he has the 'most open and transparent' government Chicago has ever seen, but that doesn't square with reality. Not close."

Congratulations, it only took you four-and-a-half years to see what so many of us saw from day one.

The Tribune editorial page has also discovered "A Police Department that closes ranks to protect cops accused of misconduct, through a joke of a disciplinary process and a code of silence among officers."

The Tribune editorial board cares about this now that it has entered the realm of politics and is threatening to take down one of their own, but I don't recall anything about it from them during the campaign - or really any other time since Rahm took office. Instead, praise for Rahm's policing and barbs at "critics" trying to explain, for example, why a lot of people don't trust the police. (Ending the "no-snitch code" starts with ending police corruption; instead, the Trib editorial board has spent its time lecturing poor black parents about their values.)

"We all know the Police Department has serious, long-standing problems."

We all know that only if we read beyond the Trib editorial page.

*

A day later, the Tribune and the Sun-Times let the mayor have his unchallenged say again.

"The videotape was handled in precisely the same way such tapes and evidence have been historically. Longstanding practice has been to release such material only after prosecutors and city investigators have finished their investigation," Rahm (or his PR staff) writes. "The reason for that was to prevent potential witnesses from tailoring their stories to fit the evidence."

That is simply not true. Police reports are public documents. The police reveal evidence in cases before conclusion all the time. And, as the Tribune said in its aforementioned editorial:

[Rahm's] asked his task force to consider how the city can balance the public's right to know against the need to protect the integrity of a criminal investigation. We'll save the panel some time by suggesting that the city's policy should be to follow the law. The Freedom of Information Act already provides that balance.

Under the law, government records are presumed to be open to inspection by the public. But there are exemptions.

If releasing a record would interfere in an investigation or compromise a defendant's right to a fair trial, it can be withheld, but the burden is on the government to show that it would harm those proceedings. It's not enough to simply point to an ongoing investigation and declare a record exempt.

A Cook County judge said that burden wasn't met in the McDonald case. There was no good reason for the video to remain under wraps for 13 months.

Rahm wasn't simply following standard procedure, unless you consider standard procedure fighting tooth-and-nail against ever releasing anything. (The city's settlement with the McDonald family, for example, included a provision prohibiting release of the dash-cam video.)

*

"Some say I should have ordered a departure from standard procedure and released the tape before the prosecutors had acted."

This is a misdirection play. Nobody says he should have "ordered a departure from standard procedure." First, it's his "standard procedure," not a rule handed down by the gods. Second, "some" have been arguing for years that his "standard procedure" has been at odds with the law - which is what a judge finally ruled. And indeed, the video was scheduled for release before prosecutors had finished their case.

What Rahm is arguing here is that he didn't do anything wrong - even as he pretends to take responsibility. Instead, he is arguing that he only adhered to a "standard of procedure" that he himself created.

*

"Had I seen the video, I might have done that. But I don't review evidence precisely because my own emotions should not interfere with criminal investigations."

That's a new argument; he previously said he didn't watch the video because if he saw it, reporters and the public would wonder why they didn't get to see it too.

I'd say he didn't watch the video because he didn't care enough to; the case and the settlement probably struck him as something both routine and a potential political problem, but not something he was personally curious to learn more about.

He also fails to inform his readers that a judge ruled that the city didn't even come close to showing that releasing the video would have harmed the integrity of the investigation.

*

"How do we balance concerns against prematurely releasing evidence and jeopardizing prosecutions with the community's right to see such material in a timely way?"

This is a false choice cleverly constructed by the man behind much of the Democrats' "messaging" while in the U.S. House of Representatives. But the issue isn't about "prematurely releasing evidence and jeopardizing prosecutions." If it was, the public would choose the integrity of the investigation over their "right" to see "such material" every time - and rightly so.

As the Trib noted, the Freedom of Information Act already contemplates that balance - and in the view of many like myself already tilts too far against transparency with loopholes that are blatantly exploited to no account.

And if Rahm was so concerned about the integrity of the investigation, did he ever ask why it was taking so long?

*

"How do we promote accountability and transparency, without sacrificing one for the other?"

Here, Rahm pits two concepts against each other that are actually the same thing. You simply cannot have accountability without transparency. But he wants you to think that you have to sacrifice one for the other - like liberty for security.

