In today’s New York Times, David Carr writes about Cook County (Illinois) prosecutors’ harassment of Northwestern University’s Innocence Project, the student journalists who investigate possibly wrongful convictions. As I noted a couple of weeks ago, the state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, has subpoenaed the students’ investigative materials, e-mail messages, course outlines, syllabuses, training materials and grades, to explore the “bias, motive and interest” behind the students’ investigation of the flaws in the case against a man convicted of murder three decades ago.
It would be unthinkable to demand such materials from journalists. So Alvarez is asserting, bizarrely, that these students are not journalists. Carr writes:
The prosecution argued in a brief filed last week that the school “conducted a private criminal investigation by using students in a journalism class” and further said that during their three years of work on the case, the students had paid witnesses money, flirted with them and, in one instance, flashed a shotgun. Because the students did not produce newspaper articles themselves — some of their findings were published by the reporter Maurice Possley in a front-page piece in The Chicago Sun-Times last year — the prosecution holds that the students themselves are not journalists and not eligible for the reporter’s privilege of protecting their work.
What a crock. Ms. Alvarez is supposed to be pursuing justice, not student journalists (yes, I said “journalists”). I hope Cook County voters remember this nonsense when she is up for reelection.