Whack Job: Conflating Character Assassination With Investigative Reporting in the #NATO3 case

Chris Geovanis, CIMC
See also here for live links: http://bit.ly/1ehjjwy

CHICAGO, 1/29/14: In June 2013, Steve Horn and Matt Stroud published a piece in TruthOut on the #NATO3 that stands as a disturbing testament to the worst sort of journalistic whack job [ http://bit.ly/LpTRdp ] -- a piece so filled with distortions, inaccuracies and partisan memes that I felt compelled to reach out to both our shared editors at TruthOut and to Horn directly to ask that these deficiencies be addressed and remedied. The following emails represent an effort to encourage Horn to examine and correct these distortions. For the record, Horn has never formally responded to any of these concerns by email, text or verbally, and while TruthOut editors did address a limited number [ http://bit.ly/1a2eYNW ] of these concerns with modest revisions, the bulk of Horn’s sensationalist and distorted piece stands.

Now that the #NATO3 trial is underway, Horn’s resurrected this smear piece -- a smear piece that cannot stand unchallenged.

Earlier that year, Horn and I wrote a TruthOut piece on #NATO undercover cop ‘Danny Edwards’ [ http://bit.ly/1ehiHHe ], who participated in the spying endeavor against the #NATO3, worked to entrap another NATO defendant -- and was still spying on activists a year after the NATO protests. While it seemed to make sense at the time to collaborate with Horn on the piece, since we were working on parallel investigative tracks, I regret that decision -- because I share a byline with a reporter who’s subsequently demonstrated a persistent refusal to correct the record, and in no small part because Horn agreed with our editors to redact the officer’s name over my vigorous objections. Fortunately, the undercover cop’s targets did not share that cowardice [ http://bit.ly/KWKQIP ].

I became aware of this undercover cop more than two months before the NATO protests -- more than a year before the TruthOut piece outing this undercover congenital liar and entrapper. But my sources refused to snitch jacket this piece of shit copper without incontrovertible proof -- proof Horn and I obtained when I knocked on the door of ‘Danny’s’ south side home, asked him if he was Officer Palmer -- he answered ‘yes’ -- and asked him if he would answer questions related to his NATO undercover work. He declined -- but he’d verified his identity, even though he’d denied it to me only a few weeks earlier, on May 1, 2013 at a May Day gathering in Chicago’s Union Park, where he was still fronting his fake identity as a street medic.

Steve Horn didn’t want to knock on Palmer’s door on May 6, 2013. He was nervous about confronting and tryng to question this cop. Yet he does not fear continuing to pass off as ‘journalism’ a deeply flawed piece that parrots prosecutorial memes in a criminal case that has grave consequences for both the freedom of the #NATO3 defendants aod for critical civil liberties for us all. In the interest of opening a broader dialog about the fundamental flaws of Horn’s character assassination -- a character assassination that has conveniently dovetailed with the prosecution’s outrageous attempt to convict these defendants for terrorism -- I include below my original communications with TruthOut and Horn about this journalistic whack job. While Horn has yet to address these issues, perhaps other readers will have better luck getting a response -- and desperately needed corrections.

Chris Geovanis

From: Christine Geovanis
Date: Sat, Jun 22, 2013 at 8:45 AM
Subject: re NATO 3 piece
To: Leslie Thatcher
Cc: Steve Horn

Leslie, I'm writing to you and cc-ing Steve Horn because I've been inexplicably unable to reach him by text, email, IM or phone in the last day. Specifically, I write about his and Matt Stroud's piece on the NATO cases that dropped Friday in Truthout. I lay out some of my concerns about the objectivity and factual accuracy of this piece below. And I note these concerns in no small part because as a co-author with Steve in a previous piece, the deficiencies in this article impact my professional reputation, as well.

I also want to note that I've gotten a round of calls and emails today from both fellow freelance reporters and respected members of Chicago's activist community, who have asked how my co-author could have gotten this deeply flawed piece by Truthout's editors. I'm at a loss for what I should tell them, but their confidence in the objectivity, accuracy and fundamental fairness of the outlet has clearly been deeply shaken.

First, let me note that I'm amazed that the word 'allegedly' never appears in the description of what the police supposedly found in the apartment, an oversight that even a new J-school graduate would avoid. Second, I'm baffled by the biased language used to describe the defendants. Jared Chase is described as a "drifter", for example -- when the previous graph says he stayed in Boston "for years." Which is it?

It's also telling that not one member of the legal team for the NATO 3 is quoted in the article. Given the sensationalist assertions in the piece (which are not, btw, attributed consistently to the sources of those assertions – the police and the Cook County States Attorney), basic rules of journalistic ethics require going to the 'opposition' for reaction/comment. I don't see any note in the article that "attorneys for the defendants declined to comment" -- because they were never given an opportunity to respond to the article's strong bias to the law enforcement frame of the case and to law enforcement claims about the character and intent of the defendants. This is beyond one-sided. It’s journalistically inexcusable.

I’ll move to a graph by graph description of some of my other concerns.

"Their arrests may paint a picture of what federal authorities wish they had done to stop the bombings in Boston, or the Fort Hood shootings, or any actual terrorist attack carried out by suspects who had aroused suspicion from authorities." This conflates the charges and (non)actions by the NATO defendants with heinous crimes directly and irrefutably tarred to those charged with those crimes. It also strongly suggests that the incitement and entrapment at the heart of the NATO 3 case is, in fact, a perfectly legitimate law enforcement strategy. Seriously?

