I am writing to voice my disappointment and dismay over a recent item in Mike Miner’s column entitled “Witness for the Prosecution” [Hot Type, November 7].
As one of the authors of the works that were the subject of the column, my criticism is that I was not given an opportunity to respond to specific allegations made by Mr. Joshua Marquis, a board member of the National District Attorneys Association and chief prosecutor of Clatsop County in Oregon. This is a violation of basic journalism.
Mr. Marquis alleged that the Tribune’s coverage of the criminal justice system has been inaccurate, biased, and duplicitous. I spoke with Mr. Miner in response to a phone message, and he indicated that Mr. Marquis had contacted him regarding the Tribune’s recent articles about the failure of some law enforcement authorities to reinvestigate crimes after individuals are exonerated or released.
Mr. Miner indicated that Mr. Marquis’s comments were not significant. Mr. Miner did not state what the comments were and left me with the clear indication that he was not even going to write about Mr. Marquis. As a result I did not feel there was anything that needed addressing.
Rather than rebut him point by point, I will just say that Mr. Marquis is incorrect in each and every way. He engages in exaggeration and broad generalizations.
Primarily, Mr. Marquis appears to be upset with the Tribune’s coverage of the criminal justice system because in many instances prosecutors committed wrongs that caused innocent people to be convicted and guilty defendants to obtain new trials. Some of the latter group ultimately were released because court rulings left prosecutors with insufficient evidence to take the cases to trial again.
Mr. Miner says he finds it interesting that Mr. Marquis watches the Tribune’s coverage of criminal justice issues like “a hawk.” I certainly don’t mind the scrutiny. What bothers me is allowing Mr. Marquis to make his statements without a chance to respond.
Mr. Miner’s article also allowed Mr. Marquis to make negative comments about defense attorney Barry Scheck and forensic scientist Dr. Edward Blake–two men mentioned in the Tribune articles. Mr. Miner informed me that he did not contact Blake or Scheck to respond to the criticism of Mr. Marquis because his article was already longer than he had anticipated. “I could have contacted Blake and Scheck for rebuttal and let the column get even longer and wander far from the reason I was writing it–which was not to debate the professionalism of Blake and Scheck,” Mr. Miner told me in an
e-mail. Again, failing to seek such response is a violation of journalistic tenets.
Michael Miner replies:
Because Maurice Possley is teaching out of state, we didn’t connect until after the day my column had been turned in and edited. So I can’t imagine what I might have said that led him to believe I wasn’t going to write about Marquis at all.
Prosecutors have been furious with the Tribune since the “Trial & Error” series Possley cowrote was published in 1999, and I thought Marquis’ critique put that anger on display. It didn’t make a dent in “The Legacy of Wrongful Convictions,” the recent series by Possley and Steve Mills (with whom I did speak before writing my column) that gave Marquis an occasion to contact me. I’m in my fourth year of writing about the Tribune’s ongoing examination of prosecutorial conduct and misconduct, and perhaps I’ve become too accustomed to responding to the prosecutors on my own authority. (When the Tribune missed out on a Pulitzer I thought it deserved for “Trial & Error” and a series Mills cowrote, Tribune people I called didn’t want to talk about it, but no one complained when I argued for them.) Though Marquis didn’t call the Tribune’s ongoing coverage “inaccurate, biased, and duplicitous” in those words, they do capture the spirit of his long crusade. I’ve never agreed with that characterization, and my recent column made it clear I still don’t. But I can appreciate Possley’s and Mills’s wishing they’d had more of an opportunity to speak for themselves.