The Watch

News and Information for Chicago FOP members.

Another Hinkel, Tribune Narrative Takes A Nosedive...

Tribune reporter Dan Hinkel’s coverage of a 2015 police shooting is beginning to resemble the paper’s disgraced coverage of many wrongful conviction cases.

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Hinkel has broken several “scoops” about a 2015 shooting in which a Chicago Police officer shot a bat-wielding assailant, accidentally killing a woman as well. All of Hinkel’s scoops about the incident and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) investigation of it cast a negative light on the police officer involved, including Hinkel’s coverage of the ruling by COPA that the shooting was unjustified.

That ruling by the COPA in December was immediately condemned by the Fraternal Order of Police.

Sensing something highly unfair and inappropriate was taking place in the COPA ruling, the FOP authorized its attorneys to dig into the COPA investigation. The FOP also notified the city’s Inspector General’s office that there was a pattern of leaks from COPA and its predecessor, IPRA, to reporters like Hinkel. These leaks, if true, not only violate COPA’s rules of confidentiality, but also make it appear as if the agency is using “friendly” reporters to push their claims against the police.

But this is nothing new at the Tribune. Much of the paper’s coverage over the last three decades is rooted in their championing a host of cases in which guilty men claimed they were innocent. With the cheering of the Tribune, many of these offenders were released, claiming they were coerced, even tortured, into confessing to crimes they did not commit. Would these men have been released without the incessant drumbeat of reporters maintaining that they were the victims of police misconduct?

But about ten years ago, the narratives began to unravel. Now, a vast body of evidence is taking shape in various legal and media venues pointing to the fact that these stories are completely false, beginning with the exoneration of Anthony Porter from death row in 1999, an exoneration that spurred dozens of others.

The Tribune’s bolstering of these narratives, and then its reaction when they began to fall apart, is a dark chapter in the viability and integrity of Chicago’s media. It points to a news outlet embracing a story before obtaining the facts and evaluating them. It points to a news outlet ignoring key evidence to maintain that narrative, and it points to a news outlet wholly unwilling to acknowledge that it got a story completely wrong.

Is this what is taking shape in Hinkel’s coverage of the 2015 fatal police shooting?

Well, it didn’t take long for the attorneys to find something unusual. In response to a Freedom of Information request, the FOP discovered that COPA had paid an outside party in connection with its investigation of the shooting, a Boston Police lieutenant who seems to have expertise in police shootings. 

Curiously, no mention of this person or any observations, rulings, or opinions he might have had about the incident was made in COPA’s final report. Even more curious, no mention of this third party was ever made by Dan Hinkel.

All the scoops Hinkel got in the story—but not this scoop about a third party.

It begs a question. Is Hinkel writing his story from a preconceived narrative, just as the Tribune seems to have done in so many wrongful conviction cases? Look at Hinkel’s list of stories for the last few months on the Trib website. They are almost uniformly anti-police, as if Hinkel, and many of his colleagues at the Trib, seem to think that a primary function of the media is a relentless attack on the criminal justice system, particularly the police.

Well, here are two grand questions that must be asked in the wake of the discovery of the third party’s involvement in the COPA investigation. If COPA left out any information about a third party in their final report, did they also leave it out of the file submitted to the Superintendent of Police, who must rule on whether the officer will be fired based upon COPA’s claim that the shooting was unjustified?

The fate of the officer involved in the shooting now hinges on a decision by the Superintendent of the CPD. COPA was mandated to provide that entire file to the Superintendent.

Well, did they? 

Here’s what the Superintendent said in a letter, according to Hinkel’s competitor, the Sun Times:

“Despite the fact that COPA informed the media of its final opinion, CPD has not received the entire file. I am requesting that COPA confirm that CPD has everything that COPA consulted or relied upon in rendering its opinion in this matter and ask that COPA provide every document that is relevant to this investigation, including but not limited to exhibits, witness interviews, videos and expert reports,” Johnson wrote in the letter, which was obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Got that? A letter obtained by the Sun Times. Not by Dan Hinkel.

Equally important, did COPA submit whatever opinion, input, or report this third party may have made to the Cook County State’s Attorney when prosecutors reviewed the case to determine whether the officer would be charged?

If COPA failed to do so in either case, there is indeed a scandal brewing at the agency less than a year into its inception. And there is yet another dark cloud forming over the Dan Hinkel and the Chicago Tribune.

Will Hinkel look into these key aspects of the case, or will he react as Tribune columnist Eric Zorn did in 2005 after a civil trial over the Anthony Porter exoneration not only vindicated the detectives who had been so badly maligned by the Tribune, but also proved once again that the Tribune’s claims of Porter being innocent of a vicious double murder were complete hogwash?

After that verdict, Zorn, who reportedly never even bothered to hear the evidence in the trial, nevertheless angrily declared that Porter was innocent. Zorn wrote a column the next day angrily attacking the detectives’ attorney, who said after the trial that Porter was the killer.

Imagine that. A journalist doesn’t even bother looking at all the evidence before declaring people innocent and guilty. Is this what journalism has become in Chicago?

Well, is it, Hinkel?