Media Containment No Longer Working in False Police Misconduct Claims?
Are Chicago Journalists Hiding Evidence of Chicago’s Own MeToo Scandal in Murder Exonerations?
Poor Eric Zorn.
The teetering narrative upon which much of his career and his newspaper’s reputation have been constructed took some potentially fatal blows last week. And worse, there are signs of more to come.
In the first blow, attorneys representing detectives accused of coercing a confession from Armando Serrano for a 1993 murder filed a motion in federal court alleging that Serrano and his “agents” intentionally hid or got rid of evidence that proved the man’s guilt. That’s a pretty ominous accusation in and of itself, but it gets worse. In the motion, the attorneys also accuse a former Northwestern journalism professor, David Protess, of engaging in sweeping misconduct—both inside and outside of his classroom.
From court documents in the federal lawsuit:
In 2003, Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism professor David Protess, his journalism students, and their private investigator (collectively “Medill”) began investigating the case on behalf of Plaintiff Serrano. Medill created many videotapes, audiotapes, and memoranda of interviews of key witnesses.
In 2004, Medill succeeded in extracting Vicente’s recantation. But discovery has revealed that prior to recanting, Plaintiffs’ gang, the Imperial Gangsters, threatened Vicente’s life because of his testimony against Plaintiffs. Thereafter, and in consideration for his recantation, both Plaintiffs offered Vicente protection from assassination, and along with Medill, offered him other hidden incentives, including a prison transfer and a fortune (described by Plaintiff Montanez as “ching-ching”) from the proceeds of Plaintiffs’ anticipated civil lawsuits.
Protess left the school in 2010 after school officials admitted he had lied about his investigations. Since then, allegations of misconduct against him have surfaced in two other federal lawsuits, one in which he was a defendant. That case was settled.
Back to Serrano. The key person targeted in Serrano’s lawsuit is Reynaldo Guevara, a retired detective accused of coercing confessions in a host of cases he had worked on. The city has already paid out millions in these claims, despite the fact that the Fraternal Order of Police and the former Cook County prosecutor Anita Alvarez maintain that these convictions were legitimate. It was only after Kimberly Foxx was elected that the prosecutors did a sudden 180-degree turn on Guevara, a chilling sign to every detective in the city that their cases, their reputations, their jobs, and perhaps even their freedom are dependent on the whims of whatever prosecutor is at the helm, regardless of what the previous prosecutor declared about the evidence in the case.
Despite this Foxx reversal, journalists and politicians still put on a befuddled countenance and scratch their heads about the mystery surrounding the abysmally low resolution rate for murders under Foxx.
Now, with these accusations that evidence was intentionally hidden from the defense, will other narratives about Guevara fall apart in the courts? That remains to be seen. How resilient are the federal courts?
In the second potentially fatal blow to Zorn and his Tribune, defense attorneys in another federal civil case alleging a police frame-up in a murder case have subpoenaed a reporter from the New Yorker, claiming his article about a 1993 murder crossed the line of journalism into advocacy on behalf of the attorneys representing Tyrone Hood, whose sentence for murder was commuted by former governor Pat Quinn moments before Quinn left office.
Just as with Guevara, the Hood case is also one of many alleging misconduct against a former detective, this time Kenny Boudreau, who has been in the crosshairs of the Tribunesince it published a bizarre series of articles in 2001 claiming Boudreau coerced confessions throughout his career.
Such allegations of the media acting on behalf of the law firms representing offenders claiming wrongful conviction are nothing new, particularly for Zorn and his Tribune. Their coverage of police misconduct cases has generated a multitude of similar claims that the media is working on behalf of the police misconduct accusers, not investigating the veracity of the claims against the police.
The motions in these two separate federal lawsuits are an ominous sign that Zorn and the Tribune’s mythology about police corruption is collapsing under the weight of ever-unfolding evidence. Up until now, the strategy of the Tribune and the entire media machine in the city has been to contain this evidence. Zorn and his colleagues ignore this growing evidence by simply not covering it or by giving it a few lines in an article and then leaving it alone. Then they move on to the next case alleging misconduct.
