Media Bias Affecting Crime Rates?
When detectives obtained the conviction of Nicole Harris for murdering her own child in 2005, they thought the case was closed forever.
Harris, after all, had confessed to both detectives and a prosecutor to strangling her four-year-old son Jaquari Dancy in a fit of rage after Jaquari left the house while Harris was at the laundromat.
Harris was sentenced to thirty years in prison—her claims that she was coerced into confessing had no effect in her trial. Who would believe, after all, that as many as six detectives would take an accidental death of a child and transform it into a murder case, pinning the murder on the mother who had just lost her child?
The Chicago Tribune. That’s who.
To the absolute shock of the detectives, the Tribune took up the wrongful conviction narrative of coercion, the one claiming that Harris was the victim of police misconduct. The Tribune dutifully published article after article chronicling Harris’s odyssey from convicted child killer to victim of the police, and the transformation of detectives into villains.
Take, for example, the January 2014 Tribune article describing Harris as an ambitious college graduate, looking for a job after she got out of prison:
Harris emerged from prison still mourning her son but determined not to give in to bitterness. Soft-spoken, with deep brown eyes and side-swept bangs, Harris is quick to smile. Her penchant for hugs is a testament to her optimism and to the person she was before her life unraveled.
“When it first happened, of course I was angry,” she said. “As years went on, I began to understand that there are evil people in this world, and sometimes we suffer at the hands of them. Injustice happens. But it’s a matter of how you respond to it, and anger would have done more hurt and harm to me than good.”
“Quick to smile . . . Her penchant for hugs . . . before he life unraveled.” Like the day she confessed to strangling her own child?
But then something happened that the Tribune reporters clearly did not foresee. The detectives banded together and compelled the city to go to trial on Harris’s civil lawsuit in which she sought $18 million in compensation for her “wrongful conviction.”
By this time, the detectives faced a formidable challenge to clearing their name, for in addition to getting out of prison, Cook County prosecutors did not challenge a certificate of innocence petition by Harris. So the detectives were fighting an opponent who had been declared innocent by the courts. And Harris was being represented by a powerful consortium of wrongful conviction attorneys.
Nevertheless, the detectives stuck to their legal guns.
And the case did go to trial. In doing so, the attorney representing the detectives, Andy Hale, dug into a playbook from another crucial 2005 case against Chicago detectives. Hale adopted the strategy of a key wrongful conviction case that went dreadfully awry for the wrongful conviction attorneys and their media allies, the Anthony Porter case.
Porter was exonerated in 1999 of a 1982 double murder after wrongful conviction activists obtained a confession from another man, Alstory Simon. His attorneys clearly assumed a settlement was all but guaranteed in the case. So, too, apparently did the reporters at the Tribune, which had written the same type of fawning, uninvestigated articles about Porter being innocent as they did about Harris.
Attorneys for the detectives in the Porter case refused to settle. They marched into court and argued that Porter was guilty of the murders. They won. Porter didn’t get a dime. The city was left with a court verdict standing in stark contrast to the stories that the Tribune was telling about the Porter murders.
This is exactly what took shape in the Harris case. The attorneys argued, in complete defiance of the narrative constructed by the Tribune, that Harris killed her child. And they won, too. Despite Harris’s penchant for hugs, her quick smiles, and her optimism, they argued that Harris murdered her own son. The detectives were completely vindicated. Harris and her attorneys got nothing.
That’s not all. The timing of the Harris verdict is also key.
Earlier in the week of the verdict, Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx released fifteen men from prison in what was immediately dubbed by journalists clearly giddy with delight as a “mass exoneration.” The exoneration was yet another sign that the Foxx administration has moved the prosecutor’s office in line with the wrongful conviction movement so dear to the Tribune.
But within the same week of doing so, a key wrongful conviction claim based on police misconduct claim imploded in federal court.
Then, a few weeks later, a massive settlement of another wrongful conviction case went before the finance committee of the city council. The Fraternal Order of Police argued at the meeting that giving $31 million to the “Englewood Four” was a betrayal of police officers. The exoneration of the four men once convicted of raping and murdering a prostitute in 1994 should not be paid, the FOP argued, because of compelling evidence they were involved in the crime, despite the fact that DNA came back to another subject.
Two alderman, Anthony Napolitano and Nicholas Sposato, voted against the settlement. Sposato said he called prosecutors and police officers and quickly became convinced that the men were involved in the crime. At the regular city council meeting, both men voted against the settlement because they believed the men were guilty.
Who did they talk to that the Tribune reporters didn’t?
Their statements didn’t seem to affect Tribune reporters. Rather than look into the evidence that the men were in fact involved—from the facts of the detectives’ investigation, the changing statements of the four men, and the alleged pattern of misconduct against wrongful conviction law firms taking shape in the federal courts—the Tribune reporters doubled down on their pre-written narrative that the Englewood Four were innocent. The fact that just a few weeks earlier another one of their manufactured narratives imploded in federal court seemed to have no effect on them at all.
All of this begs a question: What effect does this media bias have upon Chicago’s chronic violent crime?
If the detectives in the Harris case can see such a routine murder investigation transformed into a bizarre, fantastical tale of police corruption, wouldn’t that have a profoundly devastating effect on police investigations?
In short, is the failure of the media to do their job a main reason the police cannot do theirs? And what about the Englewood Four? What if the four men were involved in the rape and murder of Nina Glover and they are now walking free, soon to become millionaires?
One statistic in the city points very powerfully to the fact that media bias is indeed having a crippling effect on the policing. It is the resolution rates for murder cases.
From the Sun-Times:
Originally Chicago Police detectives have solved fewer than one in five murders committed this year, the lowest rate of closing murder cases since at least 2006—and likely a historic low, police statistics show.
Seven months into 2017, the city’s police department had “cleared” fewer than 20 percent of murder investigations involving homicides that had taken place since Jan. 1, adding to a recent dip amid a decades-long trend of unsolved homicides in the city, according to the police data studied by crime analyst Jeff Asher.
Is the fact that the media is so willing to buy claims of police misconduct, without truly investigating them, hampering the police from doing their jobs?
Ask the detectives in the Harris case.
Or better yet, ask Tribune reporters Dan Hinkel, Megan Crepeau, Jason Meisner, and Steve Schmadeke.
Ask them if Nicole Harris murdered her own child.