*

"Within nine days of that shooting the city collected all evidence in the case, including the dash-cam video, and turned it over to prosecutors. No one could have predicted that it would take more than a year to finish the probe. It was just as likely that charges would be filed during the campaign, in which case the video would have become public before the election."

Not likely. The shooting was quickly determined to be justified by the police; from there it goes to the Independent Police Review Authority, which is not independent, by the way; they investigate all police-involved shootings - and they take their sweet time. At such point that IPRA believes a case may become criminal, it turns its materials over to the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and/or the U.S. Attorney's Office. Rahm would have you believe that within nine days of the shooting, the city had turned over all evidence to prosecutors in a case against Jason Van Dyke. That simply connotes a false impression that the city was speedily moving against an officer instead of doing what they always do.

*

It's also widely known that Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez rarely charges cops, and when she does, it's a slow walk.

Anyone with knowledge of the system or even just a regular reader of Chicago news would have predicted that the probe would take as long as it did.

*

"I should have known that in the light of the checkered history of misconduct in the Chicago Police Department, that the long delay in releasing the videotape could raise concerns and suspicions across our city. Our goal was to protect the integrity of the investigation."

We tried to do the right thing, but our "checkered history" got in the way!

*

"I take responsibility for what happened."

But he is defending everything he did, arguing that the problem is that everybody misread his zeal for integrity.

*

"Some have alleged that our settlement with Laquan's family was part of a cover-up. But nothing could be further from the truth. It was the lawyers for Laquan's family who approached the city on February 27 and expressed a desire to settle the case quickly and without a lawsuit. The city's lawyers began discussions with the plaintiff's attorney shortly thereafter and came to an agreement in principle on March 24."

What Rahm leaves out: The lawyers for Laquan's family reportedly approached the city after obtaining a copy of the video through a probate subpoena. (A whistleblower also informed local journalist Jamie Kalven of the video's existence.) The city's desire to settle the case quickly was a desire to, yes, save the city some money with a quick settlement, but also to make it go away.

At the same time, the version of the incident still hanging out in public was the one where Laquan lunged. The administration never felt the desire to correct the public record, even thought McCarthy has acknowledged that he knew pretty quickly that version was false.

*

"As part of that agreement lawyers for the family and the city sought to present the settlement for approval at the next City Council meeting, which was on April 15. The first possible opportunity to present the agreement to the Council's Finance Committee was on April 13. At that meeting, our Corporation Counsel, Steve Patton, explained why a settlement was in the city's best interest. Among the main reasons was the police dash-cam videotape, which he described in detail."

You know what? This is the same thing Rahm has said for days; again, I don't get why the papers would provide him this forum to reiterate his messaging.

But again: Several aldermen felt they were misled by Patton. His recitation to the finance committee is a he said/she said of what the family's lawyers would contend in a lawsuit and what Van Dyke would contend.

Plus:

"[Ald. Scott] Waguespack said the transcript doesn't show the full picture of the meeting, which included side conversations with other attorneys," Natasha Korecki reports for Politico.

My understanding is that it was in these side conversations where aldermen really felt misled.

*

The Sun-Times ran the same Op-Ed.

*

The timing was no accident. Rahm no doubt placed his Op-Ed as a strategic communications maneuver as he approved of the document dump to land at the same time, in an attempt to blunt its impact and "get ahead" of the story. See, I'm already doing something about this!

The timing is reminiscent of McCarthy announcing at 10 p.m. the night before the McDonald video was to be released that he had decided to seek the firing of Dante Servin - three years after Servin killed an innocent 22-year-old. Chicago: The Most Coincidental City In The World.

*

*

Come To Chicago: Our Timing Is Exquisite.

*

The notion of Rahm being forced to resign now becomes very real. What will it take for that to happen? Who will call him to a come-to-Jesus meeting? A phone call from Obama? Not likely. Front-page editorials? Possibly. A no-confidence vote from the city council? Can't see it happening, but could see a bloodbath trying to get there.

All I know is that this is just getting started. And I'm starting to think Rahm won't be around to see it finish.

-

The Weekend Desk Tip Line: On the clock.



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Posted on December 5, 2015


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