* I received a fascinating phone call from US Sen. Mark Kirk’s campaign manager Kevin Artl the other day. He said the Chicago Tribune was about to publish a story about how Sen. Kirk had allegedly physically and verbally abused staff members and that the piece was going to be shoddy at least and downright false at worst.
So, if he sent me the correspondence with the reporter and other background materials, would I consider publishing them here, Artl asked.
Sure, but the Tribune will probably murder you, I told Kevin. This is not something you do lightly. Indeed, I’ve never heard of anybody ever doing it before. A preemptive hit on a reporter from a major newspaper? Whew, baby.
He said he’d get back to me if the Tribune decided to go with the story. Artl called yesterday and said he was sending the stuff over because the piece is likely coming out Sunday.
Man, is this ever a high-risk move, but it’s kind of fun, too, so let’s get started.
* Here is a memo that the Mark Kirk campaign plans to distribute after the Tribune story is published. All emphasis in original…
From: Kevin Artl, Campaign Manager
Kirk For Senate
Re: Chicago Tribune/Todd Lighty
For the past five weeks, Chicago Tribune Reporter Todd Lighty has called over 15 current and former staffers of Senator Kirk along with harassing Senator Kirk’s 79 year-old mother and his sister in an attempt to validate a story that Senator Kirk has been verbally and physically abusive to staff. Lighty has identified four staffers whom he says were verbally or physically abused, however staffers involved have said the incidents never occurred, including Patrick Campion whom Mr. Lighty identified as his only “on the record” source.
Patrick Campion: Signed a sworn affidavit that said he enjoyed working for Senator Kirk and that at no time was there verbal and physical abuse. Campion also attested in his affidavit that Chicago Tribune Reporter Todd Lighty “twisted his words” when they talked. (affidavit attached)
Seth Jansen: Issued the following statement, “The inference or accusation that Senator Kirk acted inappropriately towards me is simply false. “
James Zenn: In text messages responding to Mr. Lighty, James Zenn told Lighty that his facts were wrong and the incident he was alleging never happened. Zenn added: “Mr. Lighty, I am unsure of where this is coming from. I would have never told anyone that story as it did not happen. I enjoyed my time with Senator Kirk, during which I learned a lot and during which he treated me with nothing but respect. Though I moved on for another opportunity I am proud to have worked for him and I support him 100%.” (screen shots attached)
Dan Bower: No sources to support Mr. Lighty’s assertion.
Official Campaign Response
“Terrible journalism written by a biased reporter about an event that his own source signed an affidavit saying never happened.” Kevin Artl, Campaign Manager, Kirk for Senate.
As indicated from affidavits, statements and conversations Mr. Lighty is fully aware of, the incidents he is alleging did not occur according to those involved. Should Mr. Lighty continue with his story, Kirk For Senate will not hesitate to avail itself of all available legal remedies.
Like I said, whew.
The Patrick Campion affidavit referenced by Artl is here. Two Campion e-mails to Lighty on August 26th are here. They were redacted by me to crop out his e-mail address. A text message screen shot of James Zenn’s flat denial is here. A letter from Artl to Tribune management with even more allegations is here.
Let’s start with the alleged “terrible journalism” part and then we’ll get to the “biased reporter” allegation.
* What follows is based on two e-mail exchanges between the Tribune reporter and Kirk’s office. One is here, the other is here.
Here are Lighty’s actual questions and Artl’s responses. Again, all emphasis in original…
From: Kevin Artl
Date: Mon, Sep 21, 2015 at 8:33 PM
Subject: Follow Up Response
To: “Lighty, Todd”
On September 16th you sent Danielle Varallo an email “seeking responses to several incidents involving these young men on his staff”.
Through our meeting on September 17th and additional communication with you on September 18th, I’m quite certain we have gone above and beyond in fulfilling your September 16th inquiry. However, since doubts exist, let’s go through it again.
Lighty Question #1 from Varallo Email: We understand that Sen. Kirk became physical on two separate occasions with Mr. Campion while on Capitol Hill. We understand that after the second incident, Mr. Campion requested not to be at the senator’s side was moved to another floor away from the senator, and eventually quit and returned to Illinois. We further understand that he shared what happened with Ms. Dickens and several other staffers. We are seeking Sen. Kirk’s account of what happened with Mr. Campion on those two occasions, once during a weekly GOP luncheon and the other around Jan. 27, when Sen. Kirk and Sen. Menendez introduced their Iran sanctions bill.
We will allow Mr. Campion’s sworn affidavit to refute this, in which he attests that where was no physical or verbal abuse and that he states that you have twisted his words.
