- On March 18, Chicago Tribune writers Matthew Walberg
and Dan Hinkel headlined, "Northwestern at odds with star professor,"
- "Cook County prosecutors sparked a media firestorm
nearly two years ago when they subpoenaed notes, recordings, and even grades
of (his) students (because of their work proving) Anthony McKinney had
wrongly been convicted of a 1978 murder."
- The battle sparked a feud between Northwestern and Protess,
whose Medill Innocence Project uncovered numerous wrongful murder convictions,
culminating when former Illinois Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium
on capital punishment in 2000 after 13 prisoners were found innocent and
- On January 11, 2003, two days before leaving office,
he then cleared death row, commuting sentences for 163 men and four women
to life imprisonment. He also declared a moratorium on future executions,
now banned after Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation last March, saying it's
impossible "to create a perfect, mistake-free death penalty system."
- Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism's
Protess, also Medill Innocence Project Director, was "a superstar
(investigative) professor, leading teams of students (to uncover 13) wrongful
death penalty convictions....One was just hours from execution."
- Medill Dean John Lavine, however, suspended him by email,
with no further comment about his future. In fact, he was effectively fired,
Lavine privately suggesting he wouldn't be welcomed back.
- It was a textbook case of academic lynching, affecting
a distinguished professor deserving high honors, not denigration and banishment.
- Northwestern's statement said in part:
- "There have been recent media reports regarding
the conduct of David Protess (and his) Medill Innocence Project....Northwestern
has been conducting its own review of (his) actions and practices....It
served as the basis for Northwestern's response to subpoenas issued by
the Cook County State's Attorney's office." Despite his laudable work,
his "Innocence Project (goal) would not justify any improper actions,"
despite no legitimate evidence proving any.
- On March 18, The Daily Northwestern's Brian Rosenthal
headlined, "Updated: NU removes David Protess as professor of Investigative
Journalism in spring," saying:
- His removal "leave(s) the future of the class unclear.
In an interview, Protess said he will continue to serve as director of
the Innocence Project, but he doesn't know if the project will continue
to be involved with the class...."
- At the time, he also said he's "committed to continuing
our investigations in these cases. Innocent prisoners should not be punished
for the dean's decision....The innocent prisoners in jail transcend anything
going on at Northwestern. I'm not going to neglect the cause."
- In addition, he expressed disappointment "because
last quarter's class was the best group of students I've taught in years."
- The eight undergraduates in his spring class petitioned
Medill's Senior Director of Undergraduate Education Michele Mitoun saying:
- "If removing Protess is part of an effort by the
University to discipline him for defending the integrity of the Innocence
Project to which he and decades of students have given so much, please
know that you are not punishing Prof. Protess half as much as you are his
students, and the two men still sitting behind bars."
- Dozens of alumni also petitioned Northwestern and Medill,
- "We are writing to request a public explanation
of the facts surrounding the apparent removal of Professor Protess. In
particular, we would like to know the reasons for (his) removal, and your
explanation of why this action was necessary and is in the best interests
of Medill and Northwestern."
- Former students like Evan Benn, now a St. Louis Post-Dispatch
reporter called Protess' class "life-changing." Another, Maurice
Possley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, said he was "incredibly
professional." Paul Ciolino added:
- "If you look at this thing 30 to 40 years from now,
Protess will be a beloved figure that they'll be building statues about."
- The Northwestern Faculty Senate passed a motion expressing
"deep concern" over the way Protess was treated.
- Former Medill Dean (1989 - 1996), now Columbia University
Journalism Professor, Michael Janeway said he zealously pursued a cause,
one "you could not question."
- On June 19, New York Times writers David Carr and John
Schwartz headlined, "A Watchdog Professor, Now Defending Himself,"
- Renown Journalism Professor Protess "spent three
decades fighting to prove the innocence of others has been locked in a
battle to do the same for himself. It hasn't gone as well."
