“You’ve got the wrong house!” – CBS 2 investigation proves journalists’ worth

Nothing fake about this investigative report as investigative journalism proves its worth 

The next time someone yammers about “fake news”, there was another reminder this week on how journalists play an important role in our society.

On Monday during its 10 p.m. newscast, CBS 2 – CBS-owned WBBM-TV here in Chicago – aired an eight-minute report and showed an exclusive video of a botched Chicago Police raid from nearly two years ago featuring a social worker named Anjanette Young. She just came home from work when out of nowhere, a dozen CPD officers invaded her home with a search warrant looking for a suspect, but it turned out it was the wrong home. The officers harassed her while she was changing clothes in her bedroom and was understandably terrified.

Echoing the same kind of rhetoric the Trump administration has used when it comes to the news media, the city’s law department bullied and tried to stop CBS 2 from airing the video by seeking an emergency court order, but the judge refused due to First Amendment concerns. This is not the first time the city and CPD has clashed with the news media; back in 2012, a police officer threatened to arrest reporters at a hospital, threatening to “terminate their First Amendment rights”.  Then-mayor Rahm Emanuel had to apologize for the mistreatment.

By Wednesday, other local Chicago news stations picked up the video, and so did national news outlets – including CBS News, naturally – not to mention CNBC’s The News With Shepard Smith and WGN America’s new NewsNation.

The fallout has been swift. On Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot regretted the idea of her counsel trying to block CBS 2 from airing the video and on Thursday, admitted she knew about the video for more than a year after initially denying so. 

The release has evoked outrage, especially on the heels of how the city sat on the Laquan McDonald video for two years until a judge ordered the release of it in late 2015 during Emanuel’s administration. Activists are now calling for city council hearings and the officers involved fired. The city and CPD now faces several lawsuits related to the matter.

Monday’s video is indeed a vindication for CBS 2, whose work on the report harkened back to an earlier era of quality journalism at the station when Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson held sway and dominated Chicago’s news ratings from 1979 to 1985. But CBS 2’s reputation took a hit over the last three decades due to the rise of ABC 7 (WLS-TV) as a ratings powerhouse and trying everything they could to reverse the decline, from those much-criticized tabloid newscasts in the 1990s to the highly-praised hire of Carol Marin to front a high quality 10 p.m. newscast. 

Blunders were numerous. In 2007, CBS 2 cameras caught then-rival NBC 5 (WMAQ) reporter Amy Jacobson coming out of accused murder suspect Craig Stebic’s home in a bikini, which actually backfired on the station both Stebic and Jacobson each sued CBS 2. The low point came in 2011, when CBS 2 maliciously edited a black child’s comments whose footage wound up on its morning newscasts and drew ire from community activists. But even during this time, they were recognized for their investigative reporting as a report on O’Hare security problems in 2006 and 2007 and led to arrests and a federal investigation was inducted into The Paley Museum

The station beefed up its investigation efforts despite releasing longtime investigative reporter Pam Zekman in a round of layoffs last spring. Dave Savini has taken up the mantle and earlier this year, CBS 2 and Savini won a Peabody Award for a series of reports of CPD raids into wrong homes. 

The work is even more remarkable when it comes at a time when journalists around the world are under attack, especially from government leaders such as the soon-to-be former President Trump, who regularly attacked the Fifth Estate on Twitter and during his rallies, calling them “fake news”. Adding to the stress are budget cuts from corporate owners, forcing layoffs and thinning resources.

Thursday night, CBS 2 went deeper into the story with an one-hour news special at 6 p.m. with My Name Is Anjanette Young. Despite all of this impressive work, it has yet to pay off in the ratings as CBS 2 still trails its competitors in most local news time periods. 

Even though the local media often faces criticism from minority communities over news coverage (and quite often from this blog and accompanying Twitter account), this is an example of how good journalism can indeed make a difference and how we are fortunate to live in a country with freedom of the press – a concept some politicians don’t seem to grasp including the current President and yes, even Chicago’s mayor. This is about holding our leaders and law enforcement accountable whether they like it or not and there’s nothing “fake” about it.

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