Journalist Reveals Corruption at Northwestern University in Riveting New Book
There was a time when journalists in Chicago were willing to investigate a story, to wander the crime scenes, the hospitals, and the neighborhoods in an attempt to get a story straight. They forged covert sources, like police officers, detectives, and politicians, who told them what was actually going on behind the scenes.
These journalists, like cops, often bore the rough edges and habits of people who had worked the streets, the ones who did the hard, thankless task of keeping a democracy running day to day. They were people whose labor was guided by a precept that the Constitution and Republic in which they lived was valuable, sacred even, and could not survive without a free press willing to live up to its highest obligations.
It is not so anymore. Beginning in the late 1960s, a new form of journalism took hold of the city, one that touted fancy explanations about the thin line between nonfiction and fiction. Rather than work the streets, they worked the phones.
Among this group, of whom Eric Zorn, Steve Mills, John Conroy, Mike Miner, and several other journalists were most prolific, ideology mattered far more than facts. The main target of this ideological fervor was the Chicago criminal justice system. Allying themselves with a group of attorneys, academics, and activists who had once declared war on American society during the turbulent 1960s, these journalists echoed the claims that the Chicago Police and Cook County Prosecutors were running around incarcerating the wrong people, and that the police in particular were doing so because they were racist thugs.
This alliance between the academics and lawyers on the one hand, and the media on the other, waged a 30-year war in what eventually became known as the wrongful conviction movement. They were wildly successfully. Their crowning achievement, the case that gave the most influence to the movement, took place in 1999 when they successfully garnered the release of Anthony Porter from prison. Northwestern Professor David Protess and his sidekick private investigator Paul Ciolino obtained a confession from another man, Alstory Simon, to the murders that had been attributed to Porter. With this confession, Porter walked free.
Well, unfortunately for Northwestern, the Chicago Tribune, and the entire machine that helped free Porter, there is still one true journalist in Chicago.
His name is Bill Crawford. About five years ago, Crawford, a retired Chicago Tribune reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize, smelled a rat in the Porter case. He sat down with two retired ATF agents, now private investigators, Jim Delorto and John Mazzola, and went through the documents, transcripts, and facts of the case step by step. It immediately became clear to Crawford that the Porter exoneration was a criminal conspiracy.
Crawford typed up a long article about the evidence that Porter was guilty and Simon was wasting away in prison.
Naive on just how much Chicago had changed in the years since Crawford had retired, Crawford thought that the local media would certainly want to review his article, right? Certainly the Tribune and the Sun Times would give it front page coverage? Perhaps there was another Pulitzer Prize in store for Crawford.
In what can only be seen as the clearest sign of corruption—and absolute cowardice— in Chicago’s media community, the media hacks who had been publishing the claims of wrongful conviction by Northwestern and their law firm allies like the People’s Law Office and Loevy and Loevy, turned their guns on Crawford. They ridiculed him and his narrative, particularly the fervor with which Crawford attempted to right the wrong of the Porter case and get an innocent man out of prison. Their attacks were, tellingly, never about the substance of what he argued, but about slandering his character, despite their own clearly suspect intentions.
Along the way, Crawford educated a whole new group of writers, filmmakers, lawyers, academics, and cops about what happened in the Porter case. A group formed, all based upon Crawford’s initial research, which pressed the evidence of Simon’s innocence and Porter’s guilt. Soon the evidence was so powerful that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez could not ignore it all. She reviewed Simon’s case.
And then she released Simon from prison.
That’s right, the biggest wrongful conviction cases in the state’s history fell apart.
And it all went back to Crawford’s investigation.
Now Crawford has finally put the entire affair into a chilling, riveting, terrifying book, Justice Perverted: How The Innocence Project at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism Sent an Innocent Man to Prison.
Unlike Crooked City, which attempts to give some literary voice to the corruption at the heart of Chicago through wandering several key wrongful conviction cases, including Porter’s, Crawford dives into the Porter case as only an old-school journalist can.
Crawford describes the background to the Porter case, showing how Professor Protess had mastered the techniques of manipulating criminal cases long before he successfully freed Porter from prison. Crawford, for example, breaks down the infamous Ford Heights Four case in which Protess sprang four men from prison who were there for a double murder. The same suspicious signs of witness tampering emerge in that case as well.
Crawford describes the political background that led to these vast injustices. And, of course, he chronicles the corruption by the media that conspired with Protess, then how the media turned away from the evidence that the cases were frauds.
It’s almost hard to believe that such a thing took place, but, as Crawford skillfully proves, it did indeed. His account is so wide ranging, so compelling that it does, in fact, finally give an authentic description an entire historical period of Chicago.
And through it all, one question comes to the forefront: How many of these wrongful conviction cases are dirty?
Crawford’s new book is a one that every cop, every attorney and every politician should read.
Check out this interview of Crawford by Crooked City.