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Columnists on Chris Kelly

This content originally appeared on my former Chicagosphere online-media blog, hosted on the Chicago Tribune‘s ChicagoNow network.

For the past four days, columnists across Chicago have been opining at length on the death of former Blagojevich adviser and fundraiser Chris Kelly. Most have stretched hard to forge news out of speculation. But some have allowed the story to be as simple as, in all likelihood, it really is.

Since Saturday, when news of Kelly’s death first broke, Chicago’s blogosphere has seen a slew of angles explored to explain why, whether, and how he took his own life.

Last Wednesday, the Sun-Times‘ Carol Marin neatly summarized Kelly’s plight: pleading guilty the day before on corruption charges surrounding kickbacks and bid-rigging for O’Hare construction contracts, and about to enter federal prison on tax fraud charges to which he pleaded guilty back in January.

By Sunday, however, Marin appeared to suffer from amnesia, penning a column asking why Kelly would have committed suicide. Perhaps because he had ruined his life and was heading to prison–as Marin, herself had described in her previous column? Marin questioned whether pressure from federal prosecutors for Kelly to testify against disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich might have led to Kelly’s suicide. You think? Speculation like that, however, does not a news story make.

Equally cheaply, the Sun-TimesBlago Blog later published a transcript of Kelly’s court appearance from September 9th, for Chicagoans to read Kelly’s first-person account to the hearing judge of the pressure he was under–now dramatically told from beyond the grave.

Also on Sunday, police blogger Detective Shaved Longcock questioned the ability of the Country Club Hills police department to conduct a rigorous investigation into Kelly’s death and suggested the Feds would soon take over the case.

In a similar vein, CLTV’s Garrard McClendon asked how the Country Club Hills PD could have originally suggested Chris Kelly committed suicide without a toxicology report.

Marathon Pundit aimed elsewhere, ridiculing Blagojevich for suggesting unfair prosecutorial pressure to tell “lies” about the former governor led to Kelly’s suicide, and not Kelly’s ride on Blago’s own political devastation train. As well, both Rich Miller on the Capitol Fax Blog and the Chicago Tribune‘s Eric Zorn on his Change of Subject blog rightly took Blago to task for having the bad taste to issue a media alert announcing he’d be attending Kelly’s funeral–and, of course, for planning to attend at all.

The absolute low point in coverage came yesterday–however, it didn’t arrive on a blog. Instead, the Trib saw fit to print this disturbing article describing in sickening detail the painful physical symptoms of a painkiller overdose–from vomit through convulsions to death–even though the substance or substances Kelly may have used to kill himself have not been confirmed.

To his credit, Trib columnist John Kass adopted a different and uncharacteristically measured tone, citing Kelly’s death as a “sobering reminder” of the ugly side of clout. Kass also accurately predicted the speculation about prosecutorial pressure that quickly followed.

Getting closer to propriety, on his Crain’s blog Greg Hinz provided necessary perspective by filling in Chris Kelly’s backstory as an aging “frat boy” who simply saw himself as helping out his buddy Blago.

Today the groping continues, as the Trib’s Mary Schmich suggests we may never know the real reason out of myriad potential triggers for Kelly to have taken his own life, in what is essentially an elegant retread of the same ground covered with a sledgehammer by Marin.

However, it was another, earlier Eric Zorn blog entry that really nailed the crux of the Chris Kelly story:

“…I don’t understand why, once sentenced is passed the federal courts, in particular, give convicts a week or two, sometimes more, to get their affairs in order and report to prison. My notion that that must be the most dreadful, hopeless time in a person’s life was reinforced by the apparent suicide of Christopher Kelly over the weekend. The guy was not just facing eight years in the joint, but personal disgrace and ruin after a spectacular public fall. If he’d been locked up, he’d probably have been on suicide watch.”

In other words, Chris Kelly was distraught and scared, and given too much time by the courts to think about it. So after ruining his life with bad decisions, he made an even worse decision to end it. I doubt there’s more complexity here than that. Fear ended someone’s life. It’s a sad but easily understandable and all-too-common story.

And as Zorn and Schmich and Heinz and Kass all admirably prove, it doesn’t take a graphic description of death-by-painkillers to tell it, either.

Categories: Chicago Blog News News Media Politics

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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