National Media’s Obsession Over a Local Tragedy

Who cares?Everyone’s white. Seemingly affluent. Neither young nor old. No cops, no shooting. No protesters calling for “justice.”

Who cares?
Everyone’s white. Seemingly affluent. Neither young nor old.
No cops, no shooting.
No protesters calling for “justice.”
A death but only a murder indictment, not a conviction. No Obama emissary to hold family hands.
So why does a local death turn into a national story?
It’s the usual suspect: the insatiable demand for sensation if not substance by cable TV, supermarket porn, Internet websites and social media.
It’s as if we’re back in the dreary, unsettled 1930s, living vicariously through more glamorous lives of stars, celebrities and people who had the bad luck to be murdered or accused of sensational murder.
Here’s part of the People magazine take on the case: “In the small, tight-knit community of Quincy, Illinois, Curtis Lovelace was legend. A former longtime prosecutor and school board president, Lovelace was a University of Illinois football star and a local high school sports legend who married his teen sweetheart.”

(Quincy residents know this history but what does it have to do with the death of Lovelace’s wife? )

“Now authorities claim the 45-year-old father of four is a murderer, who suffocated his first wife on Valentine's Day in 2006. Lovelace was arrested in August while walking to lunch from his law office after a local police detective re-opened the case into Cory Lovelace's mysterious death, which a local pathologist and coroner's jury were never able to resolve. He appeared in court for the first time this week.”

(First wife? Lovely innuendo. He’s been divorced once and remarried once since Cory Lovelace’s death.)

“The former pillar of the community now sits in a cell on $5 million bond while locals in this town of 40,000 – where Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen Douglas in their famous 1858 U.S. Senate race – try to make sense of the recent news. ‘At the time it happened, we just considered it a tragedy,’ local barber Mike Caldwell, 64, told the Associated Press. ‘I knew there was speculation, questions. But he never seemed to be at the center of it’."

(What was the speculation? The questions? Wasn't there a taxi driver to quote?)

“The first-degree murder charges were filed after Quincy police enlisted the help of two new pathologists who reviewed the 2006 autopsy report, along with photographs of Cory's body at the crime scene.”

(Why did police go back on this seemingly cold case? People cites no new facts to explain or justify that decision.)

“Lovelace told police at the time that he discovered his wife, who had been ill for several days, dead in bed after he returned home from taking three of the couple's children to school. He later admitted that he never telephoned emergency personnel or attempted to resuscitate her because he didn't believe CPR would do any good, according to transcripts from the 2006 coroner's inquest.”

(The choice of “admitted” suggests prior concealment. Why?)

“At the time, the former county pathologist – whose controversial work has reportedly been discredited in several other investigations – found "unexplained trauma to the mouth [of Lovelace] and a sign of death inconsistent with [the] time frame given" to police by her husband. An autopsy also revealed that the 38-year-old mother had a cut under her lip and a fatty liver, which the local coroner testified could be ‘associated with sudden demise’.”

(How/why was the pathologist’s work “controversial” and “reportedly” discredited? Reported by whom? Who called it controversial other than reporter? )

“Ed Parkinson, the special prosecutor with the Illinois State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor assigned to the case, insists that the evidence at the crime scene should have tipped off the original investigators that Cory had been murdered. ‘The condition of the body should have told [initial investigators] that something was amiss,’ Parkinson told the AP.”

(I know that People writers probably aren’t former police reporters, but don’t they have editors who say, “what evidence” and why did the “condition of the body” indicate something other than death was “amiss”?)

Not to be outdone by People, the Associated Press, usually boringly sober with nonpartisan fact-based reporting, recently screamed this alert to other media:

“The scandal, cracked open last December when an investigator gave the case a fresh look, has all the makings of a made-for-TV flick: A community pillar is whisked away by police as he steps from his law office for lunch — eight years after his first wife's death.”

At the same time, the Quincy Journal is reveling in the attention this Mississippi river town is getting. Here are recent headlines from one story:

"Lovelace case begins to get national attention.
Murder case going viral"

“Editor's Note: Producers from the CBS News program 48 Hours and the NBC News program Dateline have begun to take a look at the first-degree murder case of former Adams County Assistant State's Attorney and Quincy School Board President Curtis Lovelace. And the website The Huffington Post, which has a large national following, picked up a new Associated Press story over the weekend. If you google the name of AP reporter Jim Suhr and Lovelace, you get 1,860 results as of Monday morning, meaning at least that many news outlets are following the story. As expected, the case is garnering national attention.
Suhr's story is linked below. It is written in a style that many of the other future stories written by reporters outside of Quincy will almost certainly follow.”

(Is that “Yeehaw” or “Yahoo”?)

(Let me add this. You know who’s toast when Fox News takes over the story. Quincy’s police chief probably will dine out for years on his 15 seconds of fame after appearing on Fox’s On the Record with Greta Van Susteren. Despite seemingly official statements about two pathologists concluding that it was homicide, the chief assures fact-challenged Fox presenters and viewers that “several experts” led to the indictment.)

