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Reporter Quits Chicago Sun-Times Citing GOP Gov Candidate’s Undue Influence Over the Paper


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In an update to a story about Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner “earning” the endorsement of the Chicago Sun-Times, the reporter who claimed the Rauner campaign attempted to meddle with his position at the company after he wrote a negative Rauner story has quit. 

The reporter, 19-year veteran Dave McKinney, hired a former federal prosecutor earlier this month to look into the situation.  Last week he announced he will leave the company, accusing the Sun-Times of removing him from the campaign beat because of pressure from Rauner.

Rauner’s unethical use of power to manipulate the paper, in which he owned a stake until just before he announced his campaign, is becoming a hot topic.  When the newspaper, which three years ago announced it would no longer endorse political candidates, endorsed Rauner after he began to slip in the polls, the outrage began.

This leverage of former ownership may have resulted in the unfair targeting of McKinney.  The Rauner campaign wanted the Sun-Times to disclose that McKinney’s wife worked as a Democratic strategist.  McKinney noted that his wife was contractually barred from working on the gubernatorial campaign and that they had set parameters when getting married to avoid any conflict of interest.   McKinney’s announcement was made on his personal blog in the form of a letter to Michael Ferro, Chairman of the Sun-Times who purchased Rauner’s $5 million share of the paper before his gubernatorial run began. From his letter:

Dear Mr. Ferro:

I’ve worked for almost two decades at the Chicago Sun-Times because it had a soul.

The home of eight Pulitzer Prizes, this newspaper once set up a tavern to expose graft at City Hall and later listened to a grieving mother who wanted justice for her late son after the system failed her miserably. It has stood for hard news. It has stood for independence.

The Sun-Times is stocked with dedicated reporters, editors and columnists, who work every day with integrity, long hours and not enough pay. They are more than colleagues. They are my friends. They are my family. They are the soul of the Sun-Times.

But today, I’m faced with a difficult decision due to the disturbing developments I’ve experienced in the last two weeks that cannot be reconciled with this newspaper’s storied commitment to journalism.

At issue is the Sun-Times/NBC5 report about LeapSource and its fired female CEO, a story for which I proudly shared a byline with Carol Marin and Don Moseley. The piece focused on litigation involving the former executive, who alleged Bruce Rauner, while a director of the company, threatened her, her family and her future job prospects.

With the backing of our editors and supported by sworn testimony and interviews, the piece took us nearly a month to vet, report and write. It was approved by the legal departments at both the Sun-Times and NBC5 and was posted online simultaneously with Carol’s Oct. 7 broadcast report on NBC5. It was a Sun-Times story done in the finest traditions of the paper.

Prior to publication, the Rauner campaign used multiple tactics to block it, including having campaign staffers vowing to “go over” our heads. We are accustomed to such tactics.

But what does not come with the territory is a campaign sending to my boss an opposition-research hit piece–rife with errors–about my wife, Ann Liston. The campaign falsely claimed she was working with a PAC to defeat Rauner and demanded a disclaimer be attached to our story that would have been untrue. It was a last-ditch act of intimidation.

The letter goes on to describe the reaction to Rauner’s threats against McKinney by Sun-Times editor Jim Kirk, and the eventual caving of management to Rauner’s demands.

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.

You can read McKinney’s full letter on his personal website.

In a response to the resignation, Rauner campaign manager Chip Englander said he was “saddened to see Dave leave the Sun-Times.”  

It’s hard to believe.


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