The Watch

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Media Maintains Baseless Attack On Judge

Chicago’s activist, anti-police media are keeping a Cook County criminal court judge in their crosshairs.  

The latest thinly disguised media attack against Judge Diane Cannon comes in the wake of a criminal case against three Chicago police officers, charged by a special prosecutor. The case was randomly assigned to Cannon’s courtroom.

This random assigning is great controversy for the Chicago’s media, none more so than Tribune crime reporter Megan Crepeau.

Let’s take a look at Crepeau’s story. Here is Crepeau’s lead sentence:

A Cook County judge with controversial rulings in her past was appointed Monday to preside over the indictment of three Chicago police officers on charges they helped cover up the circumstances of Laquan McDonald's shooting.

“Controversial rulings” in her past? Isn’t every judge’s ruling controversial to at least one side of a dispute?

From this weak, essentially meaningless opening salvo, Crepeau’s article gets worse. She holds out Cannon’s acquittal of an accused Chicago Police Commander as evidence of Cannon’s controversial record: 

Cannon is perhaps best known for her 2015 acquittal of then-Chicago police Cmdr. Glenn Evans on charges he shoved his gun down Rickey Williams' throat and threatened to kill him. In throwing out all charges, Cannon belittled evidence of Williams' DNA on Evans' service weapon as "of fleeting relevance or significance."

Well, not exactly.

Facing a daunting body of evidence that the charges against former Chicago Police Commander Glenn Evans were bogus, Cannon acquitted the highly-praised officer of all charges in 2015.

And Crepeau’s claim that Cannon “belittled” DNA evidence?

Again, not exactly. The expert witnesses did. They testified the DNA was not indicative of Evans’ guilt. Cannon had no choice but to acquit Evans.

What would have been truly controversial, at least to people outside Chicago’s media community, would be Cannon convicting Evans without any real evidence of his guilt.

And what is truly controversial is the fact that media activists like Crepeau are still portraying this DNA report as if it points to Evans’ guilt even after the claim was so thoroughly debunked in the course of the trial.

Here is something Crepeau doesn’t mention about the Evans case. During Evans’ trial, allegations of collusion between IPRA and the media were a central theme, particularly the suspicious release of a DNA report to the media and its portrayal as some kind of smoking gun against Evans, a portrayal, again, that fell apart in the trial.

These allegations of collusion between IPRA and the media was picked up by reporters like Crepeau, right? They dug right into it?

Hardly.

More than a year after Evans’ trial, no media outlet has taken a close look at the investigation against him by IPRA and the manner by which charges were brought against him.

And there’s more.

Crepeau claims in her article that the Evans trial is what Cannon is best known for.

Again, not exactly. The indictment and trial of Evans was a media circus, the media all but concluding in their endless coverage before the trial that Evans was guilty. For many accused police officers, this hysteria may have compelled the officer to seek a deal, sensing that such hysteria could taint a jury pool against them and perhaps sway some jurists to impose a particularly harsh sentence. But Evans stood tall.

It was, therefore, the media circus, one that proved false, that made the case well known, not necessarily any misconduct by Evans or Cannon. The Evans case is a sign that, in Chicago, the media creates the hysteria, then cites that hysteria as a basis for further coverage of their narrative, even when that narrative is rejected in a courtroom.  

But what truly reveals the bias in Crepeau’s reporting is what she leaves out.

Crepeau claims that the Evans case is what Cannon is best known for is woefully misleading.

What Cannon may be best known for was her courageous ruling in the Anthony McKinney case that compelled the release of records from former professor David Protess and his students at Northwestern University to prosecutors.

By 2011, prosecutors had become suspicious about the investigation into wrongful conviction cases at Northwestern University, in particular one on behalf of an inmate named Anthony McKinney. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez filed a subpoena to gather records from the students and Protess.

Academics, journalists, and intellectuals assailed the motion for these records. These groups said such a motion was a violation of the professor and the students’ reporter’s privilege.

From the New York Times:

"Professional journalism groups have said the students are clearly journalists and offered support for their wish not to reveal their notes. Beth Konrad, president of the Chicago Headline Club, said the club was seeking a discussion with Ms. Alvarez, the state’s attorney."

“We want to know, what was the decision to overreach on this?” Ms. Konrad said.

"Donald M. Craven, the interim executive director of the Illinois Press Association, questioned the prosecutors’ motives. “Taken to its logical conclusion, what they’re trying to do is dismantle the project,” Mr. Craven said."

But Cannon, refusing to bow to this pressure, granted the subpoenas.

The subpoena by Alvarez and approved by Cannon revealed evidence that Protess and his students were not operating as journalists in wrongful conviction cases but rather as investigators for the defense. The university, confronted with this evidence, initiated an internal investigation. When it was completed, they prohibited Protess from teaching his class and issued a bombshell statement:

"In sum, Protess knowingly misrepresented the facts and his actions to the University, its attorneys and the dean of Medill on many documented occasions. He also misrepresented facts about these matters to students, alumni, the media and the public. He caused the University to take on what turned out to be an unsupportable case and unwittingly misrepresent the situation both to the Court and to the State."

Northwestern’s statement was one of the first clear signs that something was deeply amiss in the wrongful conviction movement, a movement largely predicated on claims of police misconduct.   

Now Protess and Northwestern are defendants in a $40 million lawsuit claiming a pattern of misconduct in wrongful conviction cases.

In writing an article about Cannon’s “controversial” conduct, Crepeau touches on this seminal chapter in Cannon’s career, doesn’t she? She mentions the fact that Cannon’s courageous decision to grant a motion led to the uncovering of misconduct in wrongful conviction cases, right?

Don’t bet on it. Crepeau never mentions one word about Cannon’s ruling that had such a profound influence upon Chicago’s criminal justice system.

Not one word.

Crepeau, by the way, is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

How Crepeau’s article could be construed as anything but intense media activism against Cannon is an imposing challenge.

Here, then, is a fair interpretation of Cannon’s “controversial” rulings: Canon’s courtroom may be among only a remaining few in which the hysteria generated against the police by media activists like Crepeau has little or no influence.

How’s that for controversial?

Questions? Comments? Info to share? Email MPreib@chicagofop.org