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University of Wisconsin–Madison

In Chicago, journalists bring closure to a ten year old murder case in shadow of political influence

Political influence is no stranger to Chicago. The city exemplified machine-style politics for decades, and its difficult to argue Illinois hasn’t seen a poor leader or two in state government.

Yet the 2004 murder of David Koschman by former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew, RJ Vanecko, led to such a blatant cover up by political elites that the Chicago Sun Times launched an investigation. Journalists Tim Novak, Chris Fusco and Carol Marin played a significant role in the ultimate conviction of Vanecko, who pled guilty to the murder of 21-year old Koschman several days ago. Vanecko had beaten Koschman in a late night bar brawl.

Chicago media critic Robert Feder has said the efforts of the Sun Times was “painstaking, dogged and courageous work.” According to the Sun Times web page dedicated to the investigation, police reopened the case in February 2011 after pressure from the journalists.

In total, bringing Koschman’s murder to justice was a good day for Chicago journalists. Networking? Fine. Networking to cover up a murder? Not so fine.

But the story still raises important questions about media ethics – how and who journalists cover.

Would the Daley-Koschman case have received the same amount of coverage if the parties in question were minorities, or came from less affluent backgrounds? Would anyone have cared about the murder of Koschman if Vanecko hadn’t been the one responsible? Maybe. But maybe not. And even though Vanecko was convicted, he was sure given the benefit of doubt. Hiding the murder didn’t work, but a cover up that bought him nearly a decade of time was still a fairly good outcome.

Selective media coverage of high profile cases like the Daley-Koschman scandal is common. Take the Amanda Knox saga for example. In the spotlight once again for the murder of her Italian college roommate, Knox was recently called for extradition back to Italy – the courts have found her guilty yet again.

If the murder of Meredith Kercher had occurred in a less exotic location, or if the sex game theory had never been a part of the story, would the murder have been prosecuted as heavily? Would there be movies and books written about the loss of one 21-year old college student? Perhaps. But perhaps the story of Kercher and Knox would have never made it overseas – and into the international media.

These recent examples suggest that notoriety can play a significant part in the frequency and intensity of news coverage. While celebrities have been – and always will be – of interest to the media, its not every day that journalists  launch investigations that can potentially influence legal outcomes. And if media has the power to affect such critical decisions, then journalists must operate under the highest ethical standards, in order to ensure that their work is accurate and credible.

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