Imagine “The Wire,” “Serpico,” “Prince of the City” and “The Shield” rolled into one. It’s why Hollywood producers should read “The Code of Silence” and give Chicago freelance journalist Jamie Kalven a call.
It’s a remarkable, 20,000-word, four-part online series in The Intercept: an unseemly tale of two rank-and-file Chicago cops who stumbled upon a sweeping criminal enterprise among colleagues. But then, they “were hung out to dry” by a corrupt department.
It’s also a tale both of how mainstream media often blows law enforcement coverage and how potentially important stories run smack into journalistic conventions and just get lost.
His expose is like the grittiest fictionalized drama: dirty cops, abject poverty in crime-ridden projects, people wearing wires, murders to silence informants, the good guys being demonized and put in real peril, and ultimately a department hierarchy looking the other way.
Not coincidentally, the Justice Department is investigating the Chicago Police Department for what appears to be systemic corruption and abuse. The department mess, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s fumbling, gained national attention with a video that shows an officer firing 16 rounds into a 17-year-old, Laquan McDonald.
Kalven, an award-winning and cerebral journalist-human rights activist whose late father was a famous University of Chicago law professor, helped inspire the probe. He was leaked word that the McDonald video was not the exculpatory evidence that the city claimed before it went public, and was first with the autopsy report. His reporting won a George Polk Award this year.
Those efforts underscored how local media had proven frequent law enforcement lapdogs. Chicago isn’t alone. A poor Black kid gets murdered at 2 a.m., the police spokesman says a cop was justified in shooting him, an internal investigation whitewashes everything, and the press is a government bulletin board.
Now there’s the saga of officers Shannon Spaulding and Danny Echeverria, which he’s been working on for years. The duo went to the FBI nine years ago with evidence of cops hitting up drug dealers for protection money, among other illegalities. With the knowledge and approval of their internal affairs department, they went undercover only to be ultimately outed by the division’s head.
They endured retribution, humiliation and menace for years, especially after filing a whistleblower lawsuit. Shortly before trial, the city settled for $2 million. But all the key players denied the allegations and, this strongly suggests, may have lied under oath.
Spaulding, who is now on an open-ended leave after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, had come to to Kalven. She was the classic whistleblower. They spoke for more than three years, with more than 100 hours of interviews.
Much of her story can’t be corroborated, perhaps due to rampant deceit by many others. Kalven felt it had the real smell of truth. But, after expressing initial interest, the Center for Investigative Reporting took a pass. The Guardian and Slate took a look but he withdrew it after finding proposed changes unacceptable, he says.
He says, “Even for somebody like me, who is independent and insurgent, it’s difficult; attempting to tell a whistleblower story with a credible source but only the occasional ability to have multiple sources.” It’s one thing to deal with an Edward Snowden’s actual documents. This was tougher and, even with all the time spent with The Intercept’s lawyers, he concedes that he’s “pushing the envelope.”
Settlement aside, the tale does not really have a happy ending. The dirtiest cop got a light sentence on a smaller charge. Echeverria is very isolated within the department in the fugitive apprehension unit. Spaulding essentially has lost a job she loved and was broken emotionally and financially (until the settlement, which includes stiff legal fees).
And one anecdote says it all about the ultimate issue, namely the code of silence. She came home one day, reached into her mailbox and found it full of excrement. And this note: “Since you like shit so much, thought you’d enjoy this.”
Twitter heads south
“Twitter Inc. shares plummeted on Thursday after it became apparent a sales process for the sputtering social media company might not draw as many suitors as investors had hoped.” (The Wall Street Journal)
Joe Buck admits to a lie
It’s not The National Enquirer, it’s Sports Illustrated: “Joe Buck reveals that hair plug addiction nearly cost him his career.” (S.I.) Ah, yes. The star sports announcer “has said that a virus cost him his voice for part of 2011, but that was a lie. His loss of speech was a side effect of a hair transplant procedure.”
The sunrise babble (Hurricane Matthew edition)
TV sets were dominated by swirling, multi-colored radar as meteorologists supplanted political pundits and Quinnipiac University polls. Even on 5 a.m. local newscasts in faraway Chicago, it was Matthew, Matthew, Matthew. Nationally, an army of correspondents, with their bright nylon rain jackets and corporate logos, were on the scene, buffeted by wicked winds (perfect for TV), with CNN’s “New Day” even feeling compelled to dispatch co-host Chris Cuomo to the scene in Jacksonville, Florida.
Chad Myers, a CNN meteorologist, was in a cozy studio but firm and informative, even telling Jennifer Gray, another CNN meteorologist who was planted outside in Palm Bay, that winds were now 80 mph around her.
On MSNBC there was the image of the Weather Channel’s Mike Seidel being creamed by rain and wind and turning away from his camera, unable to continue. On Fox in New Smyrna Beach, Andrea Jackson of Fox affiliate WOFL told “Fox & Friends” of Disney World closing for only the fourth time and palm trees “bending ominously” around her. ABC News had eyewitness video of transformers exploding, “sparking and popping like bursting fireworks in the storm.” (ABC)
Paul Ryan hits the trail
“Paul Ryan burns final shred Of dignity, will campaign with Trump.” (Huffington Post) “Ryan cozies up to Trump” (Politico) Ah, his hometown paper in Janesville, Wisconsin was a bit more understated: “Confirmed: Trump coming to Fall Fest in Elkhorn on Saturday.” (GazetteXtra)
But forget Trump and Ryan. Ryan’s favorite paper does herald a big Division III football tussle Saturday at Perkins Stadium “when No. 2 UW-Whitewater hosts No. 5 UW-Oshkosh in a Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game.” They may pack in 15,000, which is pretty good for Division III.
