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Hijacking The Headlines

Hijacking The Headlines

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Published by George Pollock
With inside help, Billy Stone manages to kill a front page story depicting him as a violent criminal. It is replaced by one portraying him as the soul of innocence. Pounded publicly by a young master of spin, authorities run for cover.
With inside help, Billy Stone manages to kill a front page story depicting him as a violent criminal. It is replaced by one portraying him as the soul of innocence. Pounded publicly by a young master of spin, authorities run for cover.

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Published by: George Pollock on Mar 24, 2007
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George Pollock State Kid Issue 49 Hijacking the Headlines Before sitting down to breakfast, Richard Goode, Executive

editor of the Sentinel, went out to the mailbox at the end of his long driveway to get the Sentinel. He had it delivered so he could keep track of delivery times. He took the paper out of the mailbox, looked at the front page -- and did a double-take. What had happened to the front page? In big, bold letters across the top of the front page, was the headline: BILLY STONE SAID TO BE INNOCENT; OFFICERS CHARGED WITH PLANTING EVIDENCE. The front page was dominated by a big photo of Congressman Waters beaming between a professionally-suited Billy Stone and a smiling Joy Stojak, his arms around them both. Goode began reading the story under Debra Florsheim's byline: In an extraordinary quasi-judicial proceeding Sunday at Granite City School for Boys, the city's secure facility for juvenile offenders, celebrity inmate Billy Stone put the police department, the juvenile justice system, the Department of Youth Services, and the District Attorney's office on trial -- and found himself and eight other inmates innocent. With the cooperation of Director Carson and a panel of community leaders, which included Police Captain Wally O'Toole, Stone presented lawyerly evidence that police officers had planted drugs and/or weapons on him and eight other inmates. Joy Stojak, whom Stone was accused of assaulting, testified that Stone was innocent of the charges. “Billy Stone is innocent,” she said. “Anything else you have read or heard is a lie.” Ms. Stojak, who sat with Mr. Stone, has filed formal charges of physical and emotional abuse against her father. Mr. Stojak has been taken into custody, Captain O'Toole said. Two officers were arrested on the spot and charged with obstruction of justice. They were Officers Richard Collins and Mark B. Lee known as Jag. Congressman Bruce Waters announced that District Attorney John Conroy and Judge Joyce Salera had agreed to grant Stone and eight other inmates a new hearing, which is widely expected to lead to their release. Subheads throughout the long story were: BILLY STONE PRESENTS EVIDENCE; JOY STOJAK SAYS CHARGES “ALL LIES;” DIRECTOR PERMITS INQUIRY; COMMUNITY LEADERS HEAR EVIDENCE; WATERS ANNOUNCES NEW HEARING FOR STONE. Every picture of Billy Stone showed him in a suit. *** Goode ran into the house to grab a phone and find out what was going on. He was told to get into the office fast. And when he got there, he was fired. While cleaning out his desk, he learned that things had gone on while he slept. Debra Florsheim had been tipped off by the night editor that her story had been rewritten. She had asked, “The headline is what?”

“Inmates Seize Granite City School.” “That _______.” “Pictures?” “The Stone kid coming out of court in cuffs.” “He's not going to get away with this.” She had rushed into the office. Cashing in chips from her twelve years at the Sentinel, and enlisting the help of the night editor who hated Goode and who was quitting anyway to go to law school, she restored her original story and put her own headlines on it. After she and the night editor had put the restored pages to bed, they broke open a bottle to celebrate the end of their careers at the Sentinel -- and got soaking drunk. But instead of getting fired, both received commendations and raises. “You should be fired, too,” the publisher told her, “but your story is the one the paper is standing by. So we have to go with you, too.” Unhesitatingly biting the hand that feeds her, she said, “Backing a winner. Gutsy.” *** When District Attorney John Conroy was agitated, he tended to tug at his crotch. Upon seeing Congressman's Water's announcement on TV -- the event was carried live by Channel 9 after a big build-up by the anchor, Jim McGarvey-- he jumped to his feet and stood in front of the TV shaking his fist at it while furiously yanking at the front of his pants. “What the hell was that?” he said. “That's not what we agreed.” “Ahem, dear,” Mrs. Conroy said. “Look at you. What if we had guests?” “Do you realize that Waters just announced that Stone and a slew of other Granite City inmates are going to be released. He was supposed to make a plea-bargain offer, period.” “Well, if they're innocent, what's wrong with letting them out?” “That's NOT the point.” Mrs. Conroy backed off. But there was worse to come for her husband. Immediately after Waters' big announcement on TV, Conroy called Congressman Waters to find out what was going on. Waters said two things. The first was, “I'm out of here.” The second was, “He wants to know how Ann is and if she spells her name with an 'e,'” “I don't know an Ann,” Conroy said. But he did. It was his girlfriend. Her shadowy existence had become known to Billy through Vera via her mother, who knew everybody's business in town. (She did not use the 'e.') The next morning, John Conroy sat at breakfast and picked up the Sentinel. He looked at the headline and his head fell, freely, like that of a condemned man at the stake who had just taken a full volley from the firing squad.

