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I’m really glad this one is over

Monday, Mar 17, 2014

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Way back in 1992, I did a story about Dan Rutherford’s first run for the Illinois House of Representatives.

The House Democrats back then were quietly spreading rumors about Rutherford’s private life, hoping that the conservative, rural district would refuse to support someone who they said seemed to be gay. It was a classic “barber shop” play. Go where people hang out, like barber shops and taverns, and start spreading a rumor. Spread that rumor in enough places, and pretty soon lots of folks would eventually hear it and spread it themselves.

Without mentioning Rutherford’s name, I wrote that I knew the district pretty well. I didn’t reveal it in the story at the time, but I was raised on a farm in Iroquois County and my mom was born in Pontiac, near where Rutherford lives.

I wrote all those years ago that the Democrats were deluding themselves. Those voters weren’t just conservatives, they were dyed in the wool Republicans. They’d take a Republican over a Democrat any day of the week, pretty much no matter what the grapevine was saying. All the Democrats were doing was embarrassing themselves, I wrote, and they ought to cut it out. Rutherford won, of course. The Democrats’ tactic failed.

I remembered that story when the Sun-Times and the Tribune started publishing “exposés” about how Treasurer Rutherford had a habit of staying in the same hotel room or apartment with his male travel aide on some government and political trips. These stories served little apparent purpose other than to try and gin up that very same rumor mill about the candidate. The pieces were almost adolescently prurient in nature.

As with the Democrats almost 22 years ago, the newspapers never should’ve done that and should’ve instead risen above such nonsense.

The real angle here is that insiders say the young man in question was not comfortable with the arrangement. He has not, to my knowledge, alleged that Rutherford did anything specifically untoward, it’s just that he reportedly didn’t want to continue sharing rooms with his male boss. The story buttresses accounts that Rutherford puts some very weird pressure on some of his employees.

But this young man’s name was dragged through some very unseemly mud by the two largest newspapers in his home state. It wasn’t fair to him, let alone the whisper campaign damage it did to Rutherford.

Ten years after I wrote that first story in 1992, I was talking with Rutherford about a news item in his local paper about how he’d used campaign money for his legislative office expenses. The expenses appeared perfectly legal, but he was one of only a handful of people who were doing it at the time, so he caught some heat for it.

I suggested to Rutherford that this story might come back to haunt him if he attempted to move up to statewide office (Rutherford has been running for governor almost since he could walk).

Rutherford looked at me, got real quiet and then said, “Rich, you and I both know that if they come after me about something it won’t be about something like this.”

How right he was.

Last week, a reporter tweeted that Rutherford had decided to bar reporters from his election night party.

It’s hard to blame the guy.

Rutherford’s campaign says that a Chicago Tribune reporter showed up at the home of Rutherford’s mother at 9:30 one night to ask her highly personal questions about her son.

The campaign also confirmed reports I’d heard that the paper pursued the parents of Rutherford’s travel aide to demand to know if their son was gay after reports surfaced that the two men had shared rooms together. And the campaign confirmed that the Tribune pursued the aide’s ex-girlfriend with the same questions.

Look, Rutherford made some mistakes. Even some big mistakes.

But staking out a guy’s mom late at night and hounding the parents and ex-girlfriend of an employee with horribly inappropriate accusations seems way over the line to me. I mean, it’s not like Rutherford shot a man just to watch him die.

I always thought we were above the disgusting Hollywood paparazzi snooping level here in Illinois. I suppose I was wrong.

* Related…

* Dale Risinger endorses Kirk Dillard, abandons Dan Rutherford

* Rutherford winds down gov campaign with a whisper

* Rutherford to close Election night party to press

* Rutherford Staying Quiet During Election Night

- Posted by Rich Miller        

43 Comments
  1. - shore - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 9:44 am:

    Rutherford has worked as hard as any Republican I’ve seen over the last 15 years really at any level to ingratiate himself with non base voters in the chicagoland area. It hasn’t made headlines or even this blog but everywhere you looked the last few years in religious publications, newsletters, small greg hinz notes there was Rutherford meeting with Indian/asian/jewish/ect groups that most Republicans blow off unless it’s an election year and they’re trying to show they’re not just for rural/white/conservatives/men. It was refreshing to see and he really put what felt like genuine work in.

    The media has focused on his private life this “investigation”, the young man but watching the media cover this has also in my mind been a story. The awkwardness in the coverage of this story has demonstrated that journalists are just as conflicted as the rest of society in how to report/deal with glbt issues and that community.


