America’s Most Corrupt City – Chicago

Oct 14, 2023 1.5M Views 6K Comments

Chicago is known for many great things, it’s also known for having some of the most entrenched corruption in the country. Join me and First Amendment attorney Benjamin Barr as we show you some of the most outlandish and shocking examples of corruption that exists in the city.

► Video edited by: Natalia Santenello

► Jules Gaia – Walk Break
► Terin Ector – Cold World (Instrumental Version)

♪ jazz ♪
[Peter] Good morning guys,
here in Chicago.
Referred to as the most corrupt
or one of the most corrupt
cities in America.
We’re meeting up with
a First Amendment attorney
who knows the city inside and out.
grew up here, and is gonna show us
on the ground examples
of corruption taking place
here in Chicago.
Let’s do this.
♪ jazz ♪
[Ben] If you see that dome building
that we’re looking at,
that’s the Adler Planetarium
and as you move inland
at some point here
it becomes what used to be Meig’s Field.
It was the third airport in Chicago.
-It’s not longer–
-The airport was right there?
-Yeah, right there.
You can see the stretch of land
to the right between the buildings.
It’s now Northerly Island.
It’s all tied to how Chicago operates.
[Ben] How do we know Chicago’s corrupt?
It gets kind of squishy
looking at the different numbers.
One way that we know is
looking at just some anecdotal evidence.
35 billion with a B, in debt.
Four very large–
-[woman] Sorry.
-[Ben] Oh, you’re no problem.
Four large pension funds that go
for things like the police,
and firefighters, and such.
They have $10 billion in assets
to cover that $35 billion in debt.
If we look at crime, crime is up 20%
over the past five years.
-What kind of crime?
-Theft and burglary,
robberies, these sorts of things.
Murders are slightly trending
downwards, that’s happening nationally.
You wouldn’t know that
by looking at the news.
-You’d think murders would be up.
-It’s sensational.
But data says they’re slightly down
but we should be concerned
about property crime and the like.
-Especially with Illinois in September
we’ll be switching to
cashless bail program, right?
So those who’ve been
convicted of crime will no longer be held
unless it can be shown
that they’re an extreme risk for flight.
-So there’s a concern about recidivism
and about repeat crime
but we have a school system in Chicago
that is spending 55% more
now on 20% less students.
It has been a sort of
grand failure nationally.
20% proficient in English language arts
of the students in Chicago.
16% proficient in math.
-Sixteen for the whole city?
-Sixteen, that’s the average.
-So spending 50% more,
20% less students,
delivering 20% and 16%–
-But how can you blame that on corruption?
Isn’t that a whole host of factors?
-It is a host of factors
but if we take these together
and we think about,
“What does corruption do to a city?”
and what does it do to a people?
It removes resources that you would
otherwise use in a well-functioning state
to be able to deliver services.
It’s the slowest growing city
for two decades.
From ’20 to 2022 it lost 80,000 people.
In the year of 2022
it lost another 100,000 people.
-They’re fleeing the city.
-Where are they going?
-Largely going to places
like Florida and Texas.
Those seem to be two main drivers.
-So they’re leaving the state?
-They’re leaving the state.
-Because in California a lot
are leaving Los Angeles and San Francisco.
A lot are staying within California.
-Right, no, they’re not
staying in Illinois.
More broadly speaking beyond Chicago,
Illinois has the highest property taxes.
Illinois itself is rated
as one of the most corrupt states.
Usually in the top five.
So if you’re looking
to leave Chicago it’s not enough
just to head an hour or two out.
You want to go somewhere
for a fresh, clean start.
-So what I’m gathering then
is you like corruption.
That’s why you live here.
[both laughing]
-You enjoy the tough love.
-I am north of Chicago so I’m
close enough to come in and do my work.
-But you’re in Illinois.
-I am in Illinois.
I am, I’ve got family here
and want to take care of them.
But you know it’s the land of Lincoln.
There’s a lot that’s good
in the State of Illinois.
I love Midwestern people.
I’ve lived on the East Coast
for a good amount of time.
It’s a very cold sort of soulless place.
I love the heart in Chicago,
I love the small talk,
I love the banter, I love the people,
but you’re dealing with a city
that has 50 alderman.
So think of it as 50 mayors
with their own feudal little states.
What Chicago has,
and it’s nowhere else in America,
it’s Aldermanic privilege.
