Patrick Fitzgerald, a.k.a. Folk Hero?

A New York Times profile of smokin’ hot U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald proclaims in its title: “Fond Ties Have Grown Between Chicago and Its Corruption Fighter.” Writes Scott Shane: “As the United States attorney in Chicago, Patrick J. Fitzgerald on Tuesday unveiled the indictment of his second Illinois governor in five years, the latest in a streak of prosecutions that have made him a folk hero in a state beleaguered by official crime.”

As a laudatory appellation, folk hero has a nice ring to it, for sure. In fact, Shane sketches a portrait worthy of a comic book superhero: Fitzgerald “has become a prominent figure as he has taken on the dark, cynical world of local government, where abuse of power appears to have become a way of life.” In New York, he was “long a workaholic bachelor who slept in the office during big mob and terrorism trials.” His friends say he is “a natural for pursuing criminals” and possesses “a sort of righteous indignation at wrongdoing.” Watch your back, denizens of governors’ mansions; hard-assed righteousness is on the move!

But something’s missing in all this: Shane doesn’t quote a single ordinary Chicagoan to back up his “folk hero” claim. Who does he interview? Sources who tell him how The People of Chicago feel about Fitzgerald (my emphases):

People see him as the only ally we have against political corruption,” one source, the executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, is quoted as saying. “Every time there’s a hint that he might be replaced there’s an outcry.”

And then there’s the city’s official cultural historian, who is quoted thusly: “When people tell the story of Illinois politics, Patrick Fitzgerald will unquestionably have a major role. People talk about him as having a lot of guts in a tough job, and it’s a job he seems to like.”

It’s not that the echo chamber doesn’t house the truth: the people of Chicago may very well think these things of Fitzgerald, for being zealous about his work and doing a damn good job. It’s just that if we’re going to call someone a “folk hero,” we kind of expect to hear from the folks themselves.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Jane Kim is a writer in New York.