"Fake News" Media Coverage of Police In Chicago?
Fake news is a term regularly employed to describe how key national news stories are framed and driven by ideological political views—not by the indisputable facts underlying the stories themselves.
In a very real sense, the same thing is taking place in Chicago, particularly among police misconduct cases in which offenders are arrested, convicted of heinous crimes, but ultimately released because, years later, they claim their original confessions were a product of coercion.
After these convicted offenders are released, their cases are then labeled “wrongful convictions.”
So wherein lies the fake news—pumped out these days by the Chicago media?
These so-called police misconduct/wrongful conviction cases, championed by a collection of law firms and activists who specialize in overturning convictions, are falling apart under renewed scrutiny.
And the local media, the ones who slavishly and breathlessly covered the claims of police misconduct that led to the release of these offenders? Not a whisper. Not a single word. When the “wrongful conviction” goes wrong, no one in the media calls them for what they are: “wrongful exonerations.”
It gets worse. Despite the evidence that a gaggle of journalists at the very least got some police misconduct cases entirely wrong, or, at the very worst, may have knowingly violated the cannons of their profession, other journalists still continue to quote their work, as if it is true and not fake.
Consider, for example, the media coverage of former Chicago police detective Kenny Boudreau. A legend among police officers for his knowledge of gangs and his ability to solve cases, Boudreau, like so many other of his colleagues, has become a target of the anti-police movement, in particular the wrongful conviction movement and their fake news media allies.
One of the journalists who has written extensively about Boudreau and allegations that he is dirty is former Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Mills. In 2001, Mills authored a “blockbuster” series of articles, “scoops” in the Tribune that first breathed life to the claims that Boudreau was a detective who routinely coerced confessions from suspects.
Here’s an excerpt from a Mills 2001 article:
A Tribune investigation of thousands of murder cases filed in Cook County from 1991 through 2000 found that Boudreau and other city detectives had been involved in a wide range of cases that ultimately collapsed even though police obtained a confession…
But Boudreau stands out not only for the number of his cases that have fallen apart, but for the reasons.
In those cases, Boudreau has been accused by defendants of punching, slapping or kicking them; interrogating a juvenile without a youth officer present; and of taking advantage of mentally retarded suspects and others with low IQs.
But here’s the problem.
Since those articles were first published, Mills’ coverage of police misconduct cases has generated its own controversy.
In fact, Mills’ bias against the police was revealed by one of his own colleagues.
In a July 2004 article, Chicago Reader reporter Mike Miner wrote this about Mills:
At a 1998 seminar on police misconduct for investigative journalists, Mills had described the Tribune's relationship with the Chicago police in blunt terms. He'd said, "It's us against them. They don't like us. I'm not crazy about them. You know, I don't foresee going on vacation with them, so it's fine. I mean, why not make it, you know, sort of an all-out war?"
Perhaps the most controversial coverage by Mills was the Anthony Porter case. His scoop in February 1999, was the first to make the claim that Porter was innocent of a 1982 double murder and point the finger of guilt at another man, Alstory Simon. The claim of Porter’s innocence was made by former Northwestern professor David Protess and private investigator Paul Ciolino, who obtained a bizarre “confession” to the murders from Alstory Simon.
The exoneration of Porter transformed the Cook County criminal justice system and spearheaded a slew of other exonerations, virtually all of them first championed by Mills, the fake media, and the folks at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
Now Mills’ coverage of the Porter case resembles more a Grecian myth than an objective journalism report, as the work by investigators—Protess, Ciolino, and four students—at Northwestern University was later rejected by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in 2014 when she released Simon from prison. Alvarez’s subpoenas of the student materials in another wrongful conviction “investigation” at Northwestern revealed that the students were working as investigators for attorneys and not as journalists.
Simon’s attorneys have filed a $40 million federal lawsuit, claiming a pattern of misconduct in the movement, again, much of it covered by Mills in his fawning and unquestioning coverage of Northwestern and Protess. The Porter exoneration was based in part on claims of misconduct by two detectives in the case.
The detectives were vindicated in a 2005 civil trial when the jury awarded no money for Porter, despite his exoneration.
And throughout this period, Mills remained completely silent about key evidence that pointed to Simon’s innocence and Porter’s guilt. He ignored, for example, an affidavit by Thomas Epach, chief of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Criminal Division attorney in 1999 when Porter was released. An enraged Epach did not think that either Porter should have been released or Simon indicted until a thorough investigation of the original double homicide was reviewed.
