Monday, May 30, 2011

On the media: Milwaukee journalists fail miserably; kudos to Kenosha News

I recently represented Mary Hein, a therapist who was accused of drugging, hypnotizing, and brainwashing a male patient in order to have sex with him and to convince him to murder her husband.  As you might expect, the Milwaukee news force was all over it: FOX6, TMJ4, WISN12, and CBS58 were all here in Kenosha with video camera in hand, running salacious stories on the “bizarre murder-for-hire plot.”  Local residents were interviewed (of course) and said “you don’t expect this close to home”; one was even “shocked something like this could happen.”  One station also went to the trouble of interviewing another psychotherapist about Mary Hein’s “abuse of power”: as a fellow therapist, he found her behavior “pretty offensive.”  Another station threw out a teaser for future stories: “The prosecution says there is more evidence and more witnesses to prove the allegations are true.”

But the drama wasn’t just in the words.  Some of the news reports were also delivered with the cheesy, overly-simplistic, high school journalistic style that we southeastern Wisconsin residents have been forced to swallow if we want to watch the local news.  There is a tie for my favorite cheesy moment: one journalist held up a bottle of Gatorade during his report—the alleged means by which Mary Hein drugged the unsuspecting patient—and another journalist jingled a set of car keys—Mary Hein had also allegedly asked the patient to steal her husband’s car.  It’s these kinds of demonstrative exhibits that won’t let us forget we're in the Milwaukee viewing area.

After months of pretrial litigation, however, all sex and murder-for-hire charges were dismissed.  So I promptly notified all of the Milwaukee television stations (and the Associated Press, which also ran an earlier story) by e-mailing this press release.  Several weeks have now passed, but, to my surprise, none of the four networks (or the AP) has run a single piece to complete the story and inform their viewers that the patient’s accusations were bogus, or that the murder and sex charges have been dismissed.  This brings three points to mind: 

  • First, these journalists are only painting half the picture, and as a (reluctant) viewer of their news programming, I find this mildly upsetting. 

  • Second, these journalists are missing out on good follow-up stories.  For example, what drove this former patient to make these accusations?  (I know.)  And how can the government hold a therapist in her forties with no criminal record in jail, and prosecute her for months, based merely on this bizarre, unbelievable story spun by a nine-time criminal?  (I know that one, too.)

  • And third, now I understand why people have the impression that, despite falling crime rates, crime is rampant.  We rarely hear about the false allegations or the dismissed cases.  Again, we’re only getting half the story.

But one journalist got it right:  Kudos (and thanks) to Jessica Stephen of the Kenosha News for her follow-up, front-page piece on the case.  Now there is a reporter who tells the complete story.   


  1. Sadly typical Mike. It is not a juicy enough
    story apparently, when it comes out it didn't
    happen. I agree that Jessie did an outstanding
    job clearing your client, at least in her own
    community, on the front page no less! usually
    it would be buried somewhere within, although
    the initial charging would have received more
    prominence. Excellent work by yourself as well.

  2. I know the answer to this one. Doing a follow up story would be tantamount to admitting they didn't do a good job reporting in the first place when the story originally broke. It is simply a case of "if it bleeds, it leads" journalism.
    Then again, good reporting (on television at least) is more about looks than actually delivering a story with, oh I don't know... two sides!!
    Here's hoping the full truth comes out sooner, rather than later.