"CPD undercover officers began their investigation in February 2012 as part of a temporary 90-day assignment to monitor NATO protests." This is what the CPD says. There is no independent corroborating evidence of this, and in fact Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy moved the previous summer to set up an intelligence operation that may very well have been on the ground before the beginning of 2012. Why state this as fact when a growing body of evidence shows that federal and local authorities coordinated with corporate operatives BEFORE Occupy went off in the fall of 2011 to shut it down? Given Steve Horn's recent explorations of Chicago's sordid Red Squad history -- and clear evidence that their NATO spying extended a year BEYOND the NATO mandate, I'm stunned to see him and Stroud take the police at their word on this.

"At one of these protests in early April, 23 were arrested. Mo and Nadia thought a second protest - and an inevitable series of arrests - might cause some protesters to plan something violent, according to sources." Any journalist worth her/his salt knows the 'sources' citation raises a serious red flag. This is an extremely grave allegation against not the NATO 3, but against the movement to preserve Chicago's mental health clinics, which was explicitly non-violent. Yet not a single source could be produced by name to back up an allegation like this. Really? Is it the reporters' job in this case to parrot the police spin on this without attribution and effectively justify their spying and incitement?

"If anyone at the Chicago NATO Summit was going to "step this up a notch," it was Jared Chase, Brent Betterly and Brian Church - the NATO 3." This is completely speculative and unbelievably biased. In point of fact, the individuals who 'stepped it up' were the police, including the undercover cops who worked mightily to incite all of the NATO 5 defendants to undertake violence. If Horn/Stroud had bothered to go to the defense team for reaction/response, they might have at least been able to incorporate that extremely salient point into the core thread of the article.

"Church had come there with an assault vest he told Mo and Nadia he would like to fill with foam for more cushioning." Did he? Or did he 'allegedly'? Has Church admitted this directly to Horn and Stroud? Or is this also part of the prosecution's portion of the court record? Or those unnamed (law enforcement) 'sources'?

The very next sentence reads: "On that day, he also allegedly asked Mo and Nadia where he could purchase a filter from an Army Plus store (aka a gas mask) and where he could buy three assault rifles, plus a long rifle." Well, I'm glad to see the 'alleged' meme reassert itself. Finally. Unfortunate that the bulk of this section simply parrots law enforcement's version of events -- without, of course, clearly clarifying this.

A dozen graphs later, Horn/Stroud write: "Once inside, they discussed how to make and then constructed four molotov cocktails for use at the NATO Summit. Mo and Jared left for BP to buy the gasoline for the molotovs, the last necessary ingredient for the cocktails." So, was Mo just along for the walk because he wanted a bit of fresh air? Again, the complete reliance upon law enforcement's version of events -- without clearly and consistently noting that this is the prosecution's set of claims, and failing utterly to note that the defense has repeatedly asserted that this entire case is built on incitement and entrapment. This is not just a case of decontextualizing the police allegations. It stand, effectively, as a story that MAKES the police case for them. I must have missed that in the stock reporter's job description. Why not just republish Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez' press release about the charges and let that stand as the 'article'?

In fact, the 'best' that Horn/Stroud can offer on the defense team's critical assertion of incitement is a passing reference three-quarters of the way into the article that "aggressive undercover cops helped along - and possibly even incited - the plot." That epic fail in editing and framing goes well beyond burying the lede. It, in fact, has produced instead a story that completely strips context from police actions and marginalizes the central facts in dispute in this case -- in favor of a law enforcement frame from a police department with a long and sordid history of lying to obtain criminal prosecutions, falsifying evidence, and even engaging in torture and murder.

Why this police department's version of the 'facts' would be privileged in a story being circulated by Truthout is baffling. It's the kind of biased distortion people expect from Fox Noise or Rush Limbaugh -- not from an outlet like Truthout. I opened by noting that both colleagues’ and local activists’ confidence in the veracity of Truthout’s editorial process has been deeply shaken by the serious flaws in this piece. I’ll close by noting that I share their concerns. I regret that Steve has declined to respond to my many efforts to reach him to discuss some of these issues. Despite his lack of responsiveness, Truthout has the capacity to do what any credible journalistic project would undertake under these circumstances and move to correct at least some of this article’s deficiencies. Let me know if I can be helpful in moving that process forward.


Chris Geovanis

www.hammerhard.org | chrisgeovanis@gmail.com | @heavyseas | www.facebook.com/christine.geovanis | 312-446-4939 | www.linkedin.com/in/chrisgeovanis

From: Christine Geovanis
Date: Wed, Jun 26, 2013 at 12:52 PM
Subject: Re: re NATO 3 piece
To: Leslie Thatcher
Cc: Steve Horn , Matt Stroud

Hi, all. Just a quick heads up: I got a note from Kris Hermes of the National Lawyers Guild outlining the following concerns, which I've distilled below and amplified a bit:

Personal lives of the defendants focused on excessively without independent corroboration, including from either defense attorneys or defendants.

Article regurgitates State's Attorney's version of events without attribution.

Article generally comments on things said by defendants (whether accurate or not) harmful to the defense that reflect one-off comments taken out of context that could be inferred by prosecution as intent where in fact no intent actually existed. Note that this comment sphere (Facebook) is typically characterized by off-the-cuff, on-the-fly remarks that hardly serve as the basis to indicate either sustained intent or actual planning -- a reality that has not been noted in the article.

Perhaps most importantly, article focuses without independent corroboration on historical behavior of the defendants, which is typically excluded from trial (and only used during sentencing at worst), because of how it might prejudice a jury or the presiding judge. Curious/troubling that article would speculate on historical behavior/intent when this information would be barred from court.

Let me know if this helps -- and of course, if I can be useful in any other way going forward. Matt, I'm attaching below my original email to Leslie in case that's helpful for you. Steve, I continue to welcome the opportunity to dialog with you about issues related to this article.


Chris Geovanis

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