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Correlation is not automatically causation

Wednesday, Jul 25, 2012 - Posted by Rich Miller

* A headline in today’s Tribune

* The story

A South Side lawmaker who helped found an AIDS awareness organization that attracted the interest of federal prosecutors has quietly resigned.

Democratic Rep. Connie Howard stepped down from the Illinois House effective July 9. She cited “personal reasons” in a July 6 letter she sent to House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

Howard, 69, who had held office since 1995, announced last year that she would not seek re-election.

The resignation came less than two weeks before authorities arrested seven people after an FBI sting in which they paid kickbacks in the hope of securing thousands of dollars in federal grants, according to federal charges.

* From reading that headline, you’d probably assume the subpoenas were recent. Not even close. They were actually issued in August of 2009 - almost exactly three years ago. The subpoenas covered two grants Howard steered during Fiscal Year 2007 - which ended over five years ago.

And then there was the stuff about how the resignation came two weeks before seven people were busted in an FBI sting that targeted West Side corruption. Howard is a South Sider.

Too often in journalism, correlation equals causation, and the Tribune is getting a lot worse lately with this bad habit.

As I told subscribers earlier today, this does not mean there wasn’t a causation issue here. I wrote about the subpoenas in my full story on July 11th. But unless the Trib knows otherwise, directly connecting the retirement of a 69 year-old woman widely known to be in ill health to subpoenas issued three years ago about a matter that took place over five years ago is a bit much.

Not to mention that I’ve been reporting about Howard’s resignation since July 10th. No hat tip. Oh, well.

* Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady, as usual, blamed Speaker Madigan

Actions by another member of Speaker Mike Madigan’s House Democrat Caucus raises questions if even more Democrat lawmakers are tied to a state bribery scandal. Today “we” learned that Illinois State Representative Connie Howard has resigned from office, but Speaker Madigan was informed of the resignation 18 days ago. Howard’s official state webpage and page on Speaker Mike Madigan’s Illinois House Democrats website currently are both active even though she handed in her resignation 18 days ago.

“How much bigger is this state grant bribery scandal going to get?” asked Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady. “It is very alarming that another member of Madigan’s House Democrat Caucus is connected to this federal corruption case.”

Brady added, “Why did it take 18 days for Team Madigan to make the resignation public? We already knew Connie Howard planned to retire, just not this early, why sit on it for 18 days? Was Team Madigan too busy working on damage control from Rep. Derrick Smith and Sen. Hendon’s state grant scandals?”

Subscribers know about this already. Howard submitted her resignation to Madigan, but she was supposed to submit it to the Secretary of State. I told subscribers a week ago today that the Secretary of State had received the official resignation last Tuesday. And the House does, indeed, have Howard listed as “currently inactive” on its Web page.

And here’s the other thing: The state GOP has a Capitol Fax subscription. So, if Brady is reading his copy, he knew two full weeks ago that Howard had resigned and he knew last week that Howard had belatedly submitted her resignation to Jesse White.


  1. - reformer - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 10:20 am:

    Journalistic sloppiness is the most charitable explanation for the Tribune’s gratuitous sliming of Howard’s reputation.

  2. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 10:30 am:

    Always the reporters lament: “I don’t write the headlines.”

    This headline’s way sloppy.

  3. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 10:31 am:

    ===And here’s the other thing: The state GOP has a Capitol Fax subscription. So, if Brady is reading his copy, he knew two full weeks ago that Howard had resigned and he knew last week that Howard had belatedly submitted her resignation to Jesse White.===

    I am guessing the ILGOP staffer assigned to READ the Capitol Fax TO Pat Brady may have been off when that info was dropped.

    To blame Brady for not having someone read that to him is “not cool”. Brady can only do so much, and Brady’s brand of crazy takes up lots of time.

    I will follow my own advice to Tom Cross when he rebuffed the ILGOP chairman in regards to Rep. Smith and add the disclaimer I suggested;

    “As you know, the ILGOP Chairman also released a statement on this issue, and my hope is that everyone will treat his statement as we have been doing with the past few from the ILGOP Chairman.

    Ignore the ILGOP’s crazy uncle’s thoughts, but give him his afternoon ham and swiss sandwich, and uncarbonated orange soda, with the ‘curly’ straw he likes so much, and move on with your life as though he was talking to himself. Thanks.”

    See, I knew this disclaimer would come in handy, just not so soon.

  4. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 10:36 am:

    Plenty of legislators are fair game for attacks like this, Connie Howard is not one of them.

