Sun Times Tactics Under Fire In Death Investigation
The Sun-Times is running with an ongoing story suggesting foul play in the death of a Chicago police sergeant and a possible cover-up in the investigation.
It’s a complex story that the two Sun-Times investigative reporters Tim Novak and Robert Herguth are spinning, involving the deaths of a married couple, both of whom were members of the Chicago Police Department.
A recent Sun-Times editorial picked up the story about the deaths of Dina and Don Markham, saying there are nine unanswered questions about the case. But perhaps there is a tenth question the Sun-Times should address: Did the media go too far in pursuing this story?
This possibility may be suggested in Novak’s and Herguth’s own articles.
Here are the basic facts of the case in the Sun-Times editorial:
On Sept. 2, 2015, Officer Donald Markham died from a bullet wound to his head. Twenty-one months later, on May 28 of this year, his wife and fellow officer, Dina Markham, was found dead in her bathtub. Both died in the couple’s Far Northwest Side home.
According to reports, Dina Markham said she found her husband dead from an apparent suicide after the two argued earlier that evening. The suicide of a spouse after an argument would be a devastating experience for anyone.
Then, two years later, reporters suddenly show up at her door.
From a Sun-Times article:
On May 22, Sun-Times reporters went to Dina Markham’s house . . .
Showing up at officers’ homes is a fairly unusual phenomenon in Chicago. Most media inquiries are made through the police department, who then contact the department member. In such a delicate, tragic event like an apparent suicide, wouldn’t this be the best way to handle the investigation?
But it wasn’t just the reporters showing up. They also dropped a bomb on Dina Markham. They told her an FBI investigation was under way about her husband’s death.
From the Sun-Times:
On May 22, Sun-Times reporters went to Dina Markham’s house and asked whether she was aware the FBI and inspector general were looking into her husband’s death. She said she wasn’t aware.
So already dealing with her husband’s death, two reporters show up out of nowhere and tell Dina Markham that she is being investigated by the FBI. The actions of the Sun-Times reporters shocked CPD members in its callousness.
Talk about being blindsided.
From the Sun-Times again:
“I’d like to talk to you, but I’m not sure it’s in my best interest,” she said. “Give me a day to process this.”
Not content with their first journalistic foray to Dina Markham’s house, they returned.
The Sun-Times again:
The reporters returned on May 24, and she said she still needed to talk with “some people.”
“I have to protect myself,” she said. “I have to protect my children. That’s what this is all about.”
The following day, Friday, Dina Markham sent an email saying, “In respect for the way you approached me, a friend of a friend will be in contact with you. I am unsure who that will be at this time, but he assured me he will follow through. My family and I have been through very difficult times, and it has been awful especially for my children. Should you proceed in writing a news story, I would appreciate a ‘heads-up’ to prepare them.”
Then, a few days later, Dina herself would be found dead in her bathtub.
From the Tribune:
On the day she was found dead in the bathtub of her Northwest Side home, Chicago police Officer Dina Markham sent a desperate, predawn text message to a friend.
“Help. Please . . . no kidding,” read the message sent just after 4 a.m. on May 28, according to investigative reports made public Monday. . . .
Autopsy reports provided to the Tribune on Monday show the Cook County medical examiner's office has ruled Markham, 47, died of an accidental drowning after consuming a dangerous mix of alcohol and the powerful anti-anxiety drug alprazolam, commonly sold under the brand name Xanax.
Here is the tenth question the Sun-Times did not ask in their editorial, but should have: Couldn’t there have been a better way to handle their “investigation” without employing such shock tactics as arriving unannounced at her home and telling her the FBI was looking at her?
Reeling from the death of the two coworkers and the tactics of the Sun-Times reporters at a time when there is a sharp increase in police suicides, the FOP demanded in a letter to the editor that the paper cease and desist from the practice of going to the homes of police officers.
The Sun-Times assailed the request.
The tenets of journalism, especially investigative journalism, call for reporters to interview the people they’re writing about to get their sides of the story.
The Sun-Times, particularly Novak and Herguth, have a lot of theories and questions about the death and investigation of Sergeant Markham. Much of it is riding on the conclusions drawn from the FBI investigation into the case.
The FBI says it can’t comment, can’t even reveal if the investigation is concluded.
In attacking the FOP’s demand of a cease and desist, the Sun-Times announced in an editorial to let the reporters do their job.
If the FBI investigation reveals no foul play in the death of Don Markham, the only reply may be: Haven’t you done enough already?