  2. - Ghost of John Brown - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 9:45 am:

    Exceptionally well said, Rich.


  3. - Chicago Publius - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 9:47 am:

    Rich - The Trib and the Sun-Times soiled and besmirched d themselves in chasing after this non-story about Rutherford. You maintained reasonable and ethical journalistic standards through all of this — thank you for that.


  4. - Stones - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 9:48 am:

    Don’t know and don’t care if Rutherford is gay or not. It seems to me he’s been asked and denied it multiple times. He could be untruthful with his answers but we really don’t know that. It does strike me that he has shown some poor judgment sharing a rooms with his subordinate in this day and age.


  5. - dogboy - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 9:48 am:

    I find it sad that you fell for Dan Rutherford’s schtick then and are still carrying his water today. Rutherford used his position to harrass his employees and put undue pressure on them to perform outside the normal course of business. Rather tha feel sorry for Rutherford, you should have treated him like you do every other politican. It’s clear your personal relationship with Dan got in the way of your blogging Rich.


  6. - Belle - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 9:49 am:

    Hopefully, your well-constructed words and memory of reality will change some people’s mind about what is important.


  7. - Rich Miller - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 9:51 am:

    dogboy, bite me.


  8. - too obvious - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 9:52 am:

    Shame on all of the reporters who enabled Dan for years and didn’t require more honesty, out of a misplaced sense of privacy or whatever. But then they pounce and crucify the guy after an extremely weak and salacious federal lawsuit is filed.


  9. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 9:58 am:

    The Sun-Times story shocked me, as did the Trib’s a couple days later.

    Over the decades, there have been plenty of Illinois politicians who have been subjected to whispering campaigns. I don’t recall the Chicago papers taking the bait and publishing homophobic, innuendo-dripping garbage like they did with Rutherford.

    I wonder what changed?


  10. - Tom S. - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 10:03 am:

    Reporters like to hold political and business figures “accountable” — and they are completely right to do so. That’s a central part of their job.

    But as the self-appointed monitors of the personal conduct of public figures, reporters should be held accountable for their professional conduct, too. For that reason, I think the Trib reporters who hounded Rutherford’s family (and his staff’s family) should be identified by name. We should know who these reporters are and they should be forced to justify their reporting tactics in the open. One can certainly argue that their behavior was legitimate investigative journalism. Others, like me, might believe they crossed the line by bothering family members of public employees with extremely personal question.

    But let’s have that debate. Who, by name, are these reporters?


  11. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 10:08 am:

    “Rutherford looked at me, got real quiet and then said, “Rich, you and I both know that if they come after me about something it won’t be about something like this.”

    This is what was so stupefying about the issues he had in this campaign. Everyone else knew this is where it was going. So why put yourself in the position? Why share a room/studio apartment with a male travel aide? It’s weird to begin with. But worse - it’s inconceivably stupid. So the question is really - if he knew this then, what was he thinking now????


  12. - Tommydanger - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 10:14 am:

    Stones-

    I agree with your sentiments on this one.

    Attorneys are bound to avoid the appearance of impropriety.I would imagine a candidate for statewide office who opined to Rich that he expected additional scrutiny would use better judgment than he did in sharing a room with a subordinate. And if the Treasurer is gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that)then he opens himself up to the same additional scrutiny a heterosexual boss would face if they shared a room with a subordinate of the opposite sex.

    Truly a case of penny wise and pound foolish.


  13. - Big Joe - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 10:17 am:

    Well said, Rich. The Chicago papers are in the business of selling their product. They will overstate things in a manner that will sell papers. Their reporting on Rutherford helped make his campaign moot. After realizing this, Rutherford should have withdrawn and endorsed Dillard.


  14. - Jimbo - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 10:22 am:

    Joe, I think at this point we can all agree the Chicago papers are in the business of selling Rauner.


  15. - Lunchbox - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 10:30 am:

    Time to jump in to the uncomfortable zone!

    I would agree with the questions raised by some of the commenters here. At what point do allegations that have multiple people backing them up require reporting, and how do you balance that with someone’s right to privacy? For straight politicians, if there is a murmur that harassment is going on, I don’t think the media holds back.

    Dan is well liked and respected. But, forcing state workers to work on the campaign and making underlings uncomfortable is 100% wrong.


  16. - Anon - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 10:40 am:

    “I always thought we were above the disgusting Hollywood paparazzi snooping level here in Illinois. I suppose I was wrong. ”

    Woulda love to have seen something like this written when we were all feasting on Blago’s carcass.


