A few words about Conroy, Creative Loafing, and torture

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To add to Mike Miner's post below on John Conroy:

Mark Brown wrote that an editor asked John to "move on" from police torture, which implies the Reader had had enough of it.

I may not be the unnamed editor in question, but as editor in chief since late 1994 I encouraged John to explore other subjects. He didn't need me to tell him that he should sound more than one note; he filed stories on Latvian strippers in 2002, prostitution in 2006, and army interrogator Tony Lagouranis, among others. 

But I never asked him to lay off police torture, and the evidence for the paper's continuing support is right here.

A note on what has been referred to as Conroy's "paltry" salary, since the Reader's conduct toward its staff has been the subject of so much public discussion: One reason John's annual pay might seem small to someone who doesn't have all the facts is that we were contracting for only part of his time. While he undoubtedly deserved even more, the truth is that his pay per story made him the highest paid staff writer at the Reader, and I'd be surprised if any other publication anywhere ever funded a writer and one investigation on the level we did Conroy and police torture. 

It's true that when Creative Loafing bought the Reader and imposed budget cuts I made the painful and unpopular decision to cut Conroy and some other well-regarded staff writers. That decision, based partly on the company's intention to move to a daily Web publishing model, is fair game for its critics and it has many. But no one who's paying any attention to the economic landscape can be confused about why we might have to make such unwelcome choices. And the Reader continues to serve its city well with listings and journalism and a Web site packed with even more. (Ben Joravsky's ongoing work on the municipal slush fund known as TIFs, another investigation that's made widespread government abuse common knowledge around town, is our second most expensive series.)

Thanks to Conroy, most Chicagoans and now many others are aware of the institutionalized torture in the police department. But the problem doesn't stop with its poster child, Jon Burge. Many of his accused colleagues and enablers are still on the city payroll. What Conroy's stories provide is a rich explanation of the dynamics that allowed the torture ring to exist, with background on the many participants in the crime and coverup. Our Who's Who is an invaluable resource in that regard.

And if you've never read Conroy's book on how seemingly normal people can engage in torture, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture, now might be a good time. Conroy considers three cases of government-supported torture and the regular people who practiced it: the Chicago PD, the Israeli army, and the British in Northern Ireland.

Also, Conroy's piece on Jon Burge's service in Vietnam and the likely origins of his preferred torture techniques helps explain how they learn to do what they do. Like the rest of his stuff it's a fascinating read.

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