“Now what?” said Mrs. Conroy. Conroy opened his eyes and looked at the front page again, just to make sure. He did a slow-motion shake of the head. “The little _______ did it. The little_________ did it. That_________ Sentinel. That goddamn _________ Goode. Doesn't he have any control over what goes in the __________ paper? That muckraking________ _________, Debra Florsheim. If she's not a ___________ pinko, I don't know who is.” “Dear, you promised you wouldn't use that kind of language around me. You know I don't like it. It's so gutterish. What if we had guests and you were scratching yourself and talking like that? I would be humiliated, humiliated.” “Dear, I'm sorry. I never got my ass kicked by a kid before.” *** Mayor Harper and Chief Bronson started their days off with people rushing into their offices waving copies of the Sentinel. Seeing police scandal, they swung into damage control mode. In a conference call with District Attorney Conroy, the Mayor and Police Chief decided that Officers Collins and Lee, already in custody, could be sacrificed. They had already been finished off on TV, anyway. Not so easy was another problem that had developed. Having refused a direct order from Chief Bronson to take the school by force, Captain O'Toole had informed officers willing to do so that he would defend the school, by himself if necessary. But standing alone turned out to be not necessary. In an unheard of breaking of police ranks, more than half of the officers present pledged their loyalty to Captain O'Toole. The other half stood with Captain Morrill. For a short, tense time, the two police groups faced each other. Never had any officer present ever imagined that he would be squared off against fellow officers, fellow brothers in the long blue line. Yet there they were in the dining hall of Granite City School, officers on opposing sides staring at each other, armed, angry, confused, afraid of what might happen next. With the two sides sliding fast toward civil war, Vera O'toole stepped into no-man's-land between them. In her white shirt and phantom black tie and smiling, she went up to her father and gave him a big hug and kiss on the cheek. “I love you Daddy,” she said. “I love you, too, sweetie. But please go home. You shouldn't be here.” “No.” She turned around and faced the officers arrayed against her father and his men. “My Daddy is a good, brave police officer. He's not afraid of you and neither am I. Now, all of you, get out of here before something terrible happens!” She went to her father and hugged him and nuzzled into his neck. The resolve of the officers standing against Captain O'Toole melted. One by one, the men broke away until the group was no more. Fairfield students returned to classes. East Side Mothers and relatives went home. Granite

City School for Boys became very quiet. *** “Well, Captain,” said Billy. “Mission accomplished. You got yourself a prison without firing a shot. Nice piece of police work. Now what?” “Now you surrender.” Vera left her father and went to Billy's side. “What's this surrender fixation?” Billy said. “Why not ask me if I am willing to cooperate in bringing this to a peaceful and fair resolution?” “Are you?” Captain O'Toole said. “Yes.” “Good. But I will have to confiscate your weapons.” “We are willing to have you do that, Captain. But first, I am sure that you will understand that I and my brothers -- he nodded toward Kali, Jesus, Durk who had taken up positions behind him -- would need certain assurances.” “I can't negotiate with you, Billy. You and your associates have broken the law.” “Yes. So has Vera. So has Director Carson. And, forgive me, sir, so have you.” “Me?” “You refused a direct order from Chief Bronson. You interfered with law enforcement officers trying to perform their duty. Both actions against the law, I believe.” “Dad! Billy!” Vera said. “Listen to the two of you.” She looked at her father. “Surrender. Confiscate.” She looked at Billy. “He saves your ass and you accuse him of breaking the law? Will both of you just talk to each other like two human beings? Please.” Captain O'Toole said, ”What assurances do you need, Billy?” “I can only repeat what I have already told Director Carson. We need two things, both achieved by a stroke of the pen. First, setting the date of the hearing no later than this week on the understanding that, immediately after the hearing, orders will be issued for the release of innocent inmates, including myself, signed by Judge Salera. “Second, a promise in writing, signed by District Attorney Conroy, that no inmate will be prosecuted for anything done by inmates in self defense and in seeking justice. You know, we could have trashed the place; instead, we go out and save Vera and Joy Stojak from God knows what and uncover information leading to the arrest of two police officers.” “I'll ... I'll” -- he looked at Vera, who was in silent, full-communication mode -- “try.” “Thank you, Captain. May I suggest that you call District Attorney Conroy? Now would be a good time to do so, I would think. Could the Captain use your office, Mr. Carson?” “Yes, of course,” said Carson who had just arrived. “I'll be back shortly,” Captain O'Toole said, but in fact he did not return for more than 45 minutes. When he did, he said, “He said it is doable, but not until after you lay down your weapons and return to your cells.”

“The answer is no,” Billy said. “No? Nothing else? Just no?” “That's right. If you would kindly pass that reply on to Mr. Conroy, I would appreciate it. Could you also remind him also that notice of the hearing must be announced in public and the non-prosecution agreement must be in writing and delivered here.” Captain O'Toole shrugged and left. In a few minutes, he was back. “He said it will take time.” “Tell him he has twenty-four hours from now. At that time I will begin releasing information to the U.S. Attorney in Boston about misuse of federal funds by the city and certain related-party contracts. At the same time, I will release certain other information to the press which is, regrettably, of a more personal nature.” “You're blackmailing the District Attorney.” “We're negotiating, Captain.” Captain O'Toole left and was back within a minute. “He called you a bunch of names and hung up.” “Ah, we're close.”

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