Chicago Tribune reporters David Jackson and Gary Marx shared captivating stories of tracking fugitives in Mexico and received the Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism on Wednesday as Medill kicked off the 2012-13 Crain Lecture Series in the McCormick Tribune Center Forum.
Jackson and Marx were each awarded a medal for their series “Across the Border, Beyond the Law: Flaws in the justice system help fugitives cross America’s borders and avoid capture.” The series tracked suspects in murder, rape and other felony cases who fled across U.S. borders to avoid trial.
The two traveled internationally to locate the suspects and were able to convince most of those they found to discuss the incidents that led them to flee the United States and how authorities didn’t seem to be looking for them.
“Only by confronting the outlaws face to face on their home turfs could we walk back through their escapes and begin to document the astonishing law enforcement lapses that undermine America’s international extradition program,” Marx said.
The two traveled with a photographer to areas of Mexico known for kidnappings and assassinations to confront the suspects, a feat of courage in and of itself. But according to Jackson and Marx, the real courage was displayed by the people who spoke with them and shared what they knew. That included neighbors of the suspects, people who knew they lived next door to fugitive murderers and rapists who still provided information to the reporters, “two middle aged guys with thinning hair, armed only with pens and notepads.” Those are the real heroes, Jackson and Marx insisted.
“We do not believe that journalists are intrinsically brave or that we are somehow exceptional,” Jackson said. “Quite the opposite. We believe reporters are inspired and driven by the very real heroism of ordinary people who are willing to lay bare their lives and make public their stories of injustice and pain. That certainly is true in our case.”
Another group Jackson and Marx credited with real courage was the victims’ loved ones.
“Most of these families had long ago given up hope and they had every right to slam the door in our faces,” Marx said. “A few did. But one after another, families pulled out scrapbooks and photographs of their slain sons, daughters and mothers, and handed them over to us. Our notepads reflected the tears of people willing to relive how a loved one’s life had been cut short.”
Susan Goldberg, Bloomberg News executive editor for federal, state and local government coverage, and Richard Stolley, founding editor of People magazine, presented Jackson and Marx with their medals. Goldberg and Stolley, along with Medill Professor Donna Leff, were judges for the competition.
“In a matter of days, armed only with their bravery, determination and reams of public documents, Gary and David found eight criminals,” Goldberg said. “It is hard to imagine stories more worthy than these.”
The Medill Medal is given to the individual or team of journalists, working for a U.S.-based media outlet, who best displayed moral, ethical or physical courage in the pursuit of a story or series of stories. The contest is open to journalists from newspapers, television stations, online news operations, magazines and radio stations. The story subjects may be local, national or international in scope.
Jackson and Marx’s lecture was the first event of the 2012-13 Gertrude and G.D. Crain Jr. Lecture Series. For a list of upcoming lectures, visithttps://www.facebook.com/MedillNU/events.