The other side of '60 Minutes' canonization of NU's Innocence Project

CBS News' 60 Minutes, despite a history of serious investigative reporting (including its participation years ago with the Chicago Sun-Times in the splendid Mirage investigation), also has been known to get things wrong or to show a bias. (See Briebart, Washington Examiner, The Blaze for some recent accusations.)

And so it went last Sunday, in its segment that called Chicago "the false confession capital of the world." One might have thought that the script had been written by the folks at Northwestern University's Innocence Project, which has sprung felons based on DNA and other evidence.

While freeing the innocent is an admirable occupation, I'm not sure the project hasn't  sprung an "innocent" who was truly guilty. I'm particularly concerned about the Anthony Porter case involving all kinds of questionable conduct by the crusaders who themselves may have gotten an innocent man to confess to a murder that Porter committed. (Disclosure: While a public relations consultant 14 years ago, I did some work for James Sotos, the lawyer who now represents Alstory Simon, the man sitting in prison.)

I'm not taking sides in the cases that 60 Minutes discussed, but I do think that they were unfair to Cook County States Attorney Anita Alvarez, who, for some reason, agreed to be interviewed for a case that she had nothing to do with it. In the interview, she defended prosecutors in the 1994 "Englewood Four" rape and murder case. The roof caved in on her for what 60 Minutes chose to air of the interview.

But it's what they didn't air that tarnishes the program. Natasha Korecki, the Sun-Times political reporter, quoted Alvarez' spokeswoman:

“We are appalled, absolutely, unequivocally appalled by the lack of information [in the ‘60 Minutes’ report],” Alvarez’s spokeswoman, Sally Daly, said. “They did not include information that is critical to this case. Anita spent an hour doing this interview. We were ensured that we were going to get a fair shake ... I didn’t expect that from ‘60 Minutes.’ She could have easily not done the interview. She stood up and explained the cases publicly.”

Daly said the piece failed to report key facts in the cases — the so-called Engelwood Four case and one in which a group of Dixmoor men’s cases were dismissed after they spent years in prison. That included some suspects pleading guilty and testifying against others before judges and juries.

“These cases were presented multiple times to judges and juries,” Daly said. “Our office did a very, very thorough, careful review of these cases. She found that there was not enough evidence.”

Assuming that Daly is right, the question is: what did 60 Minutes leave out of the interview? Would it have strengthened her argument; is it something that 60 Minutes didn't want its viewers to see?

Alvarez has much to explain in another case, in which, Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley seemed to dodge any  prosecution in in which he clocked in the 2004 death of David Koschman, who died from his injuries. Alvarez said she didn't have enough evidence to charge Vanecko, a claim seemingly disputed by his indictment by a special grand jury of involuntary manslaughter.

The case has political clout written all over it--a heater as it is often called. (The Tribune's John Kass is all over the case and here gives the Sun-Times due credit for staying on the story.) And there may be more to the 60 Minutes decision to air the program six months after it was produced. For that I recommend the savvy Pat Hickey, who, in his blog "With Both Hands" points out that 60 Minutes failed in its report to mention 60 Minutes' own scandal.

Hickey refers to the Project's David Protess, a key figure in the Innocence and of the Porter "exoneration." Alavarez had exposed some of Protess' practices that were legally and ethically questionable, which eventually led Northwestern University to dismiss him. As Hickey noted:

Dave Protess no longer operates within the ivy of Northwestern, because Cook County States Attorney Anita Alvares out-ed Professor Dave as a phony and the university booted the Tweedy Fagin.

All to the great embarrassment of the Innocence Project. And to the great damage of the project's credibility.

Would the 60 Minutes segment be payback for Alvarez' attack on Protess and the project? 60 Minutes works closely with academics and journalists and the Innocence Project is no exception. I have no evidence that the segment was payback. But this is Chicago and home of the Chicago Way. The whole system is fueled by payback.

 

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  • "Would the 60 Minutes segment be payback for Alvarez' attack on Protess and the project?"

    Well, Dennis to quote the great Fats Waller,
    “One never knows, do one?”

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    Dennis, Although I am from Louisiana and live in Bangkok, I enjoy your blog. Having said this, the next time I see a popup ad which opens when I click on the close button, it will be my last visit to your site. Sincerely, Rob

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