Did the Sun-Times undermine itself by endorsing Bruce Rauner? | Bleader

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Did the Sun-Times undermine itself by endorsing Bruce Rauner?

Posted By on 10.21.14 at 12:30 PM

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Bruce Rauner secured an endorsement from the Sun-Times.
When the Tribune published a we-can-barely-contain-our-lack-of-enthusiasm endorsement of Bruce Rauner for governor, I commented that it was now the turn of the Sun-Times to make "the equally feeble argument for the other guy. But then I remembered that the Sun-Times doesn't do endorsements any longer."

It does now. Bursting out of its restraints, the Sun-Times wrapped its arms around Rauner this weekend and proclaimed him Illinois's fiscal salvation. To quote from the endorsement: Rauner is "an extraordinarily capable businessman," and he's "a smart businessman, skilled executive and born leader beholden to nobody," and he's "fiercely free of political control," and he's "decisive, bold and thoroughly independent," and if he's richer than sin so much the better, because "It's not like the man needs the money."

Pause here. What money? There's no serious money in being governor of Illinois—though there's a free place to bunk in Springfield. The Sun-Times, I think, means Rauner—a former member of the investment group, Wrapports LLC, that owns the Sun-Times and the Reader—would be incorruptible because he's rich and the rich are famously incorruptible. This is the kind of claim the rich make about each other that no one else takes seriously.

The Sun-Times endorsement doesn't ponder the problematic qualifications of a man who's spent his career buying and selling, building and folding other companies, a man with no background in politics who might maneuver adroitly in the Springfield shark tank but who might also be eaten alive. No, it reminds me of a novelist who's called on his peers to write blurbs for the jacket of his next novel. Masterpiece says one; towering masterpiece says another.

But here's some other language:

"Inaccurate and spurious."

"Inaccurate and defamatory."

These are the words of Jim Kirk, publisher and editor in chief of the Sun-Times, characterizing allegations made against Springfield reporter Dave McKinney by the Rauner camp. On October 6 the Sun-Times had posted a story by McKinney and two other reporters about Rauner and his investment firm, GTCR, and a company that had been in GTCR's stable several years ago. This company was LeapSource, which offered accounting and HR services to middle-size and larger businesses.

The Sun-Times reported that according to a suit filed against Rauner and GTCR by LeapSource CEO Christine Kirk (no relation to Jim) after GTCR fired her in 2001, Rauner had said to her or about her, "If you go legal on us, we'll hurt you and your family," and "I will bury her" and "I will make her radioactive." Most of the charges in the suit were thrown out, but in 2008 Kirk and six other plaintiffs settled with GTCR for a payment of slightly more than half a million dollars. That's chump change, especially set against the $30 million GTCR lost when it pulled the plug on LeapSource later in 2001. The Sun-Times story makes Rauner sound like a tough guy—which isn't a bad quality in a governor expected to bring state house speaker Mike Madigan to heel—who might have been right about Christine Kirk's lack of competence. In short, I'd describe the story as interesting and fairly harmless to Rauner. But it wasn't even in the paper yet when the Rauner camp—hoping to kill the story—accused McKinney of unethical practices. Last June he'd married Ann Liston, a Democratic media consultant. Ergo, he was tainted.

Jim Kirk ran the story, but he took McKinney off the election beat for a few days while he looked into the charge of bias. "Inaccurate and spurious" is what he told Crain's Chicago Business, for a story last Friday. In a statement published in Monday's Sun-Times, Kirk upped the ante to "inaccurate and defamatory." He elaborated:

Out of an abundance of caution, we did review the matter once again and are convinced Liston receives no financial benefit from any Illinois political campaign specifically because of the extraordinary steps she and McKinney have taken to establish business safeguards. . . . Both McKinney and Liston are conscientious, ethical and among the best at their professions.

This blandishing language is what the occasion called for. With his own good name and that of his wife at stake, McKinney had found himself an attorney, Patrick Collins, with one of the highest legal profiles in Chicago. (As an assistant U.S. attorney, Collins led the team that convicted former governor George Ryan of corruption charges.) In a statement to Crain's, Collins said Friday that he'd been retained "to evaluate whether there was an improper interference with Dave's employment relationship with the Sun-Times." The paper's defense of McKinney and Collins had compromised the fawning Rauner endorsement even before the paper issued it.

On top of that, the Sun-Times had announced back in January 2012 that "in a day when a multitude of information sources allow even a casual voter to be better informed than ever before," it no longer believed its endorsements served a purpose. The Rauner endorsement finds the Sun-Times changing its mind in the worst possible way. The editorial board hadn't been interviewing candidates, and it intends to make no other endorsements during this election cycle—though down the road, the Sun-Times promises to endorse again. The more seriously the Sun-Times actually thought about its gubernatorial endorsement, and the more ardent and genuine its conclusion that Illinois must elect Rauner, the more profoundly its intentions were undermined by the way they were carried out.

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