Chicago—Did the CBS2 News department’s expose’ of an NBC5 reporter’s presence at the home of a news maker place a prominent, Emmy Award winning reporter in a false light? Was CBS2 reckless or even malicious in airing a story that aside from not being newsworthy would defame and destroy the career of a reporter for a competing station?
The biggest question I have about this entire mess is: What would motivate any reporter to demolish an ongoing news investigation of another correspondent’s work?
I can only find one word to describe this CBS2 effort, ugly. What was the justification for this really dubious story they turned into something with a sordid and salacious slant?
It looks like a Cook County Circuit Court Jury will be deciding what CBS2 and the other named individuals did wrong and how much they should be punished. A lawsuit was filed late today seeking unspecified damages on behalf of eleven-year veteran WMAQ-TV reporter, Amy Jacobson by her lawyer, Kathleen T. Zellner.
Aside from CBS, named in Jacobson’s Complaint are, Joe Ahern President and General Manager of WBBM-TV Chicago, CBS 2 Vice President and News Director Carol Fowler, anchor Rob Johnson, reporter Mike Puccinelli, Northwestern University Journalism Professor Michele Weldon and Tracy Reardon.
It was nearly a year ago when Jacobson was working on the story of Lisa Stebic, the still missing Plainfield, IL mother of two children. Lisa Stebic’s marriage had gone sour and her husband, Craig Stebic; a private investigator is a "Person of Interest" (God, how I hate that term!) in an act of presumed foul play.
Police and the missing woman’s relatives say Craig Stebic had the motive, means and opportunity to kill his wife and dispose of her body. As a private investigator Stebic should have sufficient skills to murder and cover the crime avoiding detection. Of course no adequate evidence has surfaced to qualify as Probable Cause to allow anyone’s arrest and trial for any crime.
Craig Stebic obtained a lawyer and invoked his absolute right not to answer police questions. Neither cops, nor their agents can ask Stebic anything at all or risk being sued. Anything Stebic says to them will never see the inside of a courtroom unless Stebic initiates the contact, is re-advised of his rights and waives them first.
Jacobson was not restricted by any law from getting Stebic to talk. Jacobson was on a mission to get to the heart of this story she was assigned to tell. Jacobson undertook a personal safety risk to do her job.
These kinds of cases are solved only if investigators or anyone can keep the suspects talking. Apparently Stebic was still talking, at least to Jacobson until the moment CBS2 aired their story.
Had Craig Stebic gotten caught in a lie or made any confession the threshold of probable cause may have been crossed and an arrest of a murder suspect facilitated.
Perhaps Lisa Stebic’s remains may have been found and grieving family members got some closure or at least the satisfaction that Lisa Stebic’s children are not being raised by her killer. Such a discovery by Jacobson would have served both WMAQ’s viewers and justice well.
Jacobson’s investigation was suddenly exposed by competing WBBM-TV’s news reports. Those reports seemed to leave an impression with many viewers that there was some sort of an affair or romance between the married reporter and Craig Stebic. That impression was never supported by any facts.
Despite the fact that Jacobson violated no rules, laws (civil or criminal) CBS2 apparently destroyed Jacobson’s successful career.
I’ve wondered how this mess would have played out if Jacobson been a man under the same circumstances? I’m doubt CBS2 would have gotten themselves into this legal quagmire.
The early part of any lawsuit is always a major investigation. Records, emails, Internet service provider data and telephone bills are subpoenaed for an exhausting examination. People are interviewed and after everything possible is done the discovery process ends with the depositions of all involved being taken.
Lawyers for Jacobson will have the most fun taking the depositions of this group of defendants. Some of those folks may know their way around a newsroom but submitting to the depositions will be every bit as much fun as being waterboarded by their inquisitors.
Most reporters and news directors for some unknown reason don’t do well at depositions. Perhaps it’s because they are used to be asking the questions and not accustomed to answering them.
CBS2 was contacted and so far they have declined comment.
Here’s an unedited and unfiltered copy of the complaint filed in court today: