It is well documented that I am a newspaper hound. I have no burning need to be well informed, but I still subscribe to both Chicago papers, USA Today, my local paper, Crains,and the weekend New York Times. The Wall Street Journal had been excised when it was sold to the devil, but it mysteriously restarted with a welcome back notice this week. Perhaps my accountant wants me to be more financially savvy. I would be starting at a negative number there! I get Time and Newsweek. I have the AP, News Junkie, Huff Post, Instapaper and the Sun Sentinel Apps on my phone. I am aware that I am cluttering my brain with banality. But I am an info-surfer. I try to read one thing each day that directly contradicts my closely held beliefs. It is my hope that it will keep me from being one-dimensional and set in my ways. Steve says I have already lost that battle.
My favorite role that newspapers perform is the in-depth investigation. They happen less often now due to staffing reductions, but they have been instrumental in rooting out corruption. Remember when the Sun Times opened a bar called the Mirage to trap inspectors and extorters? That was the golden age of local journalism. A good newspaper has the leverage to demand accountability from local politicians and public figures. Their motivation is truth and the greater good for the public; if it sells papers, it is a win-win. It is an enormous responsibility to use a headline and investigation for a legitimate purpose, not for circulation.
The aforementioned Sun Times has been bleeding all kinds of ink on their Watchdogs Investigation of the late night fight that resulted in a fall, head injury and death for David Koschman. Every day his sweet visage is appended to their latest chapter. As a parent, I can relate to the sorrow his mother has every day of her life. But the Sun Times is killing me with this series. It is like a maze of dead ends, and they keep ordering the various players to get to a place that is impossible to reach.
Since the Sun Times is not a universal habit, I will recap:
This tragic event took place in 2004; no prosecution took place. The Sun Times' axis is that the men involved included Mayor Daley's nephew, Richard Vanecko. They assert that he struck the blow that caused Koschman to fall and hit his head. The initial report was that he was defensive in his actions, responding to aggressive behavior. After the fight, the participants scattered. The poor kid died a few days later, at which time the investigation, already complicated by the drunken circumstances, became an active death investigation. The Sun Times implies, though cannot prove, that Vanecko received special treatment as a Daley. There is a clamor for justice, investigation, prosecution, and accountability.
Once the reader gets past the headlines and the pictures, however, we read a story where all the witnesses were under the influence, recollections were contradictory, and identifications were incorrect. Almost all narratives have shifted, with some witnesses absorbing news coverage and relating new perspectives years later. Yet the Sun Times demands that this quicksand be taken to court and turned into a solid foundation. They know the folly of this trajectory. Yet they cannot stop banging the drum for truth- a commodity they acknowledge is in short supply.
As investigations go, this one was cheap. The reporters opened up old files, tracked down witnesses, interviewed the bereaved Mom, and recounted Daley's nephew's past screw ups. Their tale corkscrews through the contradictions and deficits in the case. I understand that the S/T wants a tangible payoff. Their heaviest political hitter, Carol Marin, weighed in with the clout angle, since the investigation itself is at a dead end. If there is no chance to convict with the evidence, at least City Hall can be tainted. Or the Police. Or the State's Attorney's office.
The paper went apoplectic when the CPD closed its investigation, despite the fact that their own reporting recounts unreliable, shifting recollections. Cook County Grand Juries are generous with indictments, but even an atrophied legal mind like mine can see that this case cannot result in a conviction: the witnesses actually contradict themselves. Anita Alvarez was a State's Attorney at the time of this event, and she says it was handled without respect to any Daley ties. So the Sun Times turns on her, demanding that she speak to their findings. She appoints a special prosecutor to check the police, citing "new information that a witness was not represented in the notes from a lineup, in which no one identified Vachecko. He thinks he did." What? I liked her more when she was not bowing to the press. Maybe the editorial board reminded her that they were in her corner when she ran as an underdog.
Still, the Sun Times isn't happy with an independent investigation of the CPD. They have issues with with the State Police's newly chosen superintendent, claiming that he has ties to the old Chicago Police Department and cannot investigate without bias. I presume that only an independent prosecutor will satisfy their clamoring- or a federal investigation. This case is a tragic mess.
I have a feeling that there is an "all Sun Times hands on deck" mentality at work, because even Michael Sneed has been reporting on it above birthday notices and other Sneedlings. Mary Mitchell decried the "special treatment", and she does not usually get busy championing cases like this. So far, no word from Neil Steinberg, which I take as a testament to his stubborn integrity. The fact that his weekend column was a sweet and joyful obituary to a practical joker tells me that he is working overtime to avoid weighing in. But the story remains on their front page- this is Day 5.
I wish there was peace for David Koschman's Mom. Late night drinking and stumbling is endemic in Chicago, and the participants are rarely judicious. No one should die because a night of partying turns angry and physical. Stupid, stupid, stupid- for all involved. I do not know if Daley's nephew is worthy of the benefit of the doubt- I know he is 7 years older now, and I expect this new microscope on his behavior is painful. So be it. There is a truth to the notion that one moment of bad judgement can follow you all your days. I hope he is more cautious in his behavior, more careful of his words, friends, and actions. I hope he did not game the system, or get special consideration. In fact, it seems clear that we will never know.
I am convinced by the Sun Times' own reporting that the tangle created on that late, drunk night cannot be untangled by journalists, the Chicago Police Department, the State Police or the State's Attorney's office. Sometimes we cannot tie up frazzled messes into a neat bit of blame. The instinct to "make things right" is noble, but resolution cannot always happen. There is no satisfaction to be had here, except perhaps to remind young people that the knee jerk bravado that alcohol infuses them with can have catastrophic, tragic results. There is no reliable narrative for the authorities to prosecute with. We cannot turn back time. A mother will continue to mourn, fresh hope dashed.
I hope that the Sun Times was motivated by a desire to find the truth. I hope they wanted more than a series of sensational headlines, using the Daley connection one last time. The kid should not have received any special treatment because he had connections. On the flip side, he should not lose the presumption of innocence because his uncle is the Mayor. There are thousands of dead end cases in Chicago, but this one received 5 days of prime time coverage. Would the average cold case have the mighty Sun Times' resources bearing down?
As a grizzled consumer of local news, I am skeptical. I love my papers, and I want to give the S/T the benefit of the doubt......but I need for Neil Steinberg to assure me of the purity of motives here.
Today he spoke of Miracle Whip. He is really avoiding the topic.
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