* Bruce Rushton at the Illinois Times writes about his good friend Dave McKinney…
Reporters get lied to every day. It’s part of the job. But if you’re a journalist with any gumption, you can’t work with people you can’t trust, and so McKinney had no choice but to quit after this bizarre shell game with his livelihood in the finishing weeks of a white-hot gubernatorial race.
McKinney will land on his feet somewhere, but maybe not in journalism. All newspapers talk a good game, but lots of editors are afraid of someone like McKinney who, naively or not, demands as much integrity from his employer as he does from himself. […]
In the end, then, we have learned nothing about either Rauner or McKinney. We have, however learned a great deal about the Sun-Times. The only thing that can salvage a shred of the newspaper’s credibility now is an explanation that makes sense coupled with a rolling head or two. You can’t suspend a reporter, then say you have that reporter’s back, then yank his byline, all the while proclaiming that everything is on the up-and-up. If McKinney’s marriage was going to cost him his job, he should have been told before the wedding. Instead, the Sun-Times told him that everything would be fine, then cut him off at the knees on the back end.
* McKinney’s former Sun-Times colleague Neil Steinberg had his own take…
The news was nauseating when it first hit, but now it’s settled down a bit. I don’t know all the intricacies of what occurred, just what I’ve gleaned from the buzz going around. So my take is both half-informed and skewed from someone who has worked at the Sun-Times for 27 years and did not quit on the countless occasions when I ran into aspects of the business that made me wince.
A previous owner, David Radler used to push for all sorts of squishy stories to benefit his pal, Rod Blagojevich; the trick was to accept the assignment, and then quietly bury it into a Dumpster and forget about it, so ethics weren’t compromised. It worked; Radler’s long gone and Rod’s long gone—both men wound up in prison—but I’m still here. To me, the still-being-at-the-paper part is important. Rauner getting Dave fired and Dave quitting are functionally the same thing—he’s gone either way—and while I admire Dave as much as anybody, I can’t fight the creeping feeling he played into the hands of the Evil We All Oppose.
A few things to keep in mind: A) the newspaper that many are castigating for supposedly caving to Rauner is the same newspaper that just last week was happily publishing McKinney’s sharp pieces shredding Rauner; B) the endorsement of Rauner, though regrettable, is a different beast entirely than the supposed pressure he put on reporters. Every owner in the history of newspapering ballyhoos candidates he likes, a little or a lot, though no one is arguing that this was smoothly done; C) Rauner’s accusations that McKinney’s wife, a Democratic operative, was somehow driving the stories, while ridiculous—a story either is solid or it’s not; it hardly matters who suggested it, not that I have any reason to doubt Dave’s version of events—had a veneer of seriousness that justified investigation, and being nudged off your beat for a week is not, in itself, a big deal. I was suspended for a week last year for what struck me as a truly tenuous reason. But I didn’t tell anybody and few noticed (sigh) making it a whole lot easier to come back and start doing my job again, which is the route I wish Dave had chosen to take since while it is courageous to make a stand for journalistic integrity, you can only self-immolate once, there’s a dramatic flash and then ashes but what have you accomplished? The bottom line is, D) I sincerely believe that had McKinney managed to just step around this mess and gone back to doing his job, an important life skill in journalism, instead of pouring gasoline over himself, and the paper, and striking a match, the whole thing would be over by now and he’d be back to kicking Rauner’s ass, which is what this is supposedly all about; E) I wish this were “The Front Page” era so everybody involved could just go out and get drunk together, shake their heads at their collective stupidity, and go back to work the next day. But F) it’s not. The only upside I see in the real world is that G) Bruce Rauner revealed himself even more starkly as the ruthless, vindictive creature that he most certainly is, eager to try to squelch a story by leaning hard on the little folk reporting it. I can’t imagine anybody wanting that as governor. So maybe it’ll do some ultimate good, though the sting will linger on this one, and now we have to find somebody who thinks it’s a good career move to spend time in Springfield.