The Chicago Way: Democratic Super PAC in Bed with Local Newspaper—Literally

Illinois Republican wants ‘Sun-Times’ to disclose reporter’s connection to pro-Quinn PAC

Bruce Rauner / AP
October 19, 2014

The campaign of Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner (R) is asking the Chicago Sun-Times to disclose that one of its political reporters is married to a Democratic consultant with ties to incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn.

At issue is an October 6 report on Rauner’s "hardball tactics" that said the Republican businessman had once threatened a former colleague.

Before the article was published, a campaign official emailed Sun-Times editor Jim Kirk and requested that the story note that one of the authors of the article, Dave McKinney, is married to Democratic consultant Ann Liston.

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) states in its ethical code that reporters should "avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived," and "disclose unavoidable conflict."

"Our request to editors was simply that the reporter's deep connections to an attack group that has spent millions attacking Bruce Rauner be disclosed by the paper in accordance with the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics," Rauner Campaign Manager Chip Englander said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon.

The article did not include any such disclosure note as of Sunday afternoon.

Public records and other information obtained by the Free Beacon connect Ann Liston’s firm, Adelstein/Liston, to the Illinois Freedom Political Action Committee, which is backed by pro-Quinn public employee unions and has targeted Rauner throughout the 2014 campaign.

Illinois Freedom PAC, for example, has paid some $636,003 to Jemma Productions LLC, according to public records.

Established on January 23 of this year, Jemma Production shares the same Chicago address as Adelstein/Liston. A nameplate outside the firm’s office has a piece of paper below it stating that the production outfit shares the space.

Adelstein/Liston partner Eric Adelstein is also listed as the owner of Jemma Productions, according to records from the Illinois Secretary of State.

And Adelstein/Liston has on its website ads that appear to have been created by Jemma Productions.

Meanwhile, the website of Illinois Freedom PAC showcases multiple stories written by McKinney.

Lois Boynton, professor of journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told the Free Beacon that the "problem here is one of conflict of interest."

"In so many instances, it's not that the reporter is necessarily unethical, but the perception that the public and readers have about the situation," Boynton said. "The fact that the PAC is linking to his stories is probably unavoidable, but it doesn't help his case for showing that he can stay independent."

Sun-Times editor Kirk did not respond to an email from the Free Beacon seeking comment on Sunday. An email to Adelstein/Liston also was not returned.

This is not the first time that the Sun-Times has been under fire for its coverage of Rauner.

An article penned by columnist Neil Steinberg in April compared black supporters of Rauner to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis. The piece was later tweeted out by the Quinn campaign, causing controversy in the Jewish community.