Gestapo Journalism

The front page of the print edition of Sunday’s Chicago Sun-Times reads:


“Half of these ex-cons are age 50 and under,” the headline continues. “PART ONE OF A SUN-TIMES INVESTIGATION has found 100 sex offenders living in nursing homes and similar facilities throughout Illinois. Fellow residents often have no idea they’re there. Find out who lives in which home.”

Arrayed from the left to the right edge of the front page of Sunday’s edition are the mug-shots of 97 parolees from the State of Illinois’ prison system who, in the words of the accompanying report, are among the “100 registered sex offenders living in 54 nursing homes, other long-term care facilities and supportive living centers throughout Illinois….” For those of you who didn’t see the print edition: From left to right, there are two rows of ten mug-shots; nine rows of three mug-shots; and then five more rows of ten mug-shots—all forming a large U-shaped pattern of mug-shots surrounding the ominous headline.

The interactive webpage that the Sun-Times provides for online readers includes search facilities to help us determine the names and last-reported residencies of every individual on the list, and a link to the State of Illinois’ official sex offender registry.

(Which is maintained by the Illinois State Police. And which it is worth noting first directs everyone to an official “Disclaimer” that instructs us: “Illinois Compiled Statutes (730 ILCS 152/115 (a) and (b)) mandate that the Illinois State Police (“ISP”) establish and maintain a statewide Sex Offender Database, accessible on the Internet, identifying persons who have been convicted of certain sex offenses and/or crimes against children and must register as a Sex Offender….The primary purpose of providing this information is to make the information easily available and accessible, not to warn about any specific individuals. Anyone who uses this information to commit a criminal act against another person is subject to criminal prosecution.”)

Other, private organizations are in the same business of tracking the whereabouts of registered sex offenders. The group that calls itself A Perfect Cause comes to mind. And this group’s revealingly—and perfectly Freudian—titled search facility: Predator Search.

Today’s story in the Chicago Sun-Times promises us that in Monday’s (April 25) second and final installment, we will also learn about the “Some 61 parolees for non-sex crimes [who] live in Illinois nursing homes,” about whom “the public has no way of knowing who they are.”

Friends: We’ve all heard of gonzo journalism. But the Chicago Sun-Times has just crossed an important threshold, I think. Just as with the airing this evening on American cable television of the “Justice Sunday” cross between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the American Right-Wing, we are witnessing the peculiar form of dress that American fascism prefers to wear in public; so, too, with the publication of this two part series in the Chicago Sun-Times, we are witnessing the kind of journalism in which American fascism prefers to engage: Call it Gestapo journalism.

Readers interested in contacting the Chicago Sun-Times, and asking them what the hell they think they are really accmplishing by publishing this front-page story with the names, the photo IDs, and the street addresses of Illinois’ registered sex offenders, can begin with:

Letters to the Editor
John Cruickshank, Publisher
John Barron, Editor
Don Hayner, Managing Editor
Lori Rackl, Reporter
Chris Fusco, Reporter

Sex offenders living in nursing homes,” Lori Rackl and Chris Fusco, Chicago Sun-Times, April 24, 2005. (For the PDF version of the same report.)
Vulnerable Have Little Way of Knowing Parolees in Midst,” Chris Fusco and Lori Rackl, Chicago Sun-Times, April 25, 2005
Predators don’t belong among our most defenseless,” Editorial, Chicago Sun-Times, April 26, 2005

A High-Tech Lynching in Prime Time,” Frank Rich, New York Times, April 24, 2005

In the Penal Colony, May 4, 2005

FYA (“For your archives): Am depositing here a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times‘s editorial on its two-part series. (I’ve also provided a link to it (above). Though how long the link will last until the Sun-Times changes it at source is anybody’s guess. Hence, the copy of the editorial.)

Like the two-part series, and the egregious front-page introduction to it on April 24, this editorial is scaremongering, plain and simple. The editorial cites one case—that of Thomas Kolze. What we are witnessing here is the progressive slide—or push—of U.S. society towards the myriad forms of paranoia from which calls for ever-more draconian protections also follow.

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial
April 26, 2005
Predators don’t belong among our most defenseless

How would you feel if you put your 80-year-old mom in a nursing home and discovered, by chance, that her room was next to that of a convicted rapist? The nursing home director wouldn’t have been able to alert you about your mom’s felonious neighbor because he may not have known about it himself. There is no rule requiring criminal background checks for people moving into nursing homes. Forget about your mom’s sense of safety and security.

There are 100 sex offenders residing in 54 nursing homes, long-term care facilities and supportive living centers around Illinois. There are also 61 parolees convicted of other crimes, such as murder, arson, burglary and drug possession, living in 37 nursing homes or other specialized facilities for the aged or the infirm. Many of the state parolees in these centers, living side by side with your daughters or uncles or mothers or friends, have mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. These disturbing facts came to light following an investigation by Sun-Times reporters Chris Fusco and Lori Rackl.

They learned that one sex offender placed in a nursing home, Thomas Kolze, had been discovered rubbing an Alzheimer’s patient’s thighs and inappropriately touching another woman. The nursing care staff thought Kolze, who had been sent to the home in June 2003 because he had heart and kidney problems, would be safe among elderly adults, since his crimes related to children. He was sent back to prison, but he is out again, living in a supportive living center in Evergreen Park.

Sex offenders are listed on a state registry, but you have to go through a few hoops to determine if they are in the nursing home with your loved one. And why would you even suspect? You’d figure the facility would do some checking. But that isn’t required. In the case of non-sex offenders, the state says releasing the identities of parolees in nursing homes is an invasion of privacy. So mom’s safety is trumped by a felon’s rights.

Illinois isn’t the only state grappling with this problem. A seniors’ rights group, A Perfect Cause, determined last year there were 600 sex offenders in living-assisted homes across the nation, and many were under 60 years old. There have been few reports of criminals in Illinois’ care facilities committing crimes. Yet there remains the potential for harm. Also, crimes and abuse at nursing homes are under-reported.

State Rep. Kevin Joyce (D-Chicago) wants to amend Illinois’ Nursing Home Care Act to ban sex offenders and violent criminals from living in nursing homes. This is an idea that needs support. Some form of disclosure to patients about criminals in their midst should be required. An alternative is to house all these felons in a separate mental health or nursing facility where they would have no opportunity to prey on unsuspecting patients. Criminals’ rights should never supersede those of our guiltless loved ones.

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