MEDIA WATCH: Homan Square Police Site and the Mainstream Media’s Lack of Concern: Chicago Media Exposed for its Deceitfulness

We all know we’re not supposed to lie. As every adult knows, and as most teenagers figure out as well, there are two types of lies: lies of commission and lies of omission. Lies of commission are statements of untruths, like when President George W. Bush claimed incorrectly that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Lies of omission are where important details somehow are simply “not mentioned.” One is not necessarily worse than the other—we have to understand the entire context in which the lie takes place before we can judge—but both are lies. We need to be clear on this.

Protest at the Homan Square Chicago Police 'black site' in early March 2015.In the mythology of journalism, our “free press” defends the rights and interests of “ordinary Americans,” by standing up to the “powers that be,” fighting corruption, malfeasance, etc. Like most myths, there is an element of truth to it: the New York Times and Washington Post certainly did this when they published the “Pentagon Papers” in the early 1970s. Since then, however, the “champions of democracy” have been much less determined, and especially when publication might indict the “system” rather than some depraved/corrupt/sanctimonious individual (take your pick on the adjective).

We have seen this quite clearly in Chicago over the last couple of weeks. Spencer Ackerman, an American journalist writing for the British newspaper “The Guardian,” published an explosive story about police malfeasance on February 24, 2015. Titled “The Disappeared: Chicago Police detain Americans at abuse-laden black site,” he told about prisoners being taken to the site at Homan Square (3379 W. Fillmore St), held incommunicado while not being entered into the city’s centralized booking program, where lawyers were told their clients were not held there when they were, at least one case where an individual was chained to a wall for 17 hours, and at least one case where a person allegedly died from police abuse. ( ).

This issue received little reporting from the Tribune and the Sun-Times, other than to basically dismiss it, after the Chicago Police Department said something like “Move along, move along. There’s nothing here.”

The “Columbia Review of Journalism”—arguably one of the most important mainstream critics in the US of the field of journalism—has recently weighed in on the issue. “‘The Guardian’s’ Homan Square Story was huge on the internet—but not in Chicago’s media,” by Jackie Spinner, takes the Chicago media to task for a lackluster job that one could accurately say was “piss poor.” ( )

She refers to one media critic:

“Steve Rhodes, publisher of the The Beachwood Reporter, a local media and politics site that devoted a lengthy podcast to the story, offered an even harsher critique. The past week has been one of the ‘most disheartening episodes in local media malfeasance that I can recall in my 23 years in Chicago,’ he said. In a column today, he again pressed his colleagues in the media to take a harder look.”

Spinner also referred to people to an opinion piece by Tracy Siska in Crain’s “Chicago Business” that was published on March 3rd. Siska’s opinion piece offered the media “Here’s what media should be asking Chicago police about alleged ‘black site,” listing 10 questions he thought they should at least ask: .

What lies behind all of this is the fact that some Chicago police officers—headed by Jon Burge—have tortured suspects, including through use of electroshock “therapy.” Spinner—in an effort to be fair in her article—says “In fairness to the local media, the troubled history of Chicago law enforcement is known in large part due to coverage here. The Tribune and Sun-Times, with other local news organizations, including the alt-weekly Chicago Reader, relentlessly covered the torture and abuse under former Lt. Commander Jon Burge.”

I disagree with her. The reason Chicago knows as much as it does it through the detailed reporting of Jon Conroy of the “Chicago Reader,” and not because of the Tribune or the Sun-Times. Read Conroy’s “House of Screams: Torture by electroshock? Could it happen in a Chicago police station? Did it happen at Area 2?” from January 25, 1990, and tell me that you got this coverage in the mainstream media: No, it was Conroy writing for the weekly alternative “Reader” that broke the story, and not the Tribune or Sun-Times.

Chicago activists have kept this story about Homan Square alive through a number of protests over the past couple of weeks, despite cold weather. Additionally, alternative media sites such as Progress Illinois have included an article by Ellyn Fortino, with video, titled “Protesters Keep Pressure on CPD Over Homan Square” (, while the Chicago-based “Labor Beat” TV program has posted “Black Site Chicago: It’s not open for tours” (, covering the protests.

(Full disclosure: this writer was interviewed on camera by Labor Beat.)

The Sun-Times has covered at least some of the protests and subsequently carried an opinion piece by Thomas A. Durkin on March 9th. “CPD’s Homan Square is no CIA ‘black site’” is based on Durkin’s self-reported experiences in dealing with someone who was tortured in a CIA black site, and he argues that nothing anywhere comparable to that has taken place at Homan Square. Hopefully, he is right on that. However, what he ignores is the past history of torture in the city, and the fact that no one outside of the police stationed there actually know what’s going on in the facility:

Despite the Tribune’s almost total lack of reporting—and the Sun-Times’ increasing attention—the issue is not going away. All of this is taking place during the first Mayoral election run-off in Chicago’s history, and a number of Aldermen (yes, they are still called that, even the women) are also in run-offs. Zach Stafford just published a piece in Monday’s “The Guardian” where he got Jesus “Chuy” Garcia—the man who forced Mayor Rahm Emanuel into the run-off—to comment on the issue: “Rahm Emanuel challenged called Homan Square police detention ‘troubling’ ( While Garcia’s statement is tepid, the pressure is obviously having an effect, and he will have to forthrightly address this. In short, what we have is an extensive set of lies of omission: the Tribune and Sun-Times have not investigated the story, obviously hoping it would go away. Because of their inaction, it appears that there were hopes that it would not become an issue in the mayoral run-off. The mainstream media “dam” seems to be giving away, though, as activists and the alternative media in Chicago, including, keep this issue alive. Whether it gets more fully into the mayoral campaign or not, police maleficence in Chicago—as well as across the United States—is going to continue to be challenged.


Kim Scipes is Chair of the Chicago Chapter of the National Writers Union, UAW #1981.


March 23, 2015 at 10:02 AM

By: jayne chilton

homan square police department

On a below zero night my son got into their van they proceeded to set him up in three drug charges which result in a class x felony. They set him up. He should not have these false charges against him. He has already been indicted. We don't have money for good defense attorneys. I have been informed that public defenders have to work with prosecuters and things don't work out so well especially with the seriousness of these charges. I would like to have my voice heard. Jayne Chilton

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