Editor Under Siege

“When people come around waving semiautomatic guns and arresting your boss, that’s not an easy thing to swallow,” a young journalist named Stephanie Gadlin reflects.

The people were FBI agents. The boss was John Smith, general manager of the weekly Chicago Crusader. To get to Smith, who was led away in handcuffs, the agents smashed through the office door. Gadlin, the managing editor of the Crusader, was so shaken by the January 28 assault that at the end of the day she cleaned out her desk. This was the second time in two days the Crusader had been violated. On the 27th sheriff’s deputies showed up looking for Smith or his wife Dorothy Leavell, the Crusader’s editor and publisher. They were there to conduct a sheriff’s sale of office equipment and clear a $7,000 debt the Crusader owed a former printer. But Leavell was in the hospital recovering from surgery and Smith was with her. They found Gadlin alone in the office. “I was threatened with arrest, obstructing justice,” she says. “Finally I let them in.”

The next day the FBI didn’t wait to be admitted.

The sting operation that led to Smith’s arrest is described in the criminal complaint the FBI filed in federal court. It involved two undercover woman agents and a cooperating federal prisoner. The complaint alleges that shortly before the FBI broke in “Johnny L. Smith” passed two counterfeit cashier’s checks totaling $300,000 to one of the agents.

“It was a stressful situation,” says Gadlin. “People coming in and serving all kinds of warrants and saying, where’s the owner?”

It was stressful for Leavell, too. She didn’t know what had happened to her husband until the Defender’s Chinta Strausberg tracked her down in Saint Joseph Hospital and began questioning her. Leavell is a journalist of national stature–she’s treasurer of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents 204 black-owned papers. Even though Smith’s arrest at the Crusader received modest media attention overall, Leavell would have preferred none at all. Especially painful were the two articles–one of them extremely long-by Strausberg in the rival Defender. “It seemed like there was a great deal of glee in doing it on her part,” Leavell told us. From the detail in the article, Leavell believed Strausberg was exploiting an inside source.

The FBI broke in on a Friday, and in her article the following Monday Strausberg reported, “Reliable sources say the employees of the newspaper were ‘too afraid to come to work’ today.”

It was Gadlin who didn’t come in. What’s more, said Leavell, “a number of people from the media” told her Gadlin had given them information.

Why would she? we asked.

“I have no idea. I am really perplexed and puzzled. Certainly we were, as far as I knew, on really good terms. I had met on the eve of surgery with my staff to talk to them about my dependence on them.”

Smith, freed on his own recognizance, and Leavell, against her doctor’s advice, returned to work. The Crusader hadn’t missed an issue in 53 years, and she didn’t intend to miss one now, with or without a managing editor. A week or two went by and finally Leavell called Gadlin.

“I asked about her role in alerting the media to the whole thing, and she became very loud and boisterous on the telephone. She suggested I could check her telephone calls–she didn’t make any telephone calls. They were all calling her.”

Gadlin remembers that conversation. Leavell called, but “not to say ‘Are you coming back?’ The first thing out of her mouth was ‘How could you! You told the media! You told everybody!'” Gadlin made just one call, she insists: it was to Jesse Jackson’s office in Washington, D.C.

Gadlin, who used to work for the Operation PUSH magazine in Chicago, reached Frank Watkins, communications director for the National Rainbow Coalition. “I got a rather panicked call from Stephanie indicating that the door of the Crusader had just been basically knocked down by the FBI. She said either four or five FBI agents came to the front door–they have buzzers on the door–and demanded entry. She refused to open the door; she didn’t know who they were. So they reared back and knocked the door off its hinges. Another 15 FBI agents came in from every kind of direction with their guns out. She had no idea what was going on. They got verbally rough–‘We could arrest you and take you in,’ that sort of stuff. She called me because she was scared to death.

“I said, ‘I think I’d better notify the press.’ And she said, ‘That’s probably right.’ I said, ‘Do you want me to put them in touch with you or keep you anonymous?’ She said, ‘It’s all right. I’ll talk with them. But I have no idea why [the FBI] came in.'”

Watkins went on, “One other thing I remember she said–they kept asking, ‘Where’s the printing machine?’ But again, at that point she had no idea what they were talking about. So I began to call all of the black press, the general press too.”