Meanwhile, real news is happening somewhere else but fewer of the news media’s dwindling resources are devoted to finding it.


Curmudgeon Notes:


• Coming to a daily paper near you? Publishers are beginning to charge subscribers extra for editions like those for Thanksgiving/Black Friday and Christmas shopping. They say coupons are worth it. I can only imagine editorial writers’ outrage if, say, grocers added charges to regular prices before Christmas or Thanksgiving. When others do it, consumer advocacy reporters call it “bait and switch.” Early adopters include the Richmond, Va., Times-Dispatch, Chicago Tribune and Detroit Free Press. The Freep is a Gannett paper, as is the Enquirer. Nothing happens by chance in Gannett. If it works in Detroit, we’ll see it here. Among the most recent gougers is the Oregonian, which told subscribers they wouldn’t be billed extra, only that the new policy “will shorten your paid-through date. This means that your next automatic charge or invoice will come a bit sooner than normal.” Of course, there’s always the increasingly popular option among aging readers of print editions: drop your subscription and use the savings to buy food.

Enquirer’s Scott Wartman did a quick, smart job on looking at coal and politics in Kentucky. As he noted, the Commonwealth has been losing mining jobs for decades regardless of who was in the Oval Office. I wish the Enquirer had traced the annual decline by year since McConnell’s 1984 first election to the senate. Was he AWOL during what his TV ads call the “war on coal”? At least, in the Enquirer’s endorsement, the paper’s editorial board noted, “McConnell, who's as cynical a political operative as they come, hasn't explained nearly enough how his 30 years in office have helped the average Kentuckian.”

• It’s great PR when a local hospital gets a new robotic operating gizmo. Reporters usually tout the high-tech as faster and better without mentioning that its probably more expensive for patients and insurers. However, accuracy includes context and reporters rarely mention national studies of robotic surgical outcomes. For instance, a recent New York Time's "Science Times" cited a new study that found 50% more problems in robotic OB/GYN procedures when compared to traditional ways. The Internet is full of reputable studies of problems arising from robotic surgeries, including scary injury rates, doubts about the adequacy of surgeons’ robotic training and the roles of robotics sales reps in the OR.

• Endless news stories and commentaries bemoan young Americans joining radical Islamist terrorists. European countries and Canada share these concerns. However, I’ve missed historical context: Americans often fought in other’s wars. Before Congress declared war, Americans joined Allies in World War I (Canadian Army and French Lafayette Escadrille and Lafayette Flying Corps) and WWII (RAF Eagle Squadrons, 1st American Volunteer Group/Flying Tigers in China) before Pearl Harbor. Americans fought (Abraham Lincoln Brigade, International Brigades) against Franco’s fascists in Spain in the 1930s. Some joined Jews fighting for Israeli independence in the late 1940s. In the 1970s, a few Americans (Crippled Eagles) joined the Rhodesian army’s failed attempt to turn back black nationalists. Except for Spanish Civil War veterans, these volunteers weren’t treated as domestic threats if they made it home. Anti-Franco fighters were treated as pariahs - even though they fought the original anti-fascist war before the U.S. fought and defeated Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Their sin? Individual left-wing politics and the ugly role of the USSR and other communists in the Spanish Republic’s side.

• My patron saint, Sisyphus, has gained an equally ancient co-conspirator. I’m grateful to the Weekly Standard for this affirmation in “Histories” by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus: “I am obliged to tell the things that are said but I am under no obligation to be persuaded by them.” His “own responsibility, however, as it has been throughout my writing this entire narrative, is simply to record whatever may be told by my sources.”

• Every Canadian source I checked credited Parliament’s sergeant-at-arms with shooting and killing the Islamist terrorist who murdered a soldier at the nation’s monument to its war dead in Ottawa and shot his way into the halls of Parliament. But not NPR. Morning Edition said “police” stopped the shooter near a meeting involving Prime Minister Steven Harper. This was a big story and sloppy or lazy reporting. Toronto Star and other websites said the sergeant-at-arms was a retired and decorated RCMP officer who keep a 9 mm pistol as part of his parliamentary security duties. I have no idea how many listeners joined me in telling NPR it was wrong but it corrected the hero’s ID before "Morning Edition" went off the air.

• Then there was what looked like someone’s cell phone photo of the Toronto killer, holding his smoking rifle. It wasn’t an AK-47, the favorite of terrorists everywhere; possession of an assault rifle would have been a crime. Instead, the killer used a lever-action .30-30 deer rifle. It has to be cocked manually between shots, it and holds far fewer rounds than any assault rifle and is far slower to reload. Otherwise, there might have been a slaughter.