Consider: Zorn and his cabal never covered the motion in the Serrano case alleging covered-up innocence, despite nearly weekly stories claiming Guevara was a dirty detective. They never covered the federal subpoena to depose the New Yorkerjournalist. They never even covered the bombshell story of a former governor being subpoenaed in a murder case.
How’s that for containment?
But with motions like these surfacing in federal court, this containment is becoming more difficult. In fact, the real story here, the one with real journalistic meat on it, is about the signs of the media cover-up itself, just as the story that once alleged Russian collusion against President Trump is now largely about how the media conspired to gin up this false narrative.
And here is where the story becomes truly macabre for journalists like Zorn.
When the central case of his career—the exoneration of Anthony Porter for a double murder—collapsed under renewed scrutiny, Zorn still tried to keep the doomed narrative alive. That meant ignoring or dismissing the vast body of evidence that David Protess ginned up the entire narrative, and it meant attacking Protess’s accusers in Zorn’s increasingly strange and desperate columns.
But now Protess is being accused of similar conduct in other cases, including the Serrano case. Will Zorn unload on the accusers again, vainly trying to maintain the weak wall of propaganda against the flood of evidence moving toward him and his paper? Will he deny the pattern of evidence against Protess, a man he eulogized throughout his career?
And the allegations are getting darker and darker.
Well, as early as 2003, there were allegations that Protess was using his female students to sexually entice false statements from witnesses. These allegations have surfaced in the Serrano case as well.
Prosecutors on Tuesday unveiled documents that suggested students and staff with Northwestern University’s Medill Innocence Project arranged a visit from a female student as a “treat” for a prisoner, in addition to making unspecified promises, before he recanted his testimony in a 1993 murder and armed robbery case. . . .
The memos include suggestions that Francisco Vicente, who testified against Serrano but later recanted to the students, was upset that a private detective who works with Protess failed to come through with unspecified “considerations.”
But that’s only the tip of it. A judge who reviewed the case of a man once convicted of a brutal rape and severe burning of a woman rejected the man’s innocence claims. Students working with Protess “investigated” the case. Incredibly, they too came up with recanted witness statements, some of which the judge labeled certainly suspicious, since the witnesses, some of whom were co-offenders, had maintained Wrice’s guilt for decades under oath. Then suddenly, Protess’s students met with them and worked their recantation magic.
Allegations of Protess misusing students arose in that lawsuit, as well.
From court documents:
Defendants also claim that “a substantial body of information has surfaced in the past several years concerning illegal and coercive tactics that were routinely utilized by Protess and his designees to obtain information and recantations from witnesses in several cases, including Plaintiff’s case.” According to Defendants, “Witnesses from whom Protess procured recantations in other criminal cases have since come forward alleging that Protess and his team of investigators used coercion in various forms—dangling young female college students as sexual bait, impersonating movie producers, promising book/movie deals, making cash payments, and promising convicted murderers their freedom from prison—to procure false recantations from them.”
The case became even more macabre when a woman stepped forward and testified that Wrice raped her over and over beginning at the age of 14. Wrice, she said, got her pregnant three times.
With these renewed accusations against Protess in the Serrano case, Zorn and his cabal at the Tribunehave remained dutifully silent, and the rest of the media machine in the city has as well, a media collusion that would rival the party/media nexus of a Soviet state. One wonders, is Chicago the Venezuela of the United States?
But there are signs that even Zorn doesn’t even believe his own bullshit anymore.
Consider the decision by the U.S. Department of Justice under William Barr to reintroduce the death penalty. Isn’t that a powerful sign that Barr and President Trump don’t buy Zorn and the Trib’s mythology about so many men, like Anthony Porter, falsely being sentenced to death?
But more so, there was a time when the reintroduction of the death penalty would have Zorn fuming in all his self-righteous, social justice blather. Splashed across the headlines would be the Porter narrative alleged again and again as an example that the death penalty should not be employed ever again.
But Zorn hasn’t said a word about it. He has not cited the Porter case once in arguing against the federal death penalty.
Is it another sign that the best, truest stories in Chicago are found in Eric Zorn and the Chicago Tribune’s most guarded silence?