-So if you are
this store here, Planta Queen,
and you want to add on an addition here
that would generally be allowable
in a simple zoning variance,
your Alderman has to sign off on it
and he can say no
for no basis in the law and reject it.
And so your business dreams
can be shut down.
They have considerable authority without
any reference to statutory provisions,
regulations to control
exactly what’s happening here.
Now if you’re someone who
cares about things like racial equity
and some of the issues
that we’ve seen discussed by
good folks on the left more recently…
-Chicago’s still a very segregated city.
-With minorities frequently being
on the South Side of Chicago
and the North and Northwest side
of Chicago being predominantly white.
On the North and Northwest side,
about a 90% blockage of low-income
multi-unit affordable housing.
So if you want to keep
minorities out of an area
you give Alderman’s that sort of power.
They’ve been
routinely criticized for this.
They promise reform,
they promise better things,
at the same time you see about a
90% approval on the South Side of Chicago
when these sort of projects come up.
So this this sort of subtle form,
maybe, of racism that’s built into that
because aldermen are given
this tremendous power
and rather than have specifically defined
duties, and rules, and roles,
or professional managers in the city
we’ve still kept that power.
Now we used to do this, New York
used to do this, Boston used to do this,
but there were reforms that occurred
in the late 1800s and early 1900s
towards a more professional way
of managing cities.
Chicago has never left
the feudal age, okay?
-You say that with such conviction.
-It’s never left the feudal age?
-It’s bizarre.
So now what they’ll tell you…
-The alderman will tell you
that this is a great system
because I, as alderman,
get to be hands-on.
If Topolobampo needs help
I can come right on down,
I can write something up
and I can get it taken care of.
Well that’s true if you’re in
the good graces with your alderman
or as the history suggests of Chicago,
if you’ve paid off, if you’ve
participated in a racketeering scheme,
if you’ve delivered your dues,
then yeah, you’re gonna be taken care of.
-So the mob exists here
in a different way?
A more benevolent way let’s say.
-Right, right. Well right now
we’re talking about public corruption.
Which is those folks holding public office
using it for private gain.
That’s the definition
of public corruption.
[Peter] As an outsider,
Downtown I see clean streets.
-Right, right.
-I see no tents
and no homelessness down here.
That’s pretty remarkable these days.
-I agree, no.
Busses run on time,
the city’s clean, it looks nice.
Chicago could still be so much more.
Maybe people wouldn’t be fleeing,
maybe it would be
a hub of entrepeneurialism
as it was in the late 1800s, early 1900s
if you didn’t have public officials
continuously skimming
off of private operations.
-Okay, but restaurants like these,
India House, the many ones we just passed,
they seem to be thriving,
doing pretty well.
-Yeah, absolutely.
So it’s not so hard
that you’re closing doors on places?
-Well it’s not today
but when you look at the balance sheet
and you consider that there’s $35 billion
just in pension funds alone
that are coming due,
$10 billion to cover it.
Chicago’s engaged in a series of
sort of short sales
of different properties and items
to be able to meet
their financial responsibilities
over the past few decades.
-That’s gonna catch up
with the city eventually.
-Okay, so how do these pensions
get paid out if there’s so much debt?
-Well there’s been recent tax increases.
Lightfoot passed
another property tax increase.
-What are your property taxes?
-Oh, they’re the highest in the nation.
-You tax food here,
I thought that to be quite crazy.
-Right, there’s no escaping
the great tax hand of Illinois.
-Can you hold this one second?
-Yes, absolutely.
-I want to show you this,
I brought this from the grocery store
before I came over.
I bought a kombucha, right?
What was it?
$4.99, so a steep price
but we’re in the city, I get it.
There are two taxes on here,
one is 3% sales tax,
and one is a 25% sales tax, what is that?
We get a 3% sales tax…
-Yeah, I don’t…
-So 66 cents on that drink.
-Which kicked it up to $5.65.
-That’s right.
You know, it runs afoul of
the old thought that we had John Adams,
“We’re a nation of laws,
we’re not a nation of men.”
Chicago is a nation of men.
This is the city of Capone, it’s the city
of Dillinger, it’s the city of Dalys.
When you don’t have strong rules in place,
when you don’t have, for example,
the city lacks a city charter.
Which would be the equivalent
of a constitution for it.
When there’s no base rules
then strong leaders develop
and they don’t always act in ethical ways.
I’m sure that there are
many members of the city council
who are doing a fine job.
Who are responsible public servants.
-But you can’t… The numbers don’t lie.
Professor Simpson’s numbers don’t lie.
What’s happening to the city doesn’t lie
and the historic instances
of public corruption are in their face.
One of the more recent indictments
was Alderman Ed Burke.
He was I think the longest-serving
city council member
in recent history in Chicago.
He was caught on the South Side
talking to one of his constituents
about getting a variance
for the Burger King property there.
-Some sort of expansion.
-And there’s a security camera
right there, and it captured him
telling them,
“Well, you just gotta hire my law firm,
and you pay money
into my law firm, X amount.”
“Then we’re gonna make sure
this is all taken care of for you.”
Now this is going to trial.
I don’t know whether Alderman Burke
is guilty or innocent of ultimate charges
but it does suggest
that there was likely a shakedown
that was occurring.
So it’s a curious thing
if you’re walking in Chicago,
more importantly if you’re driving
and you’re looking for a spot to park,
you have a pay to park area up here.
-That’s typical.
-Yeah, but what isn’t typical
is what most people don’t know
is that whenever you pay for parking
in Chicago that money
goes directly to Abu Dabi.
Okay, it never hits the city coffers.
-Okay, unpack that for us.
-Yes, yes.
So again, you were talking about
things aren’t too bad.
They’re not too hard,
businesses seem to be doing okay.
Well in 2008, Richard Daly Jr…
-For those that don’t know, Daly,
the father, was in office for many years.
-Then Junior took over.
So he’s known really well here.
-Yes, yes, absolutely.
So at the end of his term he decided
a good way to make money for Chicago
would be to sell…
or to create a 75 year lease.
I believe it was sold to Morgan Stanley
then immediately transferred
from Morgan Stanley to Abu Dabi.
And so the proceeds
from this will go then…
Now there’s been studies by
the Office of Inspector General
and I think another
scholarly organization.
It was sold at probably a billion dollars
less than its market value
and it’s probably lost somewhere
between two to three billion dollars
thus far in revenue that would have
gone into the city of Chicago.
-Okay, so the old mayor sold this
to the highest bidder in Abu Dabi.
-So every time I put money
or someone puts money in here
that’s going out of the city?
-It’s going out of the city.
-For 75 years?
-They got their short-term money.
So they took a short-term gain to cover
debt and problems they were having.
That will last them for a while.
And this is the game
that Chicago’s been doing.
Then you sell a little something else
and you cover that debt
and things still… City’s clean.
We got a cleaner right here.
Things look like they’re going okay
but that bill is coming due, okay?
So this is losing somewhere right now,
like two to three billion dollars.
That’s poof, gone.
[Ben] In addition to
losing a lot of money,
say if you’re an environmentalist
or you’re someone who cares about…
You think cycling and pedestrian zones
are really important in Chicago.
It’s not my perspective but there’s
reasonable people who advocate for that.
Well they built into this deal,
negative consequences
such that you have to pay
an absurd amount of money
for each parking spot
you remove off of the street.
-Oh, interesting.
-So if you were to turn
a block into a pedestrian zone
or you were to create a bike lane that
goes through a particular neighborhood
and you cut off three parking spots,
that’s a huge amount of money
that Chicago has to pay to Abu Dabi
because they’re losing revenue.
And how short-sighted is that?
And then the interesting tale
on that story too is that
Richard Daly, after leaving office joined
the law firm that brokered the deal.
Now that in and of itself
is not any sort of official corruption.
It’s a little suspicious though to broker
such a big deal where Chicago loses it
and then to go the firm
that negotiated that deal.
-You know what would be
the ultimate twist of the knife
is that money going into Abu Dabi
goes into their
pension fund for their city.
-Please tell me it doesn’t.
-I haven’t tracked the numbers that far.
I can’t tell you.
-All right, and so
your wife in the back here.
-[Ben] Yes, Shawna is in the back.
-[Shawna] Hi.
-She is helping out,
she reached out to you about the story
and she is my best PR agent.
[Peter] Shawna, what do you think
of this craziness in Chicago?
-I grew up in DC and it’s
its own little bank of corruption there
but this is on
a whole other level of, like…
You just don’t know how it’s working
and how it’s stayed this way for so long.
♪ jazz ♪
[Ben] So we’re at Northerly Island.
This used to be Chicago’s
third airport called Meigs Field
and on the end of March,
I think it was maybe March 30th, 2003
20 years ago,
Richard Daly Jr., who after years
of despising this field,
having battles with legislators
in Springfield, Illinois’ capital,
and with the federal FAA,
showed up at midnight
with construction trucks
went, damaged all of the lanes
so that planes could not take off
and declared it the end of Meigs Field.
He went over… There was
a webcam at Adler Planetarium.
He put a fire truck and some flares out
so the public couldn’t see
what was happening.
It is rumored that they said
when they asked him, they said,
“But you don’t have
legal authority to do this.”
It’s rumored that his answer was,
“But I am the law.”
It’s everything Chicago was
since the 1830s
and at the beginning
it was Republicans who ran this city.
So Mayor Thompson was
the last Republican mayor of Chicago.
That ended in the early 1930s.
He set up ward districts,
he set up precinct clubs,
he set up the whole system of how
bribes go back and forth between
interested contractors
who want to do business with the city
and how that exactly works.
So they call it… The term was deemed
racketeering back in the ’20s.
That was a union, mob machine
sort of definition.
That is to set up a fake service,
usually connected to government
that doesn’t need to be done so you can
extract money from government
to be able to benefit yourself.
And this isn’t just something,
for example, Governor Thompson
did in the 1930s.
He was friends with Al Capone,
he was a character.
His friends received property taxes
that were 1% of their assessed value.
Enemies of the machine at that time
received property taxes
that were up to 100%
of the value of their property.
They had wide scale control over this.
Now we think surely
this kind of thing can’t happen today
but one of the corruption angles
that came out of the Daly administration
was the “Hire a Truck” program.
So the “Hire a Truck” program
was essentially
friends of the Daly administration,
friends of the family who had trucks
that they wanted to rent out
and do city business.
-Who weren’t actually being used.
So it was a payoff
for other contributions and work
these groups had done to the tunes
of tens of millions of dollars.
It looks like they did
little to no work for the City of Chicago.
[Peter] Maybe the city…
it looks like it’s doing well.
I mean you have… look at this.
You have this, you have the museums,
you have the big buildings,
you have a very robust economy here,
maybe the place can just absorb it all.
-It’s absorbed it, right?
-To a point, yeah.
-Okay, you’re say a working class person
making 50, 60 grand here…
-How are they seeing
any of this affect them?
-Well you see property taxes
out of control.
-So let’s say they’re renting.
-Well of course that’s passed on
from the landowner to a renter.
-That’s gonna increase costs there.
-The ability in Chicago
to be able to set up a new business.
It’s not like any other city.
So if you’re in New York
you have a standardized set of forms
that you’re going to rent
this building, enter into a lease,
you have this permit X, Y, and Z.
In Chicago you can have all of that
and if the Alderman says no, you’re done.
That’s absurd.
That’s a relic
of the late 1800s, early 1900s
where we were bonded more
by religion or ethnicity
and not by just some commonality.
It’s tiring because if you
talk about corruption in Chicago
you get the repeated refrain of,
“Well, that’s just what Chicago is.”
and the like.
But it’s like what Justice Scalia
used to say about free speech.
“You look at the Soviet constitution,
you want to see
a promise of free speech there?”
It’s great, and it’s glamorous,
and it offers so much more protection
than what the American
Bill of Rights protects
but it was a piece of paper.
The people of Chicago
have to want clean government.
They have to want
an elimination of the bloat.
They have to want a professional
and responsibly managed city.
-So who doesn’t want that?
-I think you get lost in it
day by day living your life.
-It’s just so complicated too, alderman,
mayor, I don’t see it necessarily?
-You’re living your life.
-There’s happy people down at the beach.
There’s somebody
out in a row boat having a good time.
They’ve put in their 40, 80 hours.
They don’t have time
to necessarily delve into all this.
It looks like it’s going okay
but as I’ve gone over on the numbers,
they’re staggering.
This is a city that’s tilting
with some serious financial consequences.
And what do they sell off next?
Do they sell the beaches off?
Do they pay to breathe the air?
[laughing] Okay? We can
keep doing this for so long
but it’s not responsible.
Yes, the facade looks terrific.
-It looks great.
-But the bill’s coming due,
the bill collector will show up,
and Chicago will have to answer.
-Why do you want to talk about this?
Is it because you want
to wake people up to the situation here?
What’s your stake in it, let’s say?
-I hate corruption and injustice
and I think talking about it
and trying to make it
as clear and easy to understand
is a benefit to the American people.
And I don’t care whether you’re
a Chicagoan who’s a deep union guy,
you’re an environmentalist,
or you’re a gun owner,
I think everyone should care about this.
I mentioned the bike paths
and the Abu Dabi deal.
Environmentalists should care about that.
It’s destroying their ability.
And people on the right who are
concerned about fiscal responsibility
should care about this as well.
So Chicago, it keeps running out
of money or getting on the brink
of financial insolvency.
It’s gone through several periods where
its credit rating has gone to junk rating
by credit scoring agencies.
So then it hurries up and figures out
a way to either increase taxes
or sell something off.
Just to stay safe
for the next couple years.
So the next iteration of this
in the game is the Chicago Skyway.
Chicago Skyway is a toll road that
connects if you’re coming in from Indiana
into the city.
It’s nice and beautiful and it allows you
to quickly get into the city.
Now when Chicago had
financial difficulties,
again, during the Daly administration
they decided that a…
I’m trying to remember whether
it’s a 100 year lease,
something of the like, a very long lease
of that would be appropriate.
So the Canadian Pension Fund
bought the Chicago Skyway.
Again, it was a situation where
it was seriously undervalued
once the office of Inspector General
looked at it afterward.
Rules are important, right?
So if we had a healthy functioning city
you would have
an audit process ahead of time,
the office of Inspector General might
analyze the financial propriety of a deal
and people would have to sign off
on it before an asset’s released.
None of that occurred, right?
Just simply the mayor
moving forward setting a deal.
-So when that goes to
the Canadian Pension Fund,
the money’s coming in every year there
but going out of the city to Canada?
-Funding their employee’s retirement?
-Funding that.
Now it just changed so a firm
in Australia bought the majority interest.
Something like 75% interest in the Skyway.
So now the money’s flowing to Australia.
-So you can honestly say,
“Hey, we have these beautiful beaches.”
-Yeah, is Mexico
gonna own them next summer?
And they’ll be toll beaches,
and you put your credit card in,
and the money goes to Mexico?
Part of the reason why Chicago
became such a hub for corruption
that it brought hustlers,
it brought people wanting to do deals
in the late 1800s, early 1900s
and that’s a good thing
but with that you need to hold them
to a level of accountability.
And why hasn’t the city taken
those basic steps in the past 150 years?
-So it has a hustler
origin story sort of like Miami?
And that brings…
I love entrepreneurs, I love creators.
But they sometimes operate
outside the box
and you need to have some basic rules
in place that benefit everybody.
We got an interesting shot
going on up here.
-Yeah, what’s going on here?
-I don’t know.
[Peter] It’s really an impressive place.
My first time.
-My mom’s dad, my maternal grandfather
worked for the Northwestern Railroad.
So he was an engineer, he shoveled coal.
Had big muscles, so he day in, day out
did that and on my father’s side
my paternal grandfather ran a glass shop.
He was a glazier
and he had to fight with the union
and probably organized crime
here and there in his career
’cause he was a non-union shop.
-Okay, so with crime,
statistically there are worse times.
You walk around the center of the city
or here and it seems very safe.
What are your thoughts on crime?
It’s hard to gauge, I mean so many people
told me, “Don’t come to Chicago.”
-Well there are certain parts of Chicago.
Most major cities do a similar approach.
Wherever it’s beautiful and pretty,
you make sure
you got a good police presence,
and you want to make sure that’s safe.
If we go to the South Side of the city
it’s gonna be a little bit different.
A little sketchier.
[Ben chuckles]
[Peter] This guy’s all turned around.
[Ben] And…
You have issues that are going on.
So for example Chicago’s
used a thing called the spot shotter
for the past decade or so.
It’s microphones that they
put in different neighborhoods.
-If a gunshot goes off
it can use its algorithms
to track down its origin very quickly
and then the police can get there
in a fairly rapid amount of time.
It’s not perfect.
So some civil rights advocates
have said you’re putting this
in usually minority neighborhoods
and that’s unfairly targeting them.
You have government microphones
out on streets capable of listening in.
-That’s a potential–
-Around here?
-No, I think you find them
mostly in the South Side of Chicago.
-Oh, they’re listening in?
-Well, they say.
The company will tell you
they’re only activated
once a gunshot’s been noticed by it.
So there’s some tension
going on about that issue
and so it’s not a perfect technology
but it’s certainly allows folks to get
more quickly to the scene of a crime
and be able to shut it down
and catch those who are responsible.
We have cashless bail
starting in September in Illinois.
So you’ll be…
If you’re arrested for a crime
you’ll be free to walk
and not have to pay bail
unless it can be shown
you’re an extreme flight risk.
-So when people pay bail
they have skin in the game?
-Isn’t that the point?
-That’s the idea.
And newer thinking on it from people
who are concerned about things
like equity and such
are that marginalized communities
don’t have access to as much capital
and that imprisons them
where middle class and upper class people
are going to be able to get out.
It’s not an unreasonable argument
but I think a wholly cashless bail system
is probably dangerous.
Probably a step towards lawlessness
and encouragement of crime.
I think there’s probably
a median point there
but we’ll find out real soon.
♪ jazz ♪
[Ben] We are approaching 41st and Pulaski.
This is the site where allegedly
Alderman Ed Burke did a shakedown.
You’ll note on the light up there
is a security camera
-And from what I’ve learned from reports
he just wasn’t wise enough
to realize you probably shouldn’t
stand out on the sidewalk
and talk by a security camera.
My understanding is it picked up
part of that alleged shakedown.
-Those pick up audio?
Audio and video.
And it’s just one more example,
like I said, 37 aldermen
have been convicted
at least since the 1970s
in Chicago for shakedown, racketeering,
tax fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud.
These are the popular array of things.
You don’t set up a system and say,
“We hope we get really good guys,
and we’re gonna give ’em
tens of millions of dollars,
and we hope they do good stuff.
-You’re a First Amendment attorney.
So this is very close to your heart.
-Well, transparency, right?
The ability to shine light
into the operation of government,
those who hold power over governed,
is crucial to a healthy democracy.
It’s the life blood of a democracy.
So I think the instance of that camera
capturing this is good stuff.
We’re gonna go onto
another site and talk about
how citizens can do more and expose that.
-That’ll be our next stop.
-Really? Okay.
-But no, I think a vibrant exercise
of First Amendment rights
is one of the best ways
that you cure corruption.
Citizens, if you look at
what’s going on right now
with parents getting engaged
in school board controversial discussions
about curriculum and potentially
secret agendas going on
transforming what
their children are learning.
That’s a good thing,
they need to participate,
and the citizens of Chicago
I think have a right to say
that they expect better
out of their aldermen
and they expect
some firm rules to be in place.
-So first is an awareness of the problem,
secondly, as a citizen
I feel pretty powerless.
Like one vote doesn’t
mean anything is a cliche saying
but what are you really gonna do?
-Right, right. Well…
-You’re just saying vote for whomever
has the policies with less corruption?
-Yeah, I mean I imagine that it’s not
the whole slate of aldermen that are
hoping to expand aldermanic privilege.
Vote for folks and work
with folks that want to reduce that.
Work with people
who want to put a charter.
If I told you I was running a business
and we had no bylaws.
We’re trusting Ben’s good judgment
and I have $50 million from ya
and there are no consequences
if I squander that money, do bad things.
I’m just a good guy, I’m gonna do well.
I’d get laughed out of a board room.
Same thing’s going on in Chicago.
-Last time I voted
in county elections, let’s say…
Who was up for vote?
A lot of people actually.
I don’t know, it’s hard to vet.
I tried to vet and understand
who was who and their positions.
Let’s say I put an hour into it max.
And that’s more than
most I think are doing.
-That’s the most I’ve ever put into it.
-It’s so hard to find who’s
track record is clean and who’s isn’t
So it’s…
I mean who’s voting on alderman? Anybody?
-So vote for the guy who hasn’t been
indicted would be a starting point.
-Would be your first criteria.
In most major cities you have
taxpayer alliances and other groups
that will lean
slight left or slight right.
That’s not particularly important
but you can get information
about voting records
and how reform-oriented aldermen are.
And so relying on those sorts of resources
helps average citizens do that.
We don’t want the situation,
there’s an old joke in Chicago,
what do you call it when two politicians
get together for a meeting
in Chicago, Peter?
-Citizens getting screwed?
-A crime scene.
♪ jazz ♪
[Ben] We are headed to Brehon Pub
and in the late ’70s
it was known as the Mirage Tavern.
The Chicago Sun Times and a non-profit
actually purchased the pub
and they mic’d it up and wired it up
so that they could capture
government officials
coming in brokering illegal deals.
The results of this were
that a third of the electrical inspectors
in Chicago were indicted
on corruption charges.
‘Cause whenever you wanted
something done to your electrics
they would add
an additional fee for themselves
or you wouldn’t be able
to get that work done.
So it was
quite an interesting time for journalism.
It was also highly criticized
because it’s unseemly, and dirty,
and you actually entrap people in an area,
and you captured
their close and intimate discussions.
But it led to public good, right?
To expose corruption.
There were a lot of tax reform initiatives
that were passed in Chicago at the time
that were improvements
made to government services
to make sure that not as many bribes
and not as much
racketeering was occurring.
It wasn’t perfect reform
but at least was a step forward.
I think that’s a great thing
that citizens and journalists can do
by exposing this and showing
the public the truth of what’s happening.
-So are journalists still doing that here?
-Here I can’t think of
any regular undercover operations
but this is Brehon Pub.
So I thought it’d be fun to go in.
-Do you want to get a bite to eat?
-Let’s do it.
-[Ben] Let’s have dinner.
-[Peter] Staple of the community, huh?
[Peter] I mentioned it earlier
but I’m actually very impressed
with Chicago’s streets Downtown here.
Leaps and bounds
above most cities in the US right now.
-They’re doing that right.
-They’re doing it right,
I mean if you eat like this
in many parts of San Francisco,
someone’s coming to the table.
[Shawna] When I was
at the cafe while you were filming…
[Peter] Yeah…
-There was a couple homeless guys really
beating down some of the guys outside.
Several times the same guy came by
asking the same guy for money.
Finally the guy gave up
and gave him a dollar.
He said,
“There’s a five dollar bill in there.”
and he was hassling him,
finally he walked off.
-It was funny, he walked back again
later and he has this handful
of like 20 single dollar bills.
So he’s holding up pretty well.
-Okay, interesting but I’ve also seen
zero police officers down here.
[Shawna] The last time we came Downtown
it was filled with cops
on every city block
That was right after all of the break-ins.
-In Magnificent Mile, we were
down there to do some shopping.
Looking around on the weekend
and it was almost like a barricade.
Must have been over 100 police just ready.
Because the stores had been hit.
-That’s what everyone’s sees on the news?
That’s exceptional times, you know?
We’re not seeing that right now
but it would be unfortunate
if you’re sitting here during
one of those exceptional times
and a mob of violent people
come running through.
-It does happen.
[Peter] Ben, what’s going on here?
-You seem committed, it seems serious.
-We gotta get a stew,
we’re at an Irish pub.
Gotta give it a go.
-[Shawna] French dip.
-[Peter] French dip?
Classic guacamole bacon hamburger.
-[Ben] Irish are known for that.
-[Peter] Food in Chicago overall?
-It’s got a pretty good reputation, right?
I enjoy it quite a bit.
From the deep dish
to what’s our Japanese restaurant?
-Better stuff is when
you get out of the main city
and you know, the things in the outskirts.
Like Persian restaurants we’ve found
that you can’t really find in the suburbs.
-I think this is an exciting place to be.
It’s a historic… in my mind, a historic
monument in Illinois and Chicago
that doesn’t get enough attention.
It’s a tribute to citizen journalism,
to exposing wrongdoing in government,
and showing that real reform can be had.
Sun Times got
a lot of criticism for doing it.
I think there’s a lot of space for
more citizen work, think tanks work,
journalist work of going in
and exposing wrongdoing.
And that kind of work
at the center of the First Amendment,
it does such a great thing for democracy.
-That’s what keeps you ticking?
-Keeps me ticking.
Boy, I’m so happy to have a dinner here.
-That’s cool. Wow, you really feel
the historical connection?
I do… I do.
-So do you think we’re lacking
this sort of accountability in the media
towards these,
let’s call them nefarious, corrupt actors?
There’s just less of it?
Wait, you were saying off-camera,
this is a good point to bring up,
Investigative journalism went away.
It’s not what it was because of
the lawsuits, it’s really hard to do?
-It’s tough to do, there’s a lot of
litigation that gets connected to it.
So what is an invasion of privacy?
What’s a truly private moment
that you capture?
What isn’t?
Recording laws, these sorts of things.
Intentional infliction
of emotional distress.
There’s lots of torts available
that can happen.
You can be dragged
through litigation for years and win.
You still have to pay
attorneys like me to be able to do so.
That adds onto a budget.
But no, if you’re not going in
with an eye that’s
suspicious of those in power
all you’re doing is reporting…
You’re a puppet for the machine.
You’re reporting what the powers that be
want you to say to the public.
That’s not doing it any good.
Real journalism captures the truth,
it seeks that out.
It has to do so
in elusive and deceptive ways.
It’s like the Sun Times knew when they
set up this bar to capture wrongdoing.
We need more of that in America.
and we need it to focus
both on Republicans and Democrats.
There’s equal blame to be had.
So from a legal standpoint,
say there was an official in there,
I came in, I concealed a microphone,
he couldn’t see the camera.
Let’s just play pretend,
he couldn’t see it.
Am I legally allowed to do that?
-This is a public space.
So today Illinois has
what’s called all party consent.
Which means if you have
a “reasonable” expectation of privacy
in your conversation
then it can’t be recorded.
But certainly if we’re sitting out here
passerbys coming by,
people can hear us
that’s not a private conversation.
If you’re in a busy bar
and there’s people within ear shot,
they can overhear what you’re saying,
that wouldn’t be deemed private.
If you go to a back booth,
and it’s not very busy,
and you’re whispering,
that’s probably a private conversation
that can’t be recorded.
-So there’s some wiggle room in the law?
-Lot of wiggle room.
-And it depends on the state?
-What’s the most restricted
and the most open state
as far as this type of journalism?
-Massachusetts prohibits all
secret recording except for the police.
There’s a court case
I was involved with there
so you’re allowed
to record the police secretly.
Besides that, nothing else.
So very restrictive, Draconian.
My firm just knocked down
Oregon’s all consent law.
So that used to be very restrictive.
Probably the second most restrictive.
Now you can record
anything you want there.
I don’t think Vermont
has any recording law in place
and there’s 37 other states that have
what’s called single party consent.
-So long as I’m talking to you…
-I can record it.
-And you don’t have to tell me?
-I don’t have to tell you.
That’s based on
a common sense notion that
whatever you expose to someone in public
isn’t a private conversation.
It’s not a matter of a private detail.
-But if you came into my house,
we’re hanging out like friends,
but I don’t know you’re recording me…
-In single party consent states
most of them would still say that’s okay.
You’re still divulging
information to another person.
That person could go
and report it in many different ways.
They could say,
“I just had a conversation with Peter.”
“He said the craziest things
and I wanna tell you.”
and it’s really important…
[clears throat]
…that you can do it
through electronic digital recording.
‘Cause it’s the most accurate way
to preserve what really happened.
If I say, “Peter Santenello is an
anti-Semite, he said these awful things.”
People probably aren’t gonna believe me
but if I show evidence
that you were saying awful things on video
that brings a level of credibility to it.
Or audio.
To the American public.
‘Course you wouldn’t say those things.
-I’ll direct them
towards my Hasidic Jew series.
-Yes, yes, right, right.
-[all chuckling]
-But you get the point.
-Yeah, yeah.
-The most accurate way to do that.
So I do litigation on this,
this is one of my hobbies,
one of my passions
and the First Amendment
needs to catch up to the technology
that we have today.
Whether it’s a GoPro like you’re using,
whether it’s a button cam,
whether it’s my iPhone,
the most accurate way
that we can preserve a detail of events
or wrongdoing,
something of public newsworthiness,
it’s in our hands.
-Do you feel like
there are serious challenges
to the First Amendment right now
or do you think
the Constitution is very robust?
I mean it’s rock solid, we’re good?
-I think we have a good…
Speaking… most of my litigation
is in Federal court.
I think we have very good federal judges.
I’ve been treated fairly
in all of those cases.
It was a little slower than I’d like
but that’s the justice system.
I think my concern is more
with the cultural depreciation
of values for the First Amendment.
Where colleges, high school students,
et cetera, are going with their views
less about the ability of everyone
to be able to speak
and focusing more on
more modern theories about equity
or the rights of marginalized people.
Which I support too.
I just think they’re
co-equal to everyone else.
We need to support
everyone’s right to speak.
-That’s why the ACLU is there, right?
-That’s why they’ve existed,
it was the ACLU who protected
the right of neo-Nazis to march
just down the road in Skokie, Illinois.
-Oh, wow.
-And today there is
a menorah in the center of Skokie.
You let bad ideas out into the light,
you let bad ideas,
ignorant ideas to be exposed,
and we think that
good ideas are gonna win out.
Don’t make those people hide.
Don’t make them become more extreme.
Don’t make them become more violent.
Let them speak and let
the marketplace of ideas work things out.
It’s gonna be tumultuous,
it’s gonna be dirty, it’s gonna be ugly.
-It’s gonna feel bad in the moment.
But long term, the history,
like MLK said, Martin Luther King,
“The arc of the universe
bends towards justice.”
and it’s that arc
that we have to focus on.
♪ jazz ♪

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