The Reader unforgivingly critiques the Tribune and Sun-Times each week with barely disguised glee in Hot Type (and deservedly so). With that in mind, I think Tori Marlan’s “Presumed Nasty” deserves the same treatment [December 15].
The headline and subheader of “Going up against adults, did they stand a chance?” displays a clear preference for the students’ version of events. But why does Marlan wait until deep into the piece to tell us that one of the two students involved in the original incident was on probation for a previous offense at the time? And why is this fact mentioned only incidentally to explain why the kid is in the Audy Home now rather than disclosed up front? It certainly makes me more hesitant to accept Aaron Smith’s version of events, which boils down to: “We were just standing there and this guy came out of the store and beat us up. And somehow we ended up inside the store after he came out.”
The story later states as fact that only Smith had injuries at the scene. The source of this information is not made clear. I assume Smith himself is the source, which again raises questions as to credibility.
I’m certainly not saying that Smith must be lying. But the reporter should have laid out all of the facts up front and let the reader evaluate the case. If the stance the piece takes is justified, it should withstand a full accounting of the facts. If not, then that stand shouldn’t be taken so readily.
Finally, it’s ironic that page eight gives further positive publicity to an activist cabbie who fights for the right not to serve “poor, dangerous” (i.e., black) areas of the city, while page nine takes a business owner and the police to task for allegedly harassing kids just because they’re black.
Tori Marlan replies:
I wrote that Smith was the only one with visible injuries. Several people described to me what Smith’s face looked like after the beating, and the incident report, as read to me over the phone by a police department spokesman (who, for some reason, wouldn’t fax it to me), corroborated the nature of Smith’s injuries. The report did not describe any visible injuries to O’Malley, saying only that he told police he had a dislocated shoulder.
I’m accused of waiting until “deep into the piece” to mention that Smith’s friend was on probation. Actually, this information appears in the first third of the story–in paragraph 6 of 19. I mention the information “incidentally” because, as far as I know, it’s incidental information. The press does not have access to juvenile records.