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Another Failing Grade For A Chicago Journalist...

Once again, a Medill School of Journalism graduate fails the litmus test for basic journalism.

This time it is Heather Cherone of DNA Info, who graduated from Medill.

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Cherone wrote a September 12 article about the FOP’s opposition to the new curriculum the Chicago Public Schools created about Jon Burge, the former Chicago Police Commander accused of torturing suspects and convicted in 2010 for perjury and obstruction of justice. The FOP has demanded that the CPS address evidence that at least some of the accusations against Burge may be false and that one case in particular--the one that led to Burge’s conviction--is also, as the police say, “dirty.”

That case is the 1987 arson that took place on Chicago’s on Chicago’s south side and left seven people dead. The man convicted of setting the fire, Madison Hobley, was sent to death row, but was pardoned by Governor George Ryan shortly before Ryan himself was indicted on 22 counts of corruption. Hobley never convinced a judge, prosecutor, or jury that he was innocent. Nevertheless, he walked out of death row and was eventually awarded millions.

The FOP argued in a letter to CPS CEO head Janice Jackson that it would be fair for the CPS Burge curriculum to include information that the governor may have released a mass murderer in Hobley. The Burge connection to Hobley is that Burge was charged with making a false statement in Hobley’s civil case in answers to interrogatories. 

Apparently, this strikes some journalists as odd.

But, like so many Chicago journalists, Cherone’s bias against the police is immediately apparent in two crucial ways.

First, Cherone does not even have the basic facts straight. It is clear she knows little if anything about the Hobley case and is not going to dig into it.

Take this paragraph about the Hobley case as an example:

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During his trial, testimony by the officers that Hobley confessed made up the heart of the case against him, although his admission of guilt was not documented by officers, according to court records.

 What an absolutely ludicrous statement.

The evidence against Hobley was overwhelming, apart from his confession. Consider a few examples.

  • Several weeks before the arson, Hobley threatened arson against his wife and child on the telephone; threats that were overheard by a Chicago Police Officer who described them in a criminal case report. When investigating detectives learned of these documented arson threats, their conviction that Hobley was the offender was confirmed. What would be the chances, after all, that Hobley would make threats of committing arson against his own wife and child and then they just happen to die weeks later of a fire set outside their apartment set by someone else? Revealingly, the officer who documented these threats he heard over the phone has never been contacted by a Chicago reporter in the three decades since the arson was committed. Not once.

 

  • Gasoline was poured outside and on Hobley’s apartment door, then down the stairwell, as if the occupants inside were targeted. When firefighters arrived on scene, the front doors were locked, suggesting that whoever had poured the gasoline and set the fire had keys to the building.

 

  • Hobley’s claims of escaping the fire while his wife and child remained inside their apartment completely defied the forensic evidence. The heat from the fire was so intense, fire investigators said, that Hobley would have been turned into ash. Hobley never provided a plausible explanation for how he escaped the fire while his wife and child didn’t, nor did many other residents in the building.

 

  • Hobley changed his story again and again.
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  • A key witness contacted police officers and told them he was at the gas station near the fire and observed Hobley approach on foot and purchase the gas, then walk back in the direction of the fire. The witness testified that he later saw Hobley at the scene of the fire and observed Hobley in the same clothes.

 

  • Another witness, the owner of the gas station, also told police he saw a man purchase the gasoline. He said he was almost certain it was Hobley.

 

  • Numerous witnesses said that Hobley was wearing different clothes at the scene of the fire than what he later turned over to detectives. Witnesses also said that Hobley never went to the area below his own apartment window to see if his own wife and child could escape.

 

  • Hobley failed a lie detector test. 
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  • Hobley told detectives that his mother advised him to take a bath after the arson at his mother’s house. He then gave the officers clothes he said he was wearing at the time of the incident but which numerous witnesses said he wasn’t.

Cherone’s egregious bias reveals itself in another way. In pushing their anti-police bias upon the public, Cherone and other Chicago journalists merely ignore the mounting evidence that their mythology about police misconduct is full of holes, that many of their claims are simply false.

Cherone ignores the fact, for example, that her alma mater, Northwestern University is embroiled in a $40 million federal lawsuit alleging a pattern of misconduct against the university, its employees, and students in several wrongful conviction cases, all based on claims of police misconduct. The lawsuit, filed by attorneys representing Alstory Simon, who was released from prison in 2014, alleges that a former Northwestern professor, David Protess, and private investigator Paul Ciolino, knowingly framed Simon in order to secure the release of Anthony Porter from death row in 1999.

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From their lawsuit:

As part of a Northwestern University Investigative Journalism class he taught in 1998, Protess instructed his students to investigate Porter’s case and develop evidence of Porter’s innocence, rather than to search for the truth. During that investigation, Northwestern, through its employees and/or agents Protess and Ciolino, intentionally manufactured false witness statements against Simon and then used the fabricated evidence, along with terrifying threats and other illegal and deceitful tactics, to coerce a knowingly false confession from Simon.

But not a word from Cherone about this. Here’s another fact about the Porter case that is illuminating: In the three decades since the murders took place, not one journalist in Chicago has ever contacted the investigating detectives to hear their side of the story.

And it gets worse. Attorneys for Simon allege a pattern of such conduct. Here is what the attorneys said in a letter to former Cook County Prosecutor Anita Alvarez about the key witness in the Hobley case—the one who said he saw Hobley purchase the gas and walk about toward his apartment shortly before the fire:

The key prosecution witness, Andre Council has testified Ciolino came to his home with Hobley’s lawyer and told him if he recanted, Ciolino would ensure his daughter received a free college education, and that he would never need to work again.

More and more evidence arises that the Jon Burge era of supposed police corruption also looks like an era of media corruption. 

If readers ever get the full set of facts, they can decide what Cherone’s article about the Hobley case and Burge amounts to.

All the FOP wants is the opportunity to tell their side to the students. And that is obviously very troubling to Chicago’s reporters like Cherone. Very troubling, indeed.