Saturday, December 22, 2007

Where's James Stewart?

Every time I see a television newscast hype its latest lack of knowledge in the disappearance of Stacy Peterson, I think to myself “Where’s James Stewart?”

More specifically, I wonder about the type of news reporter that Stewart played in one of my favorite Chicago-based films, “Call Northside 777.” In that 1948 film, Stewart played a Chicago Times reporter who managed to dig into an 11-year-old police shooting and figure out that the man rotting in Stateville penitentiary likely didn’t commit the crime.

Stewart’s role was based on the real-life work of John McPhaul and Jim McGuire, who managed to dig into an old police slaying and get Joe Majczek sprung from Stateville after only serving one-ninth of a 99-year prison term.

Now I realize the story told in cinema does not match up perfectly with what happened in real life. That same era also included newsmen who were more than willing to ignore the truth if the facts conflicted with the partisan goals of their publishers, who were willing to settle for smaller profits if it meant they could use their newspapers to bully their enemies and kiss up to their friends.

But the problem I have seen with all the television trash masquerading as news coverage of the Peterson case is that it doesn’t seem to care about trying to figure out what happened to Stacy. It seems more interested in covering itself as it creates a circus atmosphere around her suburban cop husband.

I can’t help but think that putting one good old-school Chicago newsman (or woman, in case anyone thinks I’m being sexist) on this story would have resulted in some serious digging into the facts, resulting in us knowing by now just where Stacy’s body was dumped.

Or better yet, we would have opened the papers one day to find out that Stacy really did skip out on that husband of hers. Someone would have had an EXCLUSIVE interview with “Stacy In Hiding!,” telling how she just couldn’t take one more day with that “old viejo” Drew.

Instead, we get cranks like CNN’s Nancy Grace, who openly berates people she is interviewing if they try to talk rationally about the case, rather than play along with her silly stereotypes of what she thinks the story should be.

Personally, I’m not sure what to think of Stacy’s current whereabouts, although mentally I’m braced for the worst.

It’s just that I still remember the 1988 case of Scott Swanson and Carolyn MacLean, two students at a suburban Chicago college who eloped to Michigan then went to Southern California and tried to live an idelic life in seclusion -- only to resurface when their money ran out.

Chicago police quickly figured out the part about the couple eloping, and were convinced they had somehow met some misfortune during their “honeymoon.” When the couple was found near San Diego, it turned out that many of the “facts” given by police and reported in the Chicago news media (myself included, I worked back then for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago) were wrong.

Chicago police didn’t really know what happened to the Swansons (the last I heard, they were still married), and I suspect suburban police in Bolingbrook, Ill., are equally clueless about Stacy’s fate.


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