  17. - Upon Further Review - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 10:42 am:

    I was never inclined to vote for Rutherford, but I do not like the way this scandal/lawsuit played out.

    There are some suspect facts about the plaintiff (bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce, political ties, etc.) that have caused me to question his motives and the timing of the lawsuit. The media response was appalling.

    Nonetheless, I am dismayed that Dan Rutherford refused to accept that, rightly or wrongly, this was a fatal blow to his 2014 campaign. His subse


  18. - Upon Further Review - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 10:43 am:

    His subsequent actions seemed completely removed from reality.


  19. - Upon Further Review - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 10:48 am:

    @Anon 10:40am:

    Blagojevich was a special case. He actually played to the cameras and kept the carnival going until he was escorted to prison. It would have been a different story if he had not gone on the talk show circuit, hosted a weekly radio program, started selling pistachio nuts and authored a book that attempted to exonerate himself.

    I cannot fault the media to the same degree in that case.


  20. - Rich Miller - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 10:49 am:

    ===Everyone else knew this is where it was going. So why put yourself in the position? Why share a room/studio apartment with a male travel aide? It’s weird to begin with. But worse - it’s inconceivably stupid. ===

    Agreed.


  21. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 10:52 am:

    –Woulda love to have seen something like this written when we were all feasting on Blago’s carcass.–

    Um, he was impeached, tried and convicted. Those were hardly “Hollywood” moments.


  22. - Leave a Light on George - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 11:04 am:

    @UFR

    “There are some suspect facts about the plaintiff (bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce, political ties, etc.) that have caused me to question his motives and the timing of the lawsuit. ”

    When would be an acceptable time to bring these allegations to the fore? IF Rutherford did what is accused in the lawsuit the timing and motive for making the allegations matter not.


  23. - Upon Further Review - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 11:12 am:

    I really think Rutherford was telling the truth when he suggested that the ex-employee was trying to leverage a cash settlement in exchange for not going public and filing the lawsuit.

    If the allegations were true, the ex-employee seemed to be willing to settle for a small amount of money ($300,000.00). That is odd. A favorable jury verdict could have produced much more.

    We’ll have to wait and see.


  24. - Wensicia - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 11:12 am:

    ==When would be an acceptable time to bring these allegations to the fore? IF Rutherford did what is accused in the lawsuit the timing and motive for making the allegations matter not.==

    I disagree. If the rumors and abuse were circulating for years, why continue to “suffer” in silence, yet strike at the perfect time to destroy a man’s ambition and career? I’m not absolving Rutherford of his crimes, but there are two sides to this story.


  25. - Rich Miller - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 11:13 am:

    ===why continue to “suffer” in silence, yet strike at the perfect time to destroy a man’s ambition and career?===

    You don’t think this wouldn’t have destroyed his campaign a year ago? The guy has been running for governor since 1992.


  26. - Walker - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 11:16 am:

    The press also focused solely on the potentially salacious. The other issue is equally serious.

    It’s obvious that Rutherford used his hired staff on his campaign. They could be entirely volunteers, on their own personal time, without undue pressure from their boss, in a legal manner — or not.


  27. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 11:17 am:

    ” I believe in equality for everyone , except Reporters and Photographers.”

    Mahatma Ghandi


  28. - Levois - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 11:32 am:

    This got me thinking about Jack Ryan. Just as the media demands answers about Rutherford’s personal life, wasn’t the media just as willing to dig into his personal life. All this is really unfortunate!


  29. - Wensicia - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 11:35 am:

    ==You don’t think this wouldn’t have destroyed his campaign a year ago?==

    Perhaps, but to wait until Rutherford was so close to achieving his goal and kill his prospects without any detailed info or conviction of guilt is stunning to me. Could he have survived the scandal if made public a couple of years ago? I don’t know, but many Republican politicians have come back from terrible personal scandals and run for office again, though not always successfully.


  30. - Ghost - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 11:46 am:

    CC

    one of the wealthies men I knew personnaly used to stay in dive motels to save money, the places that sell rooms for 35$ a night and you pray you make it through the night. he could have stayed in a holiday in express if he wanted to save money, but he thought that was a waste.

    There are people out there who are genuinely frugal. I have never met Rutherford, but I suspect he is one of those folks who focuses too much on the cost of something and lets that override other considerations….


  31. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 12:08 pm:

    Nice Column Rich,

    To the Post,

    When Dan won the race for Treasurer, from day one, it has been about the dream fulfilling attempt to be Governor.

