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Journalist Exposes Chicago PD…Why Weren’t They Exposed Sooner?

On October 20, 2014, Laquan McDonald was shot to death in Chicago by a single bullet to the chest by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke. At least that’s what those in power in Chicago wanted people to believe. The Chicago Police Department had the following to say in the wake of the shooting:

“Uniformed officers confronted the armed offender who refused to comply with orders to drop the knife and continued to approach the officers. As a result of this action, the officer discharged his weapon striking the offender.” Based on a recent New York Times report, at the crime scene a chicago police union spokesman spoke to the media, saying McDonald was “a very serious threat,” who was “coming at the officer” and left him “no choice at that point but to defend” himself.

The statement released by the Chicago Police Department reflects a major corruption in the criminal justice system. Based on the police’s statement alone, there lies little issue. It’s the circumstances that raise suspicion. It’s certainly somewhat conspicuous how there were no audio, videos, or even testimonies from witnesses released.

In addition, all eight witnesses were police officers. A principle role of journalists as storytellers is to give both sides of the story. There was no separate side of the story, simply the police force’s.

With McDonald dead and seemingly nobody to tell his story, it was a whistleblower who spoke to journalist Jamie Kalven in 2014 and gave him tips that there was more to the story than initially suspected.

At that point, Kalven demanded the video be released, to no avail. In February 2014, Kalven obtained a copy of McDonald’s autopsy, which revealed he had been shot 16 times.

It’s hardly investigative reporting to confirm how someone died. In addition, it’s relatively easy to get a hold of an autopsy. According to Cook County’s (the county Chicago is located in) procedure on attaining autopsies, all it takes is 50 dollars and your relationship to the decedent as part of a request.

The Chicago police denied 15 requests based on the Freedom Of Information Act asking for the video’s release. The final one was submitted by independent journalist Brandon Smith. Taking further action, Smith filed a lawsuit and would win his case, with the judge ruling that Chicago PD must release the video.

The video exposed the Chicago police for framing the entire incident, between completely falsifying details of the incident and maintaining their false narrative for over a year. The video shows McDonald attempting to walk past the police, and not towards them in any sort of endangering way.  If the autopsy hadn’t already, the video served as a major turning point, with public outrage and an investigation immediately being initiated as a result. Officer Van Dyke was sentenced to life for First-Degree Murder.

While the ending result of this case raises some important questions for Chicago’s justice system, it raises many questions for journalists as well. Why did it take a whistleblower and months to pass by for anyone to try and hold the police accountable? Why wasn’t the Freedom Of Information Act utilized sooner? Why didn’t anyone request for the autopsy sooner? The fact that such a high number of shootings regularly occur in downtown Chicago is not a viable excuse for journalists to shy away from such sensitive stories.

This insightful story taught me how even when it seems all the ‘details’ are pointing to a dead end and nothing further to report, it’s still worth digging deeper. At the least, some fact-checking wouldn’t hurt. Especially when the subject at hand has a poor, unscrupulous reputation.

Blogging Site Vox is Helping Save Our Democracy

According to the American Press Institute, the more democratic a society, the more news and information it tends to have. When evaluating the United States’ democracy, there are two conclusions I reach from this.

My first takeaway is that citizens are not informed enough by news networks. This becomes an issue when citizens rely merely on these networks, as the information presented is backed by corporate interest and is often biased. Citizens who don’t seek news from any sources outside of watching televised news networks or reading newspapers are missing a certain perspective. This missing perspective is what corporations don’t want you, the reader to know.

Based on internet news services who go beyond presenting the news, my second takeaway from the API’s statement is that democracy still exists in the United States.

Vox is a great example of this; a blogging site that serves for the people. When using Google to search Vox, their tagline listed underneath the link to their website literally mentions that their mission is “explaining the news.” What Vox often does that has democratic influence is filling people in on the questions they may have regarding important subjects, yet may not know the answer.

Take for example the Baltimore riots. Through nine separate stories, Vox breaks down the purpose of the protests, the story of Freddie Gray’s death, and Baltimore’s history regarding police brutality. They also break down flaws in Baltimore’s criminal justice system. Instead of simply pointing out that the police are at fault, Vox gives a complete background to the story.

Similarly, there is a page on Vox entitled, “18 things (articles) about ISIS you need to know,” giving a history to ISIS’s existence. They published an article on November 23, 2015 literally titled, “9 questions about ISIS you were too embarrassed to ask.”A better title would have been “9 questions about ISIS the television news network fail to completely address.”

Readership levels have been trending down in recent years for newspaper establishments. Despite this they still receive more publicity than a blogging site such as Vox. It’s a shame that Vox isn’t nearly as nationally renowned as television news networks and newspapers

It irks me when I log onto Facebook and constantly see people post ignorant comments about Muslims, demonstrating “Islamophobia”. It’s clear that they lack requisite knowledge of Muslims to make such bold assertions.

