Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Will anyone care Sun-Times may have dumped all over its statehouse reporter to appease a political candidate?

There isn’t much that surprises me about the story of how the Bruce Rauner gubernatorial campaign may have tried to intimidate the Chicago Sun-Times into cracking down on their primary state government reporter for stories perceived as negative.

The notion that some political people are touchy enough to pick up the telephone and scream at an editor about how their reporter is out of control?! Rauner isn’t the first, nor will he be the last. The real issue is more that the paper was willing to consider giving in!

THE IDEA THAT it isn’t the primary concern of the electorate that a reporter may be treated badly while on the job? Some people probably think that’s the way it should be, and the Springfield-based Capitol Fax newsletter points out that this story doesn’t seem to be catching on amongst the public.

And the concept that other news organizations seem to be reluctant to pick up on this story to make sure people become aware of it? That would require work. Particularly from weekend crews consisting of lesser-experienced reporter-type people.

It was just easier to put together a straight-forward factual story that said the Sun-Times was one of several newspapers across Illinois (dailies in Belleville, Peoria and Springfield, to name a few) that added on to the list of publications that are officially telling us to vote for Rauner over Gov. Pat Quinn come the Nov. 4 election cycle – of which early voting began Monday.

As for the fact that one of those endorsements has a questionable backstory? I’m sure some weekend editor types view inclusion of that angle as somehow editorializing or expressing a personal opinion.

BESIDES, GETTING INTO the inner workings of the news business is usually one of the issnes that news organizations do very badly. The fact that Crain’s Chicago Business actually put together a detailed account of how Sun-Times statehouse correspondent Dave McKinney hired his own investigator to look into the circumstances by which the Sun-Times reacted to complaints about his reporting on Rauner makes them the exception.

That story is gaining traction amongst government geeks who take every blow of the electoral process seriously. The rest of the population probably won’t find out much about this issue. It certainly didn't come up during the Monday night debate between the two candidates -- except for Rauner to briefly rant about unfair news media reports without going into specifics.

As for me, I read that Crain’s account. It just seemed way too predictable that the Rauner campaign would react badly to a story that made him look arrogant.

If anything, it is because of this reaction that I have problems with candidates of business backgrounds who think they can run for a top political post and go about telling people how they will run government like a business.

IT CAN’T BE done. Government is NOT a business. And a political person can’t just have someone “fired” for their impudence. Which is how Rauner’s behavior in this whole matter plays out.

The real way a political person can gain favor with a reporter-type is to show that they realize good and bad press is natural, and that becoming all temperamental at a “bad” story is wasted time and energy. Sadly, Rauner isn’t unique in this way!

Reading the Crain’s account about Rauner reminded me of a passage from “Boss,” the biography by then-Chicago Daily News columnist Mike Royko who summarized Mayor Richard J. Daley’s attitude towards the news media.

“He dislikes reporters and writers, but gets on well with editors and publishers… If he feels that he has been criticized unfairly, and he considers most criticism unfair, he doesn’t hesitate to pick up a phone and complain to an editor,” Royko wrote. “In general, he views the papers as his enemy. The reporters, specifically.

“THEY WANT TO know things that are none of their business, because they are little men. Editors, at least, have power, but he doesn’t understand why they let reporters exercise it,” Royko wrote.

Be honest. If Royko were alive today, he could have recycled that passage in reference to Rauner’s behavior. Perhaps with an explanation about how some things in electoral politics just don’t change.

And if people don’t pay attention, then perhaps the ballots they wind up casting will be nothing but their own fault.


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