  5. - MCT - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 10:50 am:

    At what point does the Tribune have to start reporting these “news” stories as in-kind contributions to the Republican Party? All of their attacks would be totally legit if they were on a partisan mail piece, but usually there is a higher standard for actual journalism.

  6. - Willie Stark - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 10:53 am:

    I’d also point out the Kassian “Democratic bosses will get to appoint Howard’s replacement” in an allegedly straight news story. Those “bosses” are duly elected by the people of their wards and townships, first of all. Second, the whole idea of “bosses” in 2012, as if its 1950’s Richard J. Daley Chicago is just comical. There are a handful of powerful pols, as there are in any political system, and then there’s everyone else.

    Like the WSJ, which has seen its editorial page ideology trickle into its news stories in the Murdoch era, so, too goes the Tribune. Definitely reflected in its recent limp series on Speaker Madigan. So, everyone should just get ready for more of this thin gruel through Nov. 6.

    Likely, the Tribbies are just auditioning for whatever billionaire is looking to buy the World’s Greatest Newspaper for a vanity project to bring enlightenment to the hoi polloi, once the Worlds’ Longest Bankruptcy reaches its whimpering terminus.

  7. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 10:56 am:

    I don’t know all of the real reasons for Rep. Howard’s retirement, but anybody who has seen her in recent times knows that she is not in the best of health, at least in terms of getting around well. Pat Brady is a “maroon.”

  8. - South of Sherman - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 11:02 am:

    Of course, it doesn’t help that she cited “personal reasons” as the basis for retiring. That doublespeak has, rightly or wrongly, become code for “I got caught.” A little more candor from a public official might have fended off the instinct for others to fill in the blanks.

  9. - Boone Logan Square - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 11:07 am:

    Be fair. Evidence indicates Pat Brady is illiterate.

    Did the Tribune shift Journatic from suburban beats to the city?

  10. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 11:40 am:

    –That doublespeak has, rightly or wrongly, become code for “I got caught.” –

    I’d say for the most part “wrong.” At all levels of government, across the country, history shows that many are willing to fight it out to the bitter end while in office, no matter how bad the heat.

    I can’t really think of any benefit you get for resigning when you’re under scrutiny, unless you make a deal with the federales to avoid prosecution. I can’t think of any of those recently.

  11. - reformer - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 1:15 pm:

    I wonder if an editor at the Trib will run any clarification, if not a retraction, of the unfair insinuation? For some reason I doubt it.

  12. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 1:41 pm:

    @South of Sherman -

    Did Ray Long bother to pick up the phone and call Representative Howard to ask what her personal reasons for retiring were? Because there’s nothing in his story to indicate that he did.

    Aside from Rep. Howard’s health, there is the TINY fact that her new district now stretches all the way to Kankakee.

  13. - Jeff Trigg - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 1:41 pm:

    “South Side State Representative Resigns After State Investigation”

    That’s from Progress Illinois. Does the SIEU in IL subscribe?

  14. - Fed up - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 1:54 pm:

    Rich you also opinioned that hollywoods leaving had nothing to do with state grants or investigations. I know he was in I’ll health also. Maybe we should look for a correlation between sickness and corruption.

  15. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 2:02 pm:

    @Trigg -

    The Progress Illinois “story” is one of many from news feeds…why its the only story in their “headlines” that isn’t properly attributed to the Chicago Tribune (who probably should have attributed their story to Capitol Fax), i dunno.

    But there’s no byline, so safe to assume its not original reporting.

  16. - Crime Fighter - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 2:07 pm:

    Some of the Trib’s positions in its editorials (and now “news”)range from delusional to patently false. I occasionally read it for the same reason I may tune into Faux News - to see what the enemies of working folks are up to.

  17. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 2:08 pm:

    ===you also opinioned that hollywoods leaving had nothing to do with state grants or investigations===

    I think the word you’re looking for is “opined.” But I opined no such thing.

  18. - Dan Bureaucrat - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 2:09 pm:

    Progress Illinois has lost its edge in terms of reporting or progress.

  19. - Jeff Trigg - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 2:10 pm:

    YDD - They probably are regurgitating news, but they also probably typed that headline themselves, along with adding the 2 links in their post. It wasn’t a copy and paste job, as you seem to think, so that’s no excuse.

  20. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 2:14 pm:

    @Trigg -

    Like Rich, I believe in attribution to your fellow journalists, and Progress Illinois should have provided attribution.

