Rebellion of the mushrooms | On Politics | Chicago Reader

Rebellion of the mushrooms 

The media feeding frenzy over Mayor Lightfoot’s hacked e-mail is what happens when City Hall tries to control every aspect of what reporters see and hear.

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click to enlarge Every once in a while, the fungus among us stand up for themselves. - JESSE DODDS / UNSPLASH
  • Every once in a while, the fungus among us stand up for themselves.
  • Jesse Dodds / Unsplash

With so many stories furiously breaking from so many outlets about revelations emerging from the hacked e-mails of Mayor Lightfoot and her aides, I thought it would be a good idea to try to put it all together for the perplexed.

You’re welcome, perplexed . . .

It started in February, when, unknown to virtually anybody in Chicago, CLOP—a group of hackers from Russia—got access to thousands of e-mails generated by Jones Day, one of the country’s largest law firms.

Jones Day, which did election law for Trump, is home to former federal judge Ann Claire Williams, who had been hired by Mayor Lightfoot to basically investigate what the mayor could have revealed without assigning anyone to investigate it.

That is—what did Mayor Lightfoot know, and when did she know it, in regards to the botched police raid of Anjanette Young’s west-side home.

That’s the raid in which about a dozen heavily armed police officers burst into the wrong home only to discover Young—naked and very terrified, having just stepped out of the shower.

To facilitate the investigation, the mayor’s office turned over to Jones Day hundreds of e-mails about policing strategies that they probably would never release in a million years to the general public. Unless they were heavily redacted.

Those e-mails were obtained by CLOP as part of the larger haul. Apparently, CLOP unsuccessfully tried to extort money from Jones Day to keep the e-mails secret. Eventually, CLOP dumped the e-mails onto the Dark Web.

Those thousands of Jones Day e-mails were discovered by Freddy Martinez and other activists from Distributed Denial of Secrets.

This is a group of WikiLeaks-like computer geeks who publish stuff the government won’t let you see on the grounds that it might inspire you to ask challenging questions and be something other than the mindless mushroom most of us generally are. (Sorry for that editorial aside.)

Working over the course of two months, Martinez and his allies sorted through the thousands of Jones Day e-mails of little relevance to anyone in Chicago and extracted the e-mails that had been sent to Judge Williams. In other words, the good stuff.

In Mid-April, they published them online. That’s when reporters all over town pored through the e-mails wondering what, if anything, to do about them.

It’s open to interpretation who was the first reporter to break the story.

Some say it was Jim Daley of South Side Weekly, who mentioned the hacks in a May 6 article about police immunity based on information he elicited from the e-mails.

Others say it was Tom Schuba of the Sun-Times, who on May 7 did a deep dive on the hacking, writing a story that mentioned CLOP, Freddy Martinez, and Distributed Denial of Secrets.

Sad to say—no one says I broke the story. 

In my defense, as soon as I heard about the hacked e-mails, I went online to read them. But then I got scared that connecting to the site to read hacked e-mails would expose me to a netherworld of identity stealers who would rob me blind.

Welcome to classic Baby Boomer Internet paranoia that youngsters like Schuba, Martinez, and Daley would never understand. But your day will come, kiddies!

Where was I? Oh, yes, my timeline . . .

On May 10, Mayor Lightfoot jumped into the fray. When asked about the Jones Day e-mails at a press conference, she warned reporters to stay away from them on the grounds that they were hacked and may in fact be fabricated. “I would just be very, very cautious,” she said.

She also declared that no one in her administration would comment on information gleaned from the e-mails—no matter how newsworthy.

Big mistake . . .

The last thing you should do if you don’t want reporters writing about something is to caution them not to write about it. That only makes them more eager to write about it. Sure enough, within days, everyone from WBEZ to Block Club to the Tribune was writing stories about mayoral policing policies gleaned from info obtained through the e-mails.

Schuba is keeping track of all the articles emanating from the hacked e-mails on his Twitter feed.

My favorite batch (so far) are the ones where the mayor’s press handlers spent about three days debating what to tell Maya Dukmasova, my Reader colleague, when she asked a question about police policy.

Mayor Lightfoot, here’s some advice you’re free to ignore. As I suspect you probably will.

When a reporter calls with a question, just answer the question. No need to convene a cavalcade of strategists to concoct a response. Makes you look like a bunch of hoods getting your story straight before you’re questioned by the police.

By the way, I blame Mayors Daley and Rahm for this strategy.

Back in the prehistoric days of the Mayor Byrne administration—when I was a young man in what you might call the Tom Schuba phase of my life—I’d call the City Hall press office with a question.

And I’d talk to public information officers, and not long thereafter they’d call me back to feed me whatever line they were feeding.

Then Daley took office in 1989, and suddenly public information officers became mini David Axelrods—spin artists trying to make the mayor look good.

It got worse under Mayor Rahm. Under Rahm, public information officers weren’t allowed to publicly talk. All conversations were “on background.” Official statements were released by e-mail. Or they’d make you file a Freedom of Information Act request to get access to stuff that should have been already made public. Anything to keep you in the dark.

At the moment, there’s a debate as to whether journalists should quote from hacked e-mails. I say, desperate times require desperate measures.

So thank you Martinez and Schuba for doing so much to promote a greater understanding of what our government is up to. It’s good to know that every now and then the mushrooms will rebel.  v

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