Thursday, October 23, 2014

Long-Time Sun-Times Reporter Quits After Being Placed Under "House Arrest" By Editors For Unflattering Story About Bruce Rauner

Three years ago, the editors of the Chicago Sun-Times announced they would no longer make endorsements in elections. They switched course last week in announcing their endorsement of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, the billionaire venture capital who is this close to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel despite the two being from opposite political parties, in his bid to unseat incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. Yesterday, one of the newspaper's senior political reporters announced he was quitting his job after he says he was placed under a form of "house arrest" after he penned an unflattering news story about Rauner's past business dealings.

In a resignation letter to Michael Ferro, chairman of Sun-Times owner Rapports, veteran State House reporter  Dave McKinney claims he was placed on leave from his regular political beat two days after his unflattering story about Rauner's business dealings was published and told by his bosses that he might be permanently exiled from his State House beat. Interestingly, Rapports was part of an investment group that included Rauner in a 2011 purchase of the Sun-Times. Rauner later sold his 10% stake in the Sun-Times to Ferro. McKinney claimed he was offered other jobs at the Sun-Times, all of which he considered demotions.

A representative of Rauner's campaign admitted to the Chicago Tribune that the campaign had complained to the Sun-Times management about McKinney having a conflict of interest in covering his race because of his marriage to a Democratic consultant, Ann Liston, which Rauner's campaign claimed was assisting Quinn's re-election. McKinney insisted in his resignation letter that the campaigns on which his wife was working were all out-of-state races. Here's part of McKinney's resignation letter:
Faced with the Rauner campaign’s ugly attack, Sun-Times Publisher and Editor Jim Kirk immediately told the Rauner campaign that this “assault” on my integrity “border[ed] on defamation” and represented “a low point in the campaign.” In other statements, Kirk called the campaign’s tactic “spurious” and “sexist.”
Yet despite such strong rebukes, two days later, I was yanked from my beat as I reported on a legislative hearing focusing on Gov. Pat Quinn’s botched Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. My reporting for that day was then removed inexplicably from the Sun-Times website.
I was told to go on leave, a kind of house arrest that lasted almost a week. It was pure hell. Kirk told me that his bosses were considering taking me away permanently from the political and Springfield beats. He offered up other potential jobs at the paper, all of which I considered demotions. Because of my unexplained absence from my beat, colleagues started calling, asking if I had been suspended. Or fired.
Through all this, I simply wanted to get back to my beat, but the paper wouldn’t let me. And, Carol [Marin] and I were instructed not to contact you [Michael Ferro, Sun-Times Chairman] or [CEO] Tim Knight about the Rauner campaign’s defamatory allegations.
McKinney has hired former Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins to determine whether Rauner illegally interfered with his employment relationship with the Sun-Times. McKinney claims that he was told by Sun-Times editor Jim Kirk "that Ferro couldn't understand why the story was even in the paper." Kirk initially defended McKinney's story when the Rauner campaign publicly condemned it, but McKinney believes the decision to remove him from his State House beat was Ferro's decision and not Kirk's.

McKinney's story focused on a lawsuit filed by former executives of a failed outsourcing company started by Rauner's investment group called LeapSource. LeapSource's former executive, Christine Kirk, claimed Rauner had threatened to "bury her" and "bankrupt her" in legal fees if she sued his company. Rauner told one of LeapSource's board members that he would make her "radioactive." Kirk's lawsuit was later dismissed against Rauner's company. In dismissing the suit, the judge said Rauner's company had chosen to play "hardball" and it "would have been preferable to plaintiffs if defendants had comported themselves with an aspirational ideal of good corporate governance practices that go beyond the minimal legal requirements of corporate law."


Flogger said...

There is some irony here with your story on Dave McKinney being silenced in effect and the death of Ben Bradlee of Watergate fame.

As a Baby-Boomer I grew up in Chicago. The reporters both in print and TV were fearless. They even challenged Mayor Daley the Elder.

I do recall reading some Cold War Era articles where the Soviet Union said in effect our so called Free Press served the interests of the wealthy owners of papers and magazines and our Free Press was a conduit for American Propaganda.

It was revealed during Senate hearings -Church Committee - Operation Mockingbird that -"The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets."

It is no surprise today a good Investigative Reporter would be shelved.

Perhaps we never had a Free Press but, we have today a fiction of a Free Press as best exemplified by our Mega-Media.

Our Indy Star completely neglects to report honestly on the Crony-Capitalism rampant here.

Anonymous said...

but they ran the bleeping story? Seems like the editorial staff ought to have been put on house arrest...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but, damn, Indy is transparent.

"Mayor Ballard unveils new "backyard" for downtown Indianapolis"

My bad. I called it a "grand front yard," about a month ago.

I wonder if they'll spin whacking the CCB as a replacement for needlessly taking Capitol Commons. No-net-loss greenspace, or something like that.

"The design was praised for its "beauty, elegance and playfulness.""

I guessed their plans were to build "a permanent playground."

"This design encourages people to come downtown year-round to enjoy the splash park, ice rink and other outdoor areas," the mayor said."

I said "A decent architect can build one hell of a tourist destination on such grounds."

Their announcements are almost anti-climactic.