Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Hey, look! I posted something on my blog.

Who is Larry Washington? Is he an honest citizen, a former gang member who has gone straight but is now being unfairly targeted by police? Or is he a still-active drug dealer who dabbles in arson and abusing women?

If you read the Illinois Times, you’re more likely to believe the former. If you’re an SJ-R subscriber, you probably lean towards the shady version. And if you read both, you’re probably confused how two articles on the same subject and published a mere three days apart could paint such a different picture of the same individual.

Let me say that the only thing I know about Washington is from what I read from the two stories. I don’t have any insider information and I’ve never discussed his story with any one who has or claims to have any down low. Let me also say that I believe that both stories are factually correct. So the discrepancy arises from how the facts are presented, what facts are left out, and what facts are simply not known.

It would be pointless for me, and probably for most of you, to speculate on which story more accurately portrays Mr. Washington’s character. But what I do think we are qualified to discuss is whether the two media outlets have a responsibility to the citizens that they both serve to follow-up on their stories based on what the other has written.

For instance, the IT uses the word “fire” five times in its article, three of them in reference to former SPD detectives, but it does not mention the suspicious fires that Washington has been linked to in various ways. It also doesn’t mention the accusations of abuse from former girlfriends. Perhaps the IT investigated these aspects of his story and decided that they lacked merit and would unfairly taint him. But if this is the case, should they now publicly report this, knowing that many of their readers also read the SJ-R?

The SJ-R doesn’t quote Alderman McNeil or any of the other sources who vouched for Washington’s character in the IT article. Should they now seek comment from them?

I realize that we are talking about two different stories, even though the subject of each is the same. The IT story focused on the possibility that Washington was set up in a drug bust. The SJ-R story focused on the suspicious fires that may be linked to him. The reporting doesn’t contradict each other.

But in my reading of the stories, I did get the impression, a vibe if you will, that I was supposed to feel a certain way about Washington. And these vibes did contradict. The IT seemed to want me to pity him as a victim of a roguish police force. The SJ-R seemed to want me to be outraged that a convicted felon was getting away with more crimes. I can’t say if it was the reporters’ intentions to elicit these emotions, but I doubt that I am alone in forming these impressions.

This isn’t really that uncommon of an occurrence. If you read the New York Times you’ll get a decidedly different impression of how the president is performing than you would if you read the Washington Times. Even if you skip the editorials and columnists and stick to the fact-based reporting, there is still an editorial opinion being communicated.

What makes the Washington stories interesting is that you would think that the question of whether a local man, who isn’t surrounded by consultants and PR hacks, is flouting the law or is being persecuted by law enforcement would by less subjective. I’m not criticizing either story; I just want to know what to think

8 comments:

Peter Criscoulia said...

Dan,

I'm here to help.

What immediately strikes me about the IT article is that our pal Dusty seems to give Washington, a convicted criminal, the benefit of the doubt in regard to his innocence. Where is that benefit when writing about Graham & Carpenter? Her writing style indicts them without even a hint of a possibility that they are innocent.

No matter what you believe you have to have some concern over the fact that Washington keeps getting arrested and investigated over and over, yet it is all just a big mistake.

Another thing you can hang your hat on is the fact that the judicial system seems to be alive and well for everyone. Even convicted criminals. Where is the big conspiracy against the black race by the white majority when you need it? Certainly if the white majority would ever use it's seamy, underhanded tactics to incarcerate black men it would be against Mr. Washington. Yet he is free. Free to threaten the lives of you and your children.

Keep up the good work Dusty. And keep your kids indoors lest they get caught in the crossfire of one of Mr. Washington's little love spats.

Darla said...

Well I had the same reaction. Be Mr. Washington an angel or a devil? Which is it or both? Somehow, I think perhaps the dishonest cops targeted Mr. Washington because of his (deserved?) bad rep. Much of his story seems to be too incredible to believe. But I am old enough to know the truth is stranger than any fiction. One comment I have is I do not judge anyone by their birth circumstances. Darla

Anonymous said...

Let experience be your guide.

Which reporter got the Renatta Frazier story right? And which one was used by "official sources"?

In the case of Washington, neither paper describes him as an angel. The weekly, however, explains why State's Attorney John Schmidt couldn't make a case. Now somebody's busy prosecuting Washington in the SJ-R.

Peter Criscoulia said...

An IT reporter posting anonymously??? How weak!

Got the Renatta Fraiser story correct huh? You mean the fact that she was fired for being incredibly incompetent, an important fact that the IT has completely ignored, or the fact that she could not have actually prevented the rape?

There is no doubt that the idiots in charge of the city screwed up by allowing the SJ-R to run with the story that made her look bad on the rape case. However, to ignore the fact that she was grossly incompetent is....well...grossly incompetent.

I guess it is all starting to make sense to me now.

StLou said...

You know I really don't care who the hell Larry Washington is. I'm not even from your fine city. Just like the blog. Good commentary, witty and sarcastic. I like that.

Keep up the good work.

Now........about that fellow from the Morgue Institute .....

UMRBlog said...

Didn't see the SJR article. Did see the IT piece.

In my considerable experience with putative reformed gang players there is one constant among the truly reformed. That constant is regular employment. It might be low-pay. It might be youth work. Many times it is in the recovery area. None of that matters much, as long as it is REGULAR. Nothing will discourage roguish behavior like getting up to an alarm clock, scraping that windshield and showing up at the shop.

The journalistic side of it is over my haid. I try never to commit journalism.

Greetings from the Basin!

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Anon,

I'm not doubting the veracity of the IT's reporting, past or present. While I know they didn't claim Washington is an angel, they certainly gave the impression, at least to this reader, that he had gone the straight and narrow. And perhaps he has, I don't know, although Mr. Criscoulia seems to think not. That's also not the impression I got from reading the SJ-R story. So my point was, and is, how do I know what to believe when the media paints two different pictures of the same person?

stlou,

Unfortunately, most of the Morgue Institutes groundbreaking early work has been lost to sobriety. Their focus in recent years has been outside the political arena, mostly on matters involving youth sports.

UMRBlog,

Thanks for your insight. I know from your resume that you do speak from experience.

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

crowdson said...

Hey - I just just started reading your blog - I like it. You scared me off commenting on the Walt Scube thing, so I'll comment on this 2-month old post.
Dusty Rhodes is a good reporter, but her articles are definitely slanted. I thought this one was even more opinionated than usual.

This is my favorite part of the article:
"Though Washington is reluctant to talk about the charge, he says that the victim was his uncle and that the beating occurred during an alcohol-fueled family squabble. Clowning around took a sudden and serious turn, and no one realized that the uncle had sustained a broken rib and a punctured lung. He almost bled to death, elevating what could’ve been a simple battery to attempted murder."
In other words, if his jerky uncle didn't bleed so much, everything would have been fine. And were they squabbling, or were they clowning around?

I also thought this seemed suspicious:
"His lavish lifestyle — the SPD seized his Cadillac Escalade, leaving him with his Chrysler 300C — he explains as the result of wise investments (the limo company, the clothing store, the music promotions) and the kind of enterprises that don’t issue W-2’s.
“I have invested in things that people give me back gifts,” he says."
Sounds like he should add Illinois Politician to his list of vague, unnamed business ventures.

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