Chicago Tribune Reporters Receive Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism
April 3, 2012
David Jackson and Gary Marx, both veteran investigative reporters at the Chicago Tribune, are the co-winners of the 2011 Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism for their in-depth series, “Across the Border, Beyond the Law: Flaws in the justice system help fugitives cross America’s borders and avoid capture.” The series examines one of globalization’s hidden stories: Growing numbers of criminal suspects are slipping across America’s borders to evade trial for murder, rape and other felonies.
The Medill Medal, awarded by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, 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.
“In their work, Marx and Jackson blend old-fashioned reporting shoe-leather, exhaustive public records searches and fierce courage in confronting international fugitives on their home turfs,” said Medill Professor Donna Leff. “The reporters wandered in areas known for harboring drug cartels that rule by assassination and kidnapping and through their fearless work, showed how the Justice Department, county prosecutors and local police could have found these fugitives from justice.”
Leff judged the competition along with Richard Stolley, founding editor of People magazine, and Susan Goldberg, Bloomberg News executive editor for federal, state and local government coverage.
Jackson and Marx heard countless stories about suspects whom authorities could not find or bring to justice, but there was no way to test officials’ claims that they were doing all they could to find and bring back the fugitives. So the two reporters took matters into their own hands. Jackson and Marx examined new Justice Department data, sealed warrants and box loads of government records to identify more than 200 international fugitives from northern Illinois and thousands more from across the country.
The suspects fled all over the world, but more than half went south and sought refuge in Mexico. This past October, the two reporters went on an 18-day journey to Mexico in search of nine fugitives – including six charged with homicides. Jackson and Marx found eight of the nine suspects, and two agreed to interviews.
Using hard-won records from Mexico and the U.S., the two reporters showed how the Justice Department, county prosecutors and local police failed to work together effectively, neglected to keep track of their mounting caseloads, inexplicably allowed cases to languish for years and committed outright errors.
“Gary and David’s stories show the true value of professional watchdog journalism,” Goldberg said. “Their stories expose a true miscarriage of justice that has been perpetrated on crime victims and their families. Despite assurances that these fugitives could not be found, it took two reporters a matter of days to track them down, making a mockery of the government’s claims and exposing the continued lack of coordination between the federal, state and local governments.”
The work by Jackson and Marx quickly inspired a series of actions and reforms:
- Three of the profiled fugitives have been captured and now await extradition or trial.
- The Illinois Senate, by a 52-0 vote, passed legislation that would enable prosecutors to charge family members who help fugitives flee from justice – the first of three bills inspired by the series.
- Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin met with the State Department and with Mexico’s ambassador to press for revisions of the U.S.-Mexico extradition treaty so that it will not omit serious crimes like reckless homicide.
- Durbin also introduced a bill that would direct $1 million to $3 million per year to a fund dedicated to enhancing efforts to apprehend international fugitives.
- The Justice Department clarified its chain of command and designated the U.S. Marshals Service as the primary point of contact for Illinois police and prosecutors pursuing border-crossing fugitives. The Justice Department also began a series of sessions to train Illinois law enforcement on how to handle international fugitive investigations.
Jackson and Marx continue to press forward with their on-going series, which debuted on Oct. 30. This past Sunday, the Tribune featured a front-page story of theirs that profiled a fugitive who was charged with a 2009 hit-and-run that killed a DePaul University student, and who now vows to return from Mexico.
“The Tribune, and its two reporters, showed double courage in this story, first in defying the Chicago Police Department by finding felons the cops had lost, and second in then going across dangerous borders to seek out and interview those criminals,” Stolley said. “This assignment took skill, perseverance and guts, which is a pretty astute definition of good journalism.”
The two other finalists for this year’s Medill Medal were Matthieu Aikins, whose “Our Man in Kandahar” article was featured in The Atlantic, and Bloomberg Markets magazine writer Michael Smith, whose “Lethal Commerce” article discussed illegal organ transplant trafficking. (Susan Goldberg recused herself from voting for the latter.)
Medill was founded in 1921 and offers programs in journalism and integrated marketing communications. It teaches new techniques essential in today's digital world. Medill is leading the way in training a new generation of multimedia journalists and integrated marketing communications professionals. The Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University is named after Joseph Medill, a newspaper man and former Mayor of Chicago. To learn more about the Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism and see past winners, visit http://bit.ly/elEDni.