For any ambitious journalist in Chicago, the federal courts beat would be a gift from heaven.
The reason is that evidence of perhaps the greatest legal scandals in the history of the state are unfolding there on a daily basis, stories rife with brutal crimes, political and judicial corruption, all based on the exoneration of convicted killers and rapists. A journalist could build his entire career on wading through this evidence and telling the stories there.
But for a Chicago journalist, particularly from the Chicago Tribune, it’s not such a welcome task, because digging into these ever-expanding narratives also unburies one of the worst scandals in the history of Illinois journalism: the release of a multitude of convicted killers and rapists on claims of wrongful conviction that may very well have been false, engineered in part because the reporters and columnists who covered them didn’t do any real homework.
Or, possibly, worse.
These stories by the Chicago media are almost always based upon claims of police misconduct, so that the detectives and police officers who worked these cases have had their reputations and careers shattered. One could say, then, that there is a kind of tension between law enforcement in Chicago and the local media.
Among the narratives floating around the federal courts, there is none more problematic for journalists than the exoneration of Madison Hobley from death row in 2003 by Governor George Ryan. Facing his own 21-count indictment at the time, Ryan decided to release Hobley and three other convicted killers without any new evidence of innocence.
Two things made Hobley’s case so ominous. One was the magnitude of the crime. Caught in a love triangle, Hobley was convicted of setting a fire in 1987 that killed his wife, child, and five other people on the South Side. The other factor that makes this case so ominous for journalists is the fact that the Hobley arson has been cited by attorneys as part of a pattern of misconduct by wrongful conviction activists and attorneys. The Hobley case reverberates through the federal courts in a multitude of ways.
Indeed, so much evidence has emerged of misconduct in the wrongful conviction movement that any journalist would certainly be eager to dig into it. They would were it not for the fact that the Tribune cheered these exonerations, particular Hobley’s, with a mania rarely seen in the media. In this mania, the Tribune conducted little real investigation into the case, ignoring such central evidence as the fact that Hobley made arson threats against his wife in a phone call weeks before the actual arson. The phone call was heard by a police officer and documented in a case report.
So rather than being a bastion of potential Pulitzer Prize–winning stories, the federal courts beat at the Tribune is a minefield for its journalists.
Federal courts reporter Jason Meisner has proven able for the challenge. Meisner has successfully ignored crucial developments while cheerleading others that continue to paint the police in a negative light, all the while keeping the public’s attention away from suspicious cases like Hobley and others.
In doing so, Meisner proves himself an adept Alinskyite activist in the realm of journalism, fulfilling several rules of radicals handed down by Saul Alinsky.
“Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”
“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
But Meisner and his Alinskyite pals at the Tribune often let their guard down, moments when they fail to couch their attacks in the rhetoric of investigative reporters. Just such a moment took place Saturday on Twitter, when the Tribune published a story about a man who was, according to investigators, arrested for setting a fire because he was upset over a broken marriage, much like Madison Hobley was reportedly upset at the demise of his domestic life.
The Watch tweeted to Meisner about the story: Ring any bells?
Apparently, the comment hit a nerve with Meisner. Here’s what Meisner shot back:
There was a time when a journalist caught saying something like this about the police would garner some response from his employer, but it is a mark of the depths to which the Tribune has sunk since it became a voice for the Alinsky left in Chicago that Meisner can get away with such a comment.
But there it is on the record, a comment that goes a long way in understanding Meisner’s coverage of the federal courts and the ominous silence surrounding the mass murder that Madison Hobley was once convicted of.