For some reason these people’s flawed ideologies resonate with Trump’s preposterous notions about Muslims. On December 22, 2015, Vox presented a history of Islam in America. For all of the ignorant Americans who exhibit Islamophobia, this article is extremely insightful. The story goes all the way back to the 1700s, noting how an article in the constitution granted the political freedom to people of all religion, and how Thomas Jefferson campaigned for the religious freedom of Jews and Muslims. If more popular news establishments produced articles like this, it’s conceivable our nation would comprise a more efficient democracy, with a higher portion of people who are educated on our most pressing topics.

Reflecting a fair assessment of our news system, the United States does have an existing democracy, albeit it is a particularly flawed one. For now, we’ll have to live with blogging sites such as Vox serving as our candid democracy.

The New York Time’s Front Page Editorial Misses a Huge Oppurtunity

Following last week’s horrific mass shooting of a San Bernardino office park that left 14 people dead and an additional 21 wounded the divisive conversation of gun control in America has raged loudly, both dependent and independent of conversations involving ISIS and terrorism. There is clearly a deep national divide across the United States to what extent, if any at all, we should continue to practice the second amendment right to bear arms. On Sunday, December 4th, the New York Times ran their weekly Sunday paper with an editorial piece on the front page for the first time since 1920. The piece, “End the Gun Epidemic in America” attempted to tackle the complex issue of gun control.  This piece soon spread quickly across the internet, but from a journalism ethics standpoint my first thought was, does an editorial devoid of almost any reporting belong on the front page of a major newspaper with so much influence over the American public?

At one point the piece decrees “It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency. These are weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection.” The stance of the piece, authored collectively by “The Editorial Board” is clear, something needs to be done to help prevent future mass shootings in this country.  I believe there is enough bipartisanship and basic human compassion in this country that both sides of the aisle can agree on the travesty of any loss of life taken in these vicious attacks, and if the solution was as clear cut as the NYT editors make it out to be it would already be in the process of being completed.

This plea for change can be used to once again bring Jay Rosen’s argument against the “view from nowhere” to the forefront but unfortunately this attempt to come from “somewhere” is as lost and misguided as someone aimlessly wandering through a forest or desert. The attempt to insert opinion into journalism only becomes effective when said opinion is rooted deeply in fact and statistic. The beauty of editorials or works of journalism where the journalist is able to state their opinion lies in the ability to help readers make sense of complex issues, but these opinions are only validated when rooted in fact.  The beauty of the reporting process lies in the transparency it offers, the ability of a journalist to say “I came about this conclusion because I found these things along the way”, and the Editorial Board of the New York Time’s misses this point entirely.  The communal ethos invoked by this tragedy is not enough to sustain a message to the American public, which instead would be much more sturdy had it been supported by statistics regarding the prevalence of gun ownership in America and a look at political motivations that each party may have for action or (non action) in the wake of mass shootings that are becoming so common it is almost desensitizing.

Historically front page editorials have been reserved for major issues of social and societal importance, the fact that this is the first of such by America’s most important newspaper in 95 years is telling in itself.  I believe the complex issue of gun control in America is absolutely worthy of such a piece and it is a shame that the Times’ window of opportunity so badly missed the mark.  The front page editorial in itself is enough to generate conversation, but not sustain it to a point of social change and past the Monday watercooler.  For the 99+% of Americans without a journalism degree the holes in this editorial may not be so apparent, but as a member of the profession helping publicly advocate for support to prevent these future acts of senseless violence the battle just became even more uphill. The status-quo is not enough to prevent future attacks and in order to generate enough public support to make an effective change journalists need to provide an argument with concrete examples and substance, something this country’s leading platform failed to do.

Footage of Journalists’ Homicides?

In August 2015, two journalists at a broadcasting station in Virginia died from fatal gunshot wounds while interviewing a subject, who was also shot but survived. The shootings, by a former employee of the station, were caught on camera during broadcast. Afterward, the footage of the homicides were published in many publications

This struck a chord for many people who contested the use of the footage for journalistic purposes, because of its exploitative nature. Using Twitter as a platform, which this article represents through its Storify, many individuals argued their opinions. One individual, Jesse Kloskey, raised a point of the larger political issue and the need not to censor for educational purposes: “people need to see, and understand, what failure to properly regulate guns looks like.” Another individual, John Delva, brought up that this is large part of the honest portrayal of the event, so it would be ultimately dishonest to exclude it from the piece: “Showing it paints a picture of the story. All news pictures and art do so why should this item be any different?”

But others expressed their concern. Rikki Mitchell said: “Disappointed in any news outlet that thinks airing that video serves a purpose.” Eva Ruth Moravec said: “I wonder what journalistic service this provides. Let’s share suspect’s picture instead.”

Does it change anything that the victims are journalistic? One person, Jim Wilhelm, said: “If it weren’t journalists involved it would’ve been posted as normal reporting. Can’t have double standard.” Is there a double standard here?

The homicides had already been broadcasted, after publications acquired the footage to show, so that is an important detail.

I think, similar to to the recent footage of the San Bernardino footage, this is a matter of public interest vs. privacy. Granted, this was a public taping from a public news source in a public space, that was already being accessed by the public — viewers were watching while it happened, almost 40,000 people, so why should it just be cut from viewing as censorship after the fact?