What we seem to have here is one set of circumstances given widely diverging interpretations. Leavell believes Gadlin was talking to reporters to humiliate the Crusader. Gadlin believes she was getting out the word about Gmen running roughshod over a tiny newspaper on the south side.

And an FBI spokesman says the agents were doing their job. “If there’s no other choice, you break the door or go through the window,” he explained. “When the agents properly identified themselves, the person or persons [inside the office window] just turned and walked away, leaving the agents standing there. In a situation with an arrest warrant, we’re not going to let somebody flee.”

Wanted: Media Skills

Every year the Chicago Community Trust awards three fellowships of up to $75,000 to community-service careerists. The money pays for “a year of study and career development.” All three of this year’s fellows will be studying communications.

The Reverend Thomas Behrens, executive director of the Night Ministry, intends to study adolescence and teen alienation. “He also will use the time to develop his own communications skills to enhance his ability to articulate his experiences in working with homeless and street adolescents,” says the CCT announcement.

Irene Johnson, president of the LeClaire Courts Resident Management Corporation, will study the development of self-reliant communities. “She also plans to develop her public speaking skills and wants to examine strategies for working with the media on articulating community issues.”

And Doug Dobmeyer, executive director of the Public Welfare Coalition, “plans to use his year to develop his media skills and to research other advocacy efforts and how these other movements have worked with the mela to advance social issues.”

What’s going on? we asked Richard Turner, director of communications for the CCT.

“I think it’s a growing trend in not-for-profits,” he said. “In the not-for-profit sector you get very proficient at preaching to the converted. The challenge is to not only expand the audience, but–oh, I hate this word!–to use–I was going to say manipulate–but to enlist and use the media.”

Behrens has been sending us copies of the Night Ministry newsletter and asking what we thought of it, so we already knew of his concern for polishing his message. But he says he’s satisfied with the press he gets; he wants to find better ways of speaking directly to small audiences.

“I think runaways want to be at home,” he said. “I think a lot of people think runaway kids want to be on their own, and that’s not true. I think that kind of information can be useful for families that struggle through the adolescent years. How do you articulate that?” And how do you articulate it, he went on, without being either preachy or dryly informational? How do you touch and inspire? He’ll try to find out.

We also talked to Dobmeyer, who knows how to touch, nudge, elbow, high-stick, or whatever it takes. “I figured out a long time ago that you have to use the media to get your message out there,” he told us. “Do you always get what you want out there perfectly? Hell no! And too many people don’t try. They’re cynical about the media, and I can understand why. But your competitors, the ones you’re trying to win against–think big government and corporate America–you can bet your bottom dollar they use it. And they probably use taxpayer money to use it.”

It says here you want to “develop your media skills,” we pointed out. “It should say ‘to further develop,'” he conceded. “Someone said to me, why the hell are you doing this? You already participate fully. I do, but I’ve figured out the level I don’t participate in. I don’t participate in the editor level. The ownership level.

“I’m going to call them up and ask them for an appointment. Yes I will! I’m going to be perceived as less of a day-to-day participant and have more of an objective agenda. Because I’m not going to be pitching a story every day on public aid, or casinos, or something else.”

You’re not going to abandon casinos, we protested. Dobmeyer’s the leading nonclerical proponent of the notion that casinos are a fiscally fraudulent, ethically bankrupt panacea the Chicago papers should be ashamed of peddling.

“No, I’m not,” he said. “I can’t in the middle of the battle.”

Can Rosty Be Licked?

The Dick Simpson for Congress camp continues to make the mistake of issuing position papers that everyone ignores. But they hit it big with a campaign poster. It says “Simpson vs Rostenkowski,” and the “i” in Rostenkowski is dotted with the congressman’s picture on a postage stamp. Rosty has had his problems with the House post office.

The Simpson people launched the poster story with Bill Zwecker. Then Channel Seven wanted to shoot the poster going up on the wall of a new campaign office. NBC in Washington asked for a copy. And when CNN hit town, it shot Simpson campaigning at an el stop with the poster in the background. Simpson had changed his schedule that day to be obliging.