The story of Jon Burge is as much a story of media failure as anything else. As noted in the Sun-Times’s editorial this morning, “As early as 1982, public officials got wind of rumors of Burge’s torture tricks in the basement of a South Side police station.” And as Mark Brown writes in his column this morning, “From the time the accusations were raised in 1983 by attorneys for cop killer Andrew Wilson until fairly recently, the collective attitude in this city was of disbelief, of not wanting to believe such a thing possible and perhaps worse – not caring enough to demand the truth.”
What could possibly account for the “collective attitude” of the city? Where in the world do people get their views? Were citizens carrying on conversations about Burge apart from what appeared in the media – somehow receiving information to shape their views from other sources like, say, transcendental meditation?
If the media had been as aggressive about the Burge torture allegations as they have been about, say, the Hired Truck scandal or, even more to the point, how great the 2016 Olympics will be or the status of Kerry Wood’s arm, perhaps this would have been resolved – and with more satisfaction – long ago.
Even the lone reporter whose heroic reporting was long ignored by the mainstream media despite its obvious and amazing thoroughness had to swim upstream in his own shop. “His editor suggested he move on to the next subject,” Brown writes of John Conroy, a journalist more deserving than anyone in this city of a Pulitzer Price and a MacArthur genius grant and whatever else could be bestowed upon him.
Instead, he was laid off last year so the Reader could take his surprisingly paltry salary off the books.
Will no one end the destruction The Google hath wrought?
Consider a bill into which Obama clearly put his heart and soul. The problem he wanted to address was that too many confessions, rather than being voluntary, were coerced — by beating the daylights out of the accused.
Obama proposed requiring that interrogations and confessions be videotaped.
This seemed likely to stop the beatings, but the bill itself aroused immediate opposition. There were Republicans who were automatically tough on crime and Democrats who feared being thought soft on crime. There were death penalty abolitionists, some of whom worried that Obama’s bill, by preventing the execution of innocents, would deprive them of their best argument. Vigorous opposition came from the police, too many of whom had become accustomed to using muscle to “solve” crimes. And the incoming governor, Rod Blagojevich, announced that he was against it.
Obama had his work cut out for him.
He responded with an all-out campaign of cajolery. It had not been easy for a Harvard man to become a regular guy to his colleagues. Obama had managed to do so by playing basketball and poker with them and, most of all, by listening to their concerns. Even Republicans came to respect him. One Republican state senator, Kirk Dillard, has said that “Barack had a way both intellectually and in demeanor that defused skeptics.”
The police proved to be Obama’s toughest opponent. Legislators tend to quail when cops say things like, “This means we won’t be able to protect your children.” The police tried to limit the videotaping to confessions, but Obama, knowing that the beatings were most likely to occur during questioning, fought — successfully — to keep interrogations included in the required videotaping.
By showing officers that he shared many of their concerns, even going so far as to help pass other legislation they wanted, he was able to quiet the fears of many.
Obama proved persuasive enough that the bill passed both houses of the legislature, the Senate by an incredible 35 to 0. Then he talked Blagojevich into signing the bill, making Illinois the first state to require such videotaping.