• The Oct. 27 Nation magazine has an excellent recap of the Obama/Holder war on whistle blowers and journalists to whom officials reveal classified information. It’s a subject I’ve written about and will continue to follow as the case of James Risen develops. Risen is a New York Times reporter. Federal prosecutors want him to confirm that Jeffrey A. Sterling was his source for a story about sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program. Sterling is a former CIA officer charged with revealing national defense information. Risen says he’ll go to jail for contempt rather than name his whistle blower source(s).

• Succumbing to the irrational fear of Ebola, Syracuse’s J-school disinvited Michel du Cille, a Washington Post photojournalist, who had returned from Liberia 21 days earlier. Du Cille was supposed to critique student portfolios. “I am pissed off,” du Cille told jimromenesko.com. “I am disappointed in the level of journalism at Syracuse, and I am angry that they missed a great teaching opportunity. Instead they have decided to jump in with the mass hysteria.” The dean’s explanation provided a master class in inept crisis communications. In full CYA, Dean Lorraine Branham said du Cille “was dis-invited because of concerns that were generated by some students that led me to believe that it would lead to even more concerns. So it was in the best interest of the students for me to withdraw the invitation.
“[Thursday] morning I learned that he had been at the CDC, I learned that he had been back 21 days, and I learned that he had been traveling with the [CDC] director . . . But even knowing that, it’s my responsibility to protect the students. Twenty-one days is the CDC’s standard, but there have been questions raised about whether the incubation period is longer. I knew that parents would be upset. And at the end of the day my concern is about the students.”
I hope no Syracuse j-students believed their safety was the dean’s primary concern. Reread her statement, including “I knew that parents would be upset.”

• The movie Kill the Messenger recounts Gary Webb’s probe of a suspected Contra-cocaine channel to Los Angeles during the Reagan presidency. Webb, from the Tristate, wrote for the San Jose Mercury. Major dailies embraced White House rebuttals and attacked his reporting. Driven from his job and career, Webb killed himself. The film has reignited the furor over his reporting. Again, the divide is between major news media that tried to discredit Webb years ago and people who still believe his stories. One believer is Robert Parry, writing on Consortiumnews.com. Parry was an AP reporter who wrote about Reagan-supported Contras and cocaine. Here’s part of what Parry wrote recently in a wider indictment of establishment journalism:

“Jeff Leen, the Washington Post’s assistant managing editor for investigations, begins his renewed attack on the late Gary Webb’s Contra-cocaine reporting with a falsehood. Leen insists that there is a journalism dictum that ‘an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.’ But Leen must know that it is not true. Many extraordinary claims, such as assertions in 2002-03 that Iraq was hiding arsenals of WMDs, were published as flat-fact without ‘extraordinary proof’ or any real evidence at all, including by Leen’s colleagues at the Washington Post.

A different rule actually governs American journalism – that journalists need ‘extraordinary proof’ if a story puts the U.S. government or an ‘ally‘ in a negative light but pretty much anything goes when criticizing an ‘enemy.’ If, for instance, the Post wanted to accuse the Syrian government of killing civilians with Sarin gas or blame Russian-backed rebels for the shoot-down of a civilian airliner over Ukraine, any scraps of proof – no matter how dubious – would be good enough (as was the actual case in 2013 and 2014, respectively).

However, if new evidence undercut those suspicions and shifted the blame to people on ‘the U.S. side’ – say, the Syrian rebels and the Ukrainian government – then the standards of proof suddenly skyrocket beyond reach. So what you get is not ‘responsible’ journalism – as Leen tries to suggest – but hypocrisy and propaganda. One set of rules for the goose and another set for the gander.”

True. I’d add only that then-editor Ben Bradlee’s recent obit reminds us of how little he knew of Woodward and Bernstein’s sources or evidence during Watergate. Then there the Post’s willingness to overlook a field of red flags when it published Jimmy’s World about a child heroin addict despite lying reporter Janet Cooke’s refusal to let her editors meet nonexistent Jimmy. I won’t even get into the New York Times’ Page 1 promotion of a war against Iraq without any evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction other than self-serving and possibly deceptive statements by the White House and Iraqi foes of Saddam Hussein.

• CBC fired star host Jian Ghomeshi Sunday after allegations of sexual violence. His two-hour nightly show in Canada, a long-interview format focusing on cultural figures and trends, is called Q. WVXU in Cincinnati carries one hour of Q on week days at 9 p.m. Monday, Q had another host. The firing provoked an epic public pissing match. Ghomeshi made his case quickly and at length on Facebook. He said false allegations came from a jilted former girlfriend who participated willingly in “adventurous forms of sex that included role play, dominance and submission.” Ghomeshi also said an unnamed newspaper probed the allegations and decided not to print. The paper, the Toronto Star, responded by publishing its previously spiked story involving accusations by three women. The Star also explained why it revealed its investigative results. London’s Guardian, which does a fine job of covering the media and won a Pulitzer for its stories on Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA, captures all of this online on Monday.

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