Epach, the second in command at the prosecutor’s office, filed a sworn statement asserting that he was highly doubtful about Porter’s innocence and that Porter had been released for “political” considerations.
In the entire pattern of misconduct alleged by Simon’s attorneys against Northwestern, David Protess, and Paul Ciolino, how did a journalist like Mills never see any of it?
When Northwestern released a bombshell statement in 2011 saying that they were prohibiting their once star professor from teaching at the school and admitted that he had misled the University and the local justice system, one wonders: Why Mills never uncovered evidence of this conduct throughout the decades he slavishly and fawningly covered Northwestern exoneration claims.
Here is what Northwestern stated:
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.
But nothing matched what happened earlier this year.
Mills’ narrative about the Porter exoneration crumbling in the face of mounting evidence and a trial looming in which this evidence would see the light of day, he made one last, desperate attempt to keep his myth about the Porter exoneration alive.
He wrote a few articles citing a memo by a prosecutor under Anita Alvarez, Fabio Valentini, which purported to claim the Simon conviction for the murders was legitimate. His colleague and fellow wrongful conviction advocate, Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, joined in on claiming the memo was a bombshell.
But then no one bought it. Unlike the decades earlier when Mills and Zorn announced what they said was a wrongful conviction, no other journalism outlets jumped on the story.
And the attorneys for Simon? They marched into court and said the memo, which was under a protective order that the defendants in the case, not Simon’s attorneys, had requested, and said the release of the memo held little real weight in the case. The attorneys suggested the release of the memo was an attempt to influence the jury pool in the wake of the approaching trial.
This Court must enforce its orders in order to prevent the parties and counsel from seeking to influence the jury pool by exploiting protective orders as both a sword and a shield in order to selectively release and discuss those pieces of information which they deem, rightly or wrongly, as supportive of their position. Someone is playing fast and loose with this Court’s orders and authority, apparently confident that the Court will be unable to determine what happened, and the Court should convene an evidentiary hearing in order to get to the bottom of the charade.
A few weeks later, Mills left the Tribune after more than two decades.
The pattern of wrongdoing alleged in the Simon lawsuit suggests that other cases Mills covered as wrongful convictions/police misconduct are also false, including his reporting that Madison Hobley, released in 2003 for the arson that killed seven people, was also a wrongful conviction.
What does all this have to do with Kenny Boudreau?
Well, a lot actually.
Ever since Mills’ article about Boudreau in 2001, Boudreau has been targeted by wrongful conviction attorneys and activists. Boudreau, for example, is facing allegations that confessions were coerced from four men for the gang rape and murder of a woman in 1994 on the south side in the infamous Englewood Four case.
The county has already settled with one of the men, Terrill Swift, for more than $5 million, even though the detectives were led by Swift to a nearby lagoon where he said the offenders dumped a mop handle and a shovel. The detectives found both items in the lagoon.
In the coverage of this story, journalists at the Tribune still cite Mills’ 2001 article about Boudreau written by Mills. None of the evidence that Mills got at least some wrongful conviction stories completely wrong affects the coverage of current reporters, even in the face of Mills’ most recent articles about the Valentini memo.
In a July 20 article by Tribune reporters Jason Meisner and Dan Hinkel about the Englewood Four case:
Among the men sued was Kenneth Boudreau, a former detective whose history of obtaining dubious confessions was detailed in a 2001 Tribune series.
From a May 18, 2017 article by Tribune reporter Steve Schmadeke:
Among the officers sued is Kenneth Boudreau, a longtime detective whose history of obtaining dubious confessions was detailed in the 2001 Tribune series Cops and Confessions.
Isn’t it time the Tribune conducted a review of Mills’ work? Isn’t it time the reporters vetted his coverage before they use it as a kind of source in their current stories? Isn’t there enough suspicion surrounding Mills’ coverage to consider that Boudreau is wrongfully accused, just as the detectives in the Porter case were?
The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics requires that journalists must: “expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.”
Don’t journalists at the Tribune have an ethical and professional obligation to investigate the suspicious reporting of one of their own reporters before they cite his questionable conclusions in their own reporting? Isn’t this the very least the Tribune should do, given their almost weekly articles claiming a “code of silence” among the police?
Until Tribune reporters like Schmadeke, Meisner, Hinkel and Crepeau and their editors do so, they give new life to the term “fake news.”
Questions? Comments? Info to share? Email MPreib@chicagofop.org