    “Treasurer” gave Dan a platform, statewide, and the movement of exposure through the office was seen through many avenues.

    Facebook and pictures there and Twitter gave those looking to start a negative narrative, “Art” and a timetable of possibly innocent things, and attempted to make innuendo and smears seem more credible and self-inflicted.

    Facebook and Twitter, along with agendas of putting Dan fri t and center in his quest for the Mansion led to Dan being a target with ammo supplied to his detractors by time stamps and posts.

    Add to all this, the mere fact that a taxpayer paid report stays sealed from the public, the fate of Dan Rutherford was sealed that Friday Fiasco.

    Shame on the news outlets with the innuendo and “wink and nod” reports. Many strung out pieces of posts and pictures, along with the rumor-mongering was just too much, and the timing and press conferences and sealed reports exacerbated this all.

    The Twitter and Facebook aspects garner no sympathy from me; the press, the innuendo, the “wink and nods” and the timing allow me to feel sad for Dan, but bit completely, given the nature of the case in court and ALL the charges and the sealed report still in play.

    Nicely written, Rich.

    It will all be over soon.


  32. - Irish - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 12:36 pm:

    IMHO Both Chicago papers, the Sun Times and Tribune, that I used to read all the time but have ceased to read even if I find one in a waiting room, should be relegated to the checkout lane with all the other like publications.


  33. - Walter Mitty - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 1:24 pm:

    Great article… Although, I judge people on who they are and the job they do, not who they sleep with. That’s the biggest problem with DR, he did something wrong with his office. If he didn’t, he would have released his report we paid for. I think if looked through that lens, it’s a story that he shared rooms with subordinates. Poor judgement. That’s why he lost. Not because of the worst kept inuendo secret in the state. I think the landscape on tolerance for gay rights has evolved much more quickly in Illinois than corruption rights…


  34. - He Makes Ryan Look Like a Saint - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 1:51 pm:

    When Dan announced he was running for Governor, I felt he was the front runner. However when talking to staffers that I had known for a long time, I got wind of some of the whispers. I was also told he was extremely hard to work for and had a large amount of staff leave his office because of him. I knew ultimately he would end up having issues running for Governor because nothing is off limits, including your personal and professional life. Sadly enough a None of the Above is not a choice on Tuesday.


  35. - Bobo - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 6:30 pm:

    So I got on 294 and off-actually quite far apart and saw Dan Rutherford signs on the ramps-today.

    Although I commend the staffers dedication-somebody is obviously nuts.


  36. - persecuted - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 7:43 pm:

    No one should be persecuted for which they cannot be prosecuted.


  37. - Filmmaker Professor - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 9:27 pm:

    You can’t be a gay Republican politician. it’s that simple. The rest is all just noise. Not sure if Rutherford thought he’d never be found out, or perhaps the world would change by the time he was ready for his Governor shot.


  38. - VanillaMan - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 10:56 pm:

    I know an awful lot of Republicans, and most of them are in full support of the Log Cabin Republicans, which are the gay GOP activist group.

    You might pride yourself on being open minded about gay rights, but your mind completely shuts down regarding politics and our political parties.

    Rutherford was well accepted in the GOP and his rumors didn’t hurt him. The problem here was the sexual harassment charge. Any GOP candidate in this situation would be losing - regardless of whether the situation was between a man or a woman or two women or two men.

    It wasn’t about him being supposedly gay.


  39. - VanillaMan - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 10:59 pm:

    When this first became public, I posted my belief that Rutherford’s loss will be twisted into a false claim that the GOP hates gays.

    Thanks for proving me right.


  40. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 11:10 pm:

    –I know an awful lot of Republicans, and most of them are in full support of the Log Cabin Republicans, which are the gay GOP activist group.–

    You can’t be serious, not when it comes to GOP legislators.

    Votes have been taken, you know?


  41. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 17, 14 @ 11:44 pm:

    ===Votes have been taken, you know?===

    “4-62″ by the ILGOP General Assembly members does not sound “welcoming”…


  42. - whetstone - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 9:55 am:

    Is it actually weird to share rooms with a colleague of the same sex? Just read a book about the New York Jets (”Collision Low Crossers,” it’s good) and they were sharing rooms, despite, obviously, having massive sums of money in the organization.


  43. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Mar 18, 14 @ 10:22 am:

    I don’t necessarily care if the man is gay or not, the allegations of sexual assault are the only things that matter period. It seems like just because you know the guy personally you’re trying to make an excuse for him. If he is a criminal, let him be investigated as one.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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