Lighty Question #2 from Varallo Email: We understand that Sen. Kirk berated a second aide, Seth Jansen, after Jansen was late in picking him up at O’Hare International Airport. We further understand that Sen. Kirk wanted Jansen fired over the incident, and that he no longer works for Sen. Kirk, having been fired on Jan. 26. Again, we seek Sen. Kirk’s account of what happened with Mr. Jansen at the airport.
We will allow Mr. Jansen’s statement to refute this charge. Mr. Jansen stated that “The inference or accusation that Senator Kirk acted inappropriately towards me is simply false. “
Lighty Question #3 from Varallo Email: We understand that Sen. Kirk blamed a third aide for a mix-up Nov. 23, 2014, at First Baptist Church in Melrose Park, left without attending the service, leaving the aide, Daniel Bower, to find his own way home. What is Sen. Kirk’s account of what happened that Sunday in which Mr. Bower had to find a cab ride home?
You had mentioned you had a source on the record for this event. Can you please identify the source and his/her specific comments so that we can respond appropriately?
Lighty Question #4 from Varallo Email: In short, how does Sen. Kirk respond to accounts from those who worked for him that he loses his temper to the point of becoming physically and verbally abusive?
We will allow the statements from those directly identified by you to answer this question. Campion, Jansen and Zenn all deny your claim.
Lighty Supplemental Question to Varallo: There was one more incident that I wanted to add and ask about, as well. This one involves former staffer James Zenn. I understand that Mr. Zenn drove Sen. Kirk to an appointment at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and that the senator would not get out of the car, and that he “flipped off”—stuck his middle finger up—at Mr. Zenn when Mr. Zenn tired to encourage him to get out of the car. Again, what is Sen. Kirk’s response to his alleged behavior?
We will allow Mr. Zenn’s responses to you citing that the incident never occurred and that he enjoyed his time working for Senator Kirk to serve as the response.
To recap, Mr. Campion, Zenn and Jansen have communicated to you that your overarching narrative for the story, encapsulated in Question #4 to Varallo, is not consistent with their own facts and experiences.
You have no “on the record” sources, simply anonymous background sources whose recollection of events is questioned and challenged by on the record statements by those with primary, first-hand knowledge.
Now you are requesting answers to 17 questions transmitted to us on Friday September 18th seeking information on the decision making process of where office desks are placed, the comings and goings of entry-level staffers and what their assignments are while reiterating questions that have already been answered. Again, we will let the statements from those involved, Mr. Campion, Jansen and Zenn answer those questions as they are all basically reiterations from your email to Varallo on the 16th. In addition, their statements answer the entirety of the narrative you are producing and fulfills our commitment to provide you answers as discussed during our September 17th meeting.
While there are no on the record sources to support your claim in Question #4 from the Varallo email and it is disputed by those involved, should you write a story regardless, then we would request you utilize this quote that may be attributed to me:
“Terrible journalism written by a biased reporter about an event that his own source signed an affidavit saying never happened.”
From our end, we would like to follow up on some of the questions that remain open
1. You said you had an on the record source in addition to Mr. Campion, but you refused to identify this person. Are you willing to identify this source now?
2. Have you identified your second on the record source to your editors?
3. Is it your understanding that failing to identify your on the record source runs counter to the code of ethics set forth by the society of professional journalists?
4. During our meeting, you never disclosed that Mr. Campion had further communications with you where he said you had twisted his words and denied your allegations. Why did you not mention that communication?
5. During our meeting, you never disclosed that Mr. Zenn denied the allegations you asked him to confirm. Why did you not mention his denial?
6. On Friday, September 18th you had additional communications with Mr. Zenn and he again said your information was inaccurate. Why was this never communicated to us?
7. Why did you ask us this question? Is it your position that James Zenn denies telling co-workers that he drove Sen. Kirk to his rehabilitation appointment, that the senator did not want to get out of the car and that he gave Mr. Zenn the middle finger? Mr. Zenn had already corresponded with you and answered the question, denying that the incident ever occurred and questioning why anyone would tell you differently.
8. Are your editors aware that Mr. Zenn has consistently denied your allegations?
9. Are your editors aware that Mr. Jansen has denied your allegations?
10. Are your editors aware that Mr. Campion has denied your allegations?
11. Have you corresponded with your background sources to question why their facts are wrong? if so, what is their excuse for providing you with false information?
12. Are your background sources standing by their false statements? Were any of your background sources present at the incidents you have discussed?