    So should the “investigative reporters” around the state who use CapitolFax as their tip line.

  21. - Dan Bureaucrat - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 2:14 pm:

    Thanks for this post. Shame on everyone involved for this headline. It is appalling and callous. Elected officials should not be treated badly, until there is some reason to do so and then sticking with the known facts works just fine. Rep. Connie Howard gave decades of service, treated everyone with respect and certainly deserves better.

  22. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 2:24 pm:

    @Oswego Willy -

    Please keep us all advised of when the coup against Pat Brady is planned.

    Like many literate people, I’ve generally regarded Brady as a nincompoop.

    Turns out that he shares attributes not only with The Scarecrow, but also Tin Man and Lion.

    I hope someone does have the sense to call Tom Cross and ask him for comment. Or really, anyone on the Republican side of the aisle.

  23. - Jeff Trigg - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 2:30 pm:

    YDD - I was pointing out the headline they used, not defending their lack of attribution. They did link to the Tribune article, however. Typical in the blog world, but perhaps not good enough attribution, you are correct on that and I wasn’t disputing that.

  24. - Not in the Know - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 3:01 pm:

    Regardless of Rep. Howard’s decision to retire or not and the time line behind it is secondary, the focus SHOULD be to the funds, and were they being used for what was reported as. This is the main point and the assumptions or correlations to it are meaningless. Why does this state like to avoid that enormous elephant in the room (inappropriate spending), instead always dancing around the issues and wasting more time and energy, while the real issues get lost. $1.7 million of tax payer money was used for a program that appears not to be on the up and up. Show the financial records, spending reports, reciepts, ect…..if those are produced and show the program was there, then great. If not, same old song and dance.

  25. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 3:15 pm:

    ===Please keep us all advised of when the coup against Pat Brady is planned.===

    Will do, - Yellow Dog Democrat -.

    Dunno who would want to be the next State Chair, but the selling point has to be, “You have seen how Pat Brady did it, if you just TRY, you can’t be worse…”

    Wonder if the ILGOP ever got someone to take away Pat Brady’s internet acess and press release blasting ablilites … as of that last statement, I am guessing, “No”, but someone needs to consider the move.

  26. - Fed up - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 7:57 pm:

    Yes you did when he retired and I commented that he was dirty after the trib series. You said it was health related and not to read more into it. He has been dirty for a long time, everyone always just said that’s Hollywood being hollywood like his sexist comments but you have no problem ripping Brady (deservedly ).

  27. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 9:51 pm:

    @Fed up -

    I don’t recall Rich ever defending corruption or sexism, or really anyone on this site. Ever.

    But, if you’re going to accuse someone of being corrupt, you better have a bit more proof than a Tribune story.

    This is the paper, after all, that gave George Ryan a clean bill-of-health in the 1998 gubernatorial election and denounced Glenn Poshard’s campaign ads as unfounded.

    Reporters make mistakes. They can be misled, sometimes even by prosecutors. Ask the Sun-Times about that one.

  28. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 10:56 pm:

    In October 1998, a couple of weeks before the gubernatorial election, U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar said George Ryan was not a target in Operation Safe Road.

    That doesn’t happen very often. He must not have read the memo.

  29. - Anonymous - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 12:33 am:

    =Brady can only do so much, and Brady’s brand of crazy takes up lots of time.=

    *puts hand over mouth and giggles…loudly*

    *clears throat and adds in a somehwat stern voice, shaking head:* “That wasn’t very nice, Willy”

    *giggling resumes*

  30. - Anonymous - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 12:39 am:

    = ===Please keep us all advised of when the coup against Pat Brady is planned.===

    Will do, - Yellow Dog Democrat -. =

    Whaaa?!!!! You mean we haven’t started yet?!!

    Imagine that. lol

  31. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 7:36 am:

    ===Rich you also opinioned that hollywoods leaving had nothing to do with state grants or investigations===

    Here’s what I wrote…

    === Hendon’s hypertension has been a serious problem lately. I’ve talked to him a few times about that federal investigation and he appeared wholly unconcerned. I seriously doubt that was the reason he left.===

    He resigned a year and a half ago.

  32. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Jul 26, 12 @ 7:39 am:

    ===Whaaa?!!!! You mean we haven’t started yet?!!

    Imagine that. lol===

    Coups need leaders in the wings … dunno if there is anyone willing to take on the job as chairman.

    Plus, if we tell Brady it IS happening, what fun would it be to see his face when the locks get changed and he is trying to get in the door?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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