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The Cook County State's Attorney's Office is demanding just about everything but their underwear size from Medill students who turned up evidence that a Harvey man has spent 31 years in prison for a 1978 murder he didn't commit.
The Tribune reports that in addition to the on-the-record notes and recordings, which the school has turned over, the state's attorney wants the students' "grades and grading criteria, evaluations of student performance, expenses incurred during the inquiry, the syllabus, e-mails, unpublished student memos, and interviews not conducted on the record, or where witnesses weren't willing to be recorded."
Medill's balking. Says Professor David Protess, "I don't think it's any of the state's business to know the state of mind of my students. Prosecutors should be more concerned with the wrongful conviction of Anthony McKinney than with my students' grades."
State's Attorney Anita Alvarez says her office's subpoenas were issued because it's doing its job, getting all the facts so her office can do the right thing about McKinney. "If you're going to put yourself into the role of an investigator, then you need to turn over whatever your notes are," Alvarez said Monday. And she said, "All information is relevant....We want to make sure cases are secure and that we don't have the wrong person convicted."
My gut reaction to this is that Alvarez's subpoenas are unwarranted and overreaching, They show her to be just as ready to circle the wagons as any other prosecutor whose office is questioned by the media, and they put her fresh new face in the defensive, belligerent company of Governor Rick Perry of Texas, who's disgracing himself with his rearguard actions to kick sand on the truth emerging about the 2004 execution of Cameron Willingham — an execution Perry could have prevented, but didn't.
But that's just me. Other folks have other gut reactions. For example, I'd expect someone writing for the National Review to favor Alvarez, who represents authority, over the students, who represent, I guess, young disrespectful troublemaking.
Sure enough. That's exactly how Robert VerBruggen, blogging on the National Review site phi beta cons, lines up. VerBruggen has issues with the breadth of Alvarez's shopping list, but a lot more with the students enrolled in Medill's Innocence Project, whom he deems activists rather than journalists, and chides for invoking the Illinois shield law. VerBruggen has no use for shield laws because "the government has no business deciding who is and who is not a journalist, and then giving special privileges based on the distinction." His conservative solution to a law that gives some people the "special privilege" of independent inquiry is to scrub the privilege and make everyone equally subservient.
VerBruggen concludes, "Now, I'd respect the folks in the Innocence Project if they, out of respect for the promises they made to their sources, refused to turn over the documents and went to jail. I'm just unimpressed by their request for the law to treat them differently than it treats everyone else."
This is the drowning witches school of establishing righteousness. If the students go to jail they are worthy of VerBruggen's respect. If instead — or first — they invoke a law he doesn't approve of they are fakers with a contemptible sense of entitlement.
VerBruggen identifies himself as a Medill grad. I was pleased to see that he was answered Tuesday by another Medill alumn, Garrett Baldwin (scroll to 10:42 AM), who identifies himself as "one of the very few conservative-thinking writers to leave Medill each year" and as an adamant supporter of the death penalty.
That said, "We have seen miscarriage of justice after miscarriage of justice coming from the Chicago police force and legal system. There is rampant evidence of repeated forced confessions, intimidation, and perjury. I would hardly call [professor] David Protess an activist. He is a journalist, as was I in his class, and we sought to find out whether or not an individual has been wrongfully accused of murder. I worked on a separate case in 2004 while my friends worked on the McKinney case, and what I will say to you is that there is overwhelming evidence and documentation that this man is innocent. That is really all that matters."
Baldwin continued, "In a time when the journalism profession has become a laughingstock, I would be troubled if you do not see [Protess's program] as actual journalism that should be protected at all costs. We have a national press core [sic] that is afraid to ask questions. We have 15 students a quarter walking into the roughest neighborhoods in Chicago, fearlessly asking questions about murders from 20 years ago."