13. During our meeting, you indicated that your background sources were “multiple former employees”. Is it really multiple? Have you identified your background sources to your editors? Were any of your background sources employees who had their employment terminated?
14. In terms of your question about the location of Mr. Campion’s office, is the office location of entry-level staffers a question you are asking other elected officials?
15. Is it your understanding that being located on the 6th floor of the Hart Office Building is a better location than the 5th floor of the Hart Office Building? If so, why?
16. Have you interviewed Senator Kirk employees who are located on the 6th floor of the Hart Office Building? If so, is it your understanding that those employees would prefer to be on the 5th floor of the Hart Office Building?
17. Rep. Duckworth is the defendant in a lawsuit in which she is charged, with among other things, bullying, harassing and intimidating her employees when she was the Director of Veterans Affairs. All of these charges are sworn to in court filings. Are you planning to report on this?
Kirk For Senate
* OK, now, on to the “biased reporter” allegation. From Artl…
Lighty is obsessed with Kirk: Since The Beginning Of 2010, Todd Lighty has written 11 investigative articles focusing on politicians for the Chicago Tribune.(Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com/chi-todd-lighty-staff.html, Accessed 8/25/15)
The breakdown of these articles is as follows:
· 6 Regarding Senator Kirk
· 2 Regarding Former Congressman Aaron Schock.
· 1 Regarding Congressman Luis Guiterrez.
· 1 Regarding Former Congressman Denny Hastert.
· 1 Regarding Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan.
In fact, in 2012 Lighty invested heavily into a story on alleged Kirk FEC violations, including multiple interviews with Kirk’s estranged ex-wife, only to have the FEC rule there were no violations at all.
For more information, view these stories:
The Bottom Line: 55% of Lighty’s political stories have focused on Senator Kirk.
Lighty’s Tactics Are Beyond the Pale: Calling the Senator’s 79 year-old mother multiple times to ask her questions presumably about how her son works with his staff?
The Healthcare Hit Job: Even though Lighty was fully aware that Kirk has full approval from US Senate Select Committee on Ethics for his payroll arrangement with his healthcare aid, Lighty still took a shot.
Ignoring Duckworth: The Chicago Tribune has done ZERO original reporting on Duckworth. Even now as they focus on staff interaction, they ignore the lawsuit she is embroiled in with sworn statements like these:
Background on sworn testimony regarding Rep. Duckworth abusing staff during her term as Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs:
“48. As a direct and proximate consequence of Defendant Duckworth’s acts against Plaintiff Butler, as described in paragraphs 27-30 and 42 herein, Plaintiff suffered humiliation, mental and emotional distress, as well as lost wages and benefits of employment.” (Christine Butler and Denise Goins vs. Tammy Duckworth and Patricia Simms, First Judicial Circuit, Union County, 9/17/09, p.17)
“66. As a direct and proximate consequence of Defendant Duckworth’s acts against Plaintiff Goins, as described in paragraphs 31, 40 and 41 herein, Plaintiff suffered humiliation, mental and emotional distress, as well as lost wages and benefits of employment.” (Christine Butler and Denise Goins vs. Tammy Duckworth and Patricia Simms, First Judicial Circuit, Union County, 9/17/09, p.21)
Duckworth “Intentionally Humiliated” Butler By Loudly Announcing Her Termination From The Office Then Calling For Security For Her Immediate Removal. “29. After discharging Plaintiff Butler, Defendant Duckworth intentionally humiliated Plaintiff Butler by announcing publicly, in a loud voice, at the Anna Veterans Home, that she had just terminated her, and calling for security. She did not allow her to conduct an exit interview at that time and required her to remove her personal belongings and be escorted out of the facility, during working hours, at that time.” (ChristineButler and Denise Goins vs. Tammy Duckworth and Patricia Simms, First Judicial Circuit, Union County, 9/17/09, p.10)
After Firing Butler, Duckworth Met Privately With Goins,Telling Her “If You Do Your Job And Keep Your Mouth Shut And Concentrate On Job Duties, You Will Keep Your Job.” “31. On May 3, 2007, after publicly discharging Plaintiff Butler, Defendant Duckworth called Plaintiff Goins in for an individual meeting. During this meeting, Defendant Duckworth referred to her termination of Plaintiff Butler, and intentionally sought to prevent Plaintiff Goins from raising any further complaints, stating, ‘If you do your job and keep your mouth shut and concentrate on jobduties, you will keep your job.’” (ChristineButler and Denise Goins vs. Tammy Duckworth and Patricia Simms, First Judicial Circuit, Union County, 9/17/09, p.11)
I’m more than willing to publish any Tribune rebuttal.