- In fact, spurious practices he's accused of include deceptive
tactics, cooperating with defense lawyers (that "negates a journalist's
legal privilege to resist subpoenas"), "whether he altered an
email to cover up that cooperation," and giving his students better
grades for uncovering evidence that, in fact, was their job to do in wrongful
- In addition, his students are bogusly charged with allegedly
paying off a witness and misrepresenting themselves.
- They and Protess vigorously deny all accusations, calling
them a malicious smear campaign by the Cook County state's attorney's office.
Dean Lavine became party to it by claiming, without justification, that
Protess "knowingly misrepresented the facts and his actions,"
compromising his own character and academic freedom by saying so.
- In mid-June, Protess "retired from Northwestern
altogether (effective August 31)," while continuing to run the Innocence
- "I have spent three decades exposing wrongful convictions
only to find myself in the cross hairs of others who are wrongfully accusing
- He also believes he's been criticized and denigrated
for defending his students and occasional lapses of memory, the latter,
of course, affecting everyone without facing accusations of wrongdoing.
- On June 13, Protess said he's now President of the Chicago
Innocence Project, continuing his investigative work non-profit.
- According to George Washington University Professor Mark
- Protess "is in the hall of fame of investigative
journalists in the 20th century. Using cheap (very willing) student labor,
he has targeted a very specific issue. That work has reopened cases, changed
laws, and saved lives."
- Protess said Dean Lavine initially supported him, but
now knows it was a charade, saying:
- It was "an attempt to seem as if he were fighting
for the First Amendment when, in fact, he was undermining the Innocence
Project at every turn," no doubt for an ulterior motive perhaps benefitting
himself at the expense of truth, justice and integrity.
- On May 11, Daily Northwestern writer Brian Rosenthal
headlined, "In Focus: 'Dismantling of a legacy:' The rise and fall
of David Protess," saying:
- Barely a decade after founding the Medill Innocence Project,
he's now "barred from teaching his trademark class, publicly vilified
by his dean," and forced to "take a 'leave of absence' that few
realistically think will ever end." He's also "reportedly (barred
from) enter(ing) the building."
- Medill Professor Michele Weldon said:
- "I think everything about the situation is tragic.
It is tragic for David, the students, the faculty, the schools, the alums,
all the people who are affected by the Innocence Project and individuals
who hope to be recipients of the work" it performs.
- As a result, he made enemies in high places, especially
state and local prosecutors, unhappy to have their wrongful convictions
exposed and overturned.
- In fact, they're a national cancer, mostly affecting
innocent Blacks and Latinos, wrongfully sentenced to death and murdered
by authorities who know it and don't care. Others are imprisoned for life
when officials won't admit errors and release them because America's corrupted
prison industrial complex thrives on adding inmates, justice be damned
to do it.
- Author Michelle Alexander calls it "The New Jim
Crow" in her book by that title, calling mass incarceration a modern-day
caste system created by elitist racists who embrace colorblindness. As
a result, imprisonment became a politically charged social control instrument,
unrelated to crime.
- Exposing it by combining investigative journalism and
advocacy for justice earned Protess the distinction he deserves. Denigrating
him is contemptible and shameless. It also taints Northwestern, Medill
and Dean Lavine for compromising inviolable academic and speech freedoms.
- The Innocence Project (IP)
- Full information on it can be found through the following
link, now continued by Protess' Chicago Innocence Project (CIP):
- Founded in 1999, IP's mission statement says it "engages
undergraduate journalism students....in investigative reporting of miscarriages
of justice, with priority given to murder cases that resulted in sentences
of death or life without parole. Our goal is to expose wrongdoing in the
criminal justice system."
- Until his wrongful banishment, Protess helped free innocent
prisoners, saved from lethal injections or other ways to murder them. He'll
now continue that heroic mission as President of his newly opened Chicago
Innocence Project, an initiative vitally important to continue, especially
by someone of his distinction and commitment.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive
Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central
time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy