The Swarm

May 31, 2008

R. Kelly Trial Exclusive: Who put a bullet through Jim DeRogatis' front door?

David Prince

On Friday, The Daily Swarm reported that the judge in R. Kelly’s child pornography trial, Vincent Gaughan, ruled that Chicago Sun Times reporter Jim DeRogatis will be compelled to testify if and when he is called as a witness for the defense.

But buried in a court filing by the Sun Times’ attorneys arguing against the subpoena is a highly charged piece of information, well known by people familiar with the case but never before reported publicly: not long after the Sun Times broke the story of the videotape now at the center of the trial, reporter Jim DeRogatis had a shot fired through the front door of his Chicago home. Furthermore, the document filed by the Sun Times attorneys (entitled “Non-Party James DeRogatis’s Opposition To Motion For Leave To Issues Subpoenas To Reporter and For Offer of Proof”), alleges “a pernicious pattern of intimidation and harassment” and strongly suggests R. Kelly is responsible for the violent and threatening act:

Whether or not DeRogatis ultimately takes the stand remains to be seen: the Sun Times is appealing Friday’s decision. But as Bill Wyman explores in great detail on Hitsville here and here, DeRogatis’ testimony could open up a whole new set of problems for the newspaper, the reporter, and the accused:

The R. Kelly tape, showing, as it is alleged to, child pornography, is legally radioactive. Being questioned puts the reporter in a difficult position. Was watching the tape a crime? Was showing it to someone else a crime? If he did copy it, was copying it a crime? At what time did he know/suspect/decide that an under-age girl was involved? Since he’d written about Kelly’s issues in this area before, didn’t he suspect from the outset an under-aged girl was involved?

I wouldn’t want to answer any of those questions.

There’s of course the central irony, as well, that he would be being questioned by a lawyer for the guy who, nearly a dozen witnesses have testified, made the thing. Hitsville still doesn’t understand the logic of the defense’s position.

It leaves DeRogatis and the paper with uncomfortable choices. He could be made legally liable for doing his job. (Irony would not be the word for a situation in which the reporter suffers some legal penalty and Kelly gets off.) Once on the stand, the judge could allow the defense to ask all sorts of questions about his reporting and reporting methods. Taking the Fifth Amendment would be inappropriate for a reporter.

The least unappealing option would be, uh, appealing, which the paper is doing. I have no inside knowledge on this at all, but let’s not forget that the Sun-Times is not the New York Times. It’s a struggling newspaper—it’s the number two paper, remember, in Chicago, after the Tribune. It’s been abused by Murdoch and looted by Conrad Black and doesn’t have unlimited financial resources. One assumes that, given the paper’s strong journalistic history, there is the internal corporate fortitude to defend DeRogatis, but that of course has yet to be seen.

For those just tuning in, a full explanation of the Sun Times’ and Jim DeRogatis’ invovlement in the R. Kelly case can be found here.

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