Does Verizon want a $1 billion discount on Yahoo?
“Verizon is pushing for a $1 billion discount off its pending $4.8 billion agreement to buy Yahoo, several sources told The Post exclusively.” (New York Post) The request comes on the heels of the web giant getting bludgeoned by bad news in the past few days.
How ’bout this for attribution? “’In the last day we’ve heard that Tim (Armstrong) is getting cold feet. He’s pretty upset about the lack of disclosure and he’s saying can we get out of this or can we reduce the price?’ said a source familiar with Verizon’s thinking.”
So it’s now 18 major newspapers for Clinton, with their total circulation at 6.2 million; three for Gary Johnson, with total circulation of 661,000; and zero for Donald Trump.
Bloomberg on pizza
Hey, it may not be as scintillating for its core readers as Deutsche Bank’s derivatives problem but Bloomberg exhibits its usual rigor with a meticulous inspection of making a pizza, supposedly one of New York’s best, at Sullivan Street Bakery. (Bloomberg)
At one point, “Mascarpone is first piped onto the roughly 13-inch by 18-inch dough, with 15 precise dollops per pie. Castelvetrano olives are then set carefully on the mounds. Slices of raw fennel are a finishing touch; in the 550-degree oven, they’ll becomes ultra-tender and slightly crispy—but, this being 2016, not before an Instagram.” OK, now back to Deutsche Bank’s ills…
How Adidas blew a LeBron James deal
According to Sonny Vaccaro, a former sports marketing executive who was working with Adidas, it had a chance to land James coming out of high school with a 10-year, $100 million contract. “Adidas could afford it, too — the company still had Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady selling shoes for it. But Adidas lowered its offer to $70 million at the last minute, allowing Nike to swoop in with a $90 million deal to land the future superstar.” (The Ringer) Now, says Vaccaro, he’ll “make a billion dollars at Nike before it’s all over.”
Isn’t this a bit late?
“Anti-Trump presidential candidate Evan McMullin will soon announce Republican consultant Mindy Finn as his running mate, BuzzFeed News has learned.” (BuzzFeed)
So what? “Though he has won the endorsement of some prominent conservatives like Bill Kristol and Erick Erickson, McMullin has barely registered in most state polls.” Correct.
The amazing Sandy Koufax
With the baseball playoffs underway, The Atlantic inspects “The Incomparable Career of Sandy Koufax.” It was 50 years ago yesterday that he pitched his final game, at a mere 30, and quietly announced it after the World Series.
“From 1962 to 1966, the Dodgers star had been an astonishing force in the sport, offering a five-year run of the most glorious performance by a pitcher ever in such a short span with four no-hitters (the last a perfect game). For five seasons in a row, Koufax led the National League in fewest runs and hits allowed per game. He became the first pitcher to average striking out over nine batters per game, and to give up less than seven hits a game.” (The Atlantic)
Fox News bigotry (cont.)
“How many trite, stale Asian stereotypes can you cram into four minutes? That’s the question that Jesse Watters, the buffoonish correspondent on Fox News’ ‘The O’Reilly Factor,’ answered for us earlier this week in his latest man-on-the-street ‘Watters’ World’ segment.” (The Guardian)
New York City-based freelancer Esther Wang continues, “This cavalier racism could help explain why the GOP and conservative analysts and commentators, a group in which I’d include O’Reilly and Watters, have yet to figure out why Asian Americans voters don’t swing more Republican.”
Bayless chides ESPN-Disney
After 12 years, Skip Bayless has left ESPN for a similar (and hefty seven-figure) gig at Fox Sports, where he claims he has more editorial leeway on issues such as race.
“So on the race topic, on ESPN I would have talked to our ombudsman on our show, Chuck Salituro, who is a close friend of mine, he’s a dear friend and a very smart man, but he would take me in the hall after the morning meeting and say, ‘Think about this now. Do you really want to go here? Think about it.’ And it wasn’t that he was telling me, ‘Don’t say this.’ He would just say, ‘Think about what the out of bounds are here and don’t step over them,’ because the people who run ESPN to a fault pay way too much attention to what I think are insignificant bloggers making irrelevant statements about what happens on ESPN.” (Recode)
A Snapchat IPO?
“Snapchat Parent Working on IPO Valuing Firm at $25 Billion or More” reports The Wall Street Journal. That would make it “one of the highest-profile share debuts in years.” (Wall Street Journal)
Have a good weekend. For me: a few kids soccer and baseball games, two sleepovers and one birthday party in dry Chicago. And, please, don’t think about that startup you never started and that IPO you never cashed in on.
CORRECTION: The original version said that The Guardian and Slate “took a pass” on Jamie Kalven’s police corruption piece. He says he withdrew it after finding proposed changes unacceptable.