But, on the flip side, there should be a respect of the privacy of the victims’ and respect for their families, who are grieving and do not deserve, despite its journalistic power, the gruesome and fragile footage of their loved ones to be household viewing material.

I am divided on whether I believe this should be public material or not. It is arguable. I am curious about any thoughts on this matter. I know we discussed the case in which the government through the Exemption 7(c) to FOIA did not disclose the footage of a prisoner’s murder by two other prisoners for the legal trial in respect of the privacy for the dead prisoner’s family — despite the news’s claim that there is not an expectation of privacy at a prison.

 

 

Gun Control: Being Armed is Not Being Safe

With the recent flurry of mass shootings happening around the world, gun control debates have sparked up with more fervor than ever. Along with calls to further restrict the selling of guns, there are those who make the argument that more “good” citizens with guns will lead to a safer country. There is a pretty clear line of division between the two sides to this debate. For the first time since 1920, the New York Times ran an editorial on the front page that demanded a tighter restraint on guns being bought and sold in this country.

Sure, the second amendment is the right to bear arms. That doesn’t mean selling heavy artillery to barely checked citizens. Why the hell does an every day citizen need to be able to buy a semiautomatic? It’s ridiculous to use the second amendment as an end all argument. More ‘good’ people with guns is clearly not the answer. How is one even to distinguish who a good person is or if they won’t snap and shoot up support centers like in San Bernardo?

I think it’s, to be blunt, fucked up that people like Jerry Falwell, president of Liberty University, can stand up in front of a huge student body and urge students to arm themselves and “end Muslims”, telling his students to support Islamophobia. I think guns DO need to be cracked down on. I think that semiautomatics definitely shouldn’t be sold to whoever with a license and I think that the second amendment needs to be revisited.

At least they train us how to be better journalists.

As a rule, Journalism ethics classes aim to promote better journalism, therefore, journalists are trained to be moral in their work. Of course studying ethics should lead ethicists to behave better than those who have not learn it. However, sometimes, journalists being ethical or otherwhise might relate to their personality. Many people are not always moral in their life routine, but at the same time, one should ask themselves what kind of morality are we talking about? Who are we being moral or unfair to? For instance, the person in the “cheeseburger ethics article,” who claims that eating meat is bad was at least ethical to the students, even if she was not moral to herself. She shared what she ethically believed was not right with the students, and she took a personal decision of harming herself by eating the burger. To me, her behavior was fair as long as she informed that specific audience that about the down side of eating. The only thing that make her look bad was the fact that she failed to reveal to the students that though she suggest people to not eat meat but she herself eat it for whatever reason she decided so. This way, the student who found her eating the cheeseburger would not be surprise seeing it.

As for us journalists, some of us practice journalism because it is their dream job; while other work as journalists because they are able to make money out of it; and still others use journalism for the fact that it will get their name out. I believe that those who are in love with it are responsible journalists, who are seeking to expend their audience throughout honesty and transparency. I remember learning that the only thing a journalist can offer to her/his audience is delivering trustworthy information that leads the audience to get trust. And I think doing a good job mean feeling good about what we do. As for me, journalism ethics classes make me a better learner because my eyes become wider open than before. Today, after taking this class, I have a lot of things related to journalism that I have done in the past to regret because I find out they were unethical. From now on, I can confirm that I am and will always be a better journalist because I learn the good way and I have no doubt about my morality.

At least they train us how to be better journalists.

As a rule, Journalism ethics classes aim to promote better journalism, therefore, journalists are trained to be moral in their work. Of course studying ethics should lead ethicists to behave better than those who have not learn it. However, sometimes, journalists being ethical or otherwhise might relate to their personality. Many people are not always moral in their life routine, but at the same time, one should ask themselves what kind of morality are we talking about? Who are we being moral or unfair to? For instance, the person in the “cheeseburger ethics article,” who claims that eating meat is bad was at least ethical to the students, even if she was not moral to herself. She shared what she ethically believed was not right with the students, and she took a personal decision of harming herself by eating the burger. To me, her behavior was fair as long as she informed that specific audience that about the down side of eating. The only thing that make her look bad was the fact that she failed to reveal to the students that though she suggest people to not eat meat but she herself eat it for whatever reason she decided so. This way, the student who found her eating the cheeseburger would not be surprise seeing it.

As for us journalists, some of us practice journalism because it is their dream job; while other work as journalists because they are able to make money out of it; and still others use journalism for the fact that it will get their name out. I believe that those who are in love with it are responsible journalists, who are seeking to expend their audience throughout honesty and transparency. I remember learning that the only thing a journalist can offer to her/his audience is delivering trustworthy information that leads the audience to get trust. And I think doing a good job mean feeling good about what we do. As for me, journalism ethics classes make me a better learner because my eyes become wider open than before. Today, after taking this class, I have a lot of things related to journalism that I have done in the past to regret because I find out they were unethical. From now on, I can confirm that I am and will always be a better journalist because I learn the good way and I have no doubt about my morality.

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