Longtime Chicago Sun-Times political reporter Dave McKinney announced his resignation Wednesday and denounced the commitment of the paper’s owners to independent journalism.
“I’m faced with a difficult decision due to the disturbing developments I’ve experienced in the last two weeks that cannot be reconciled with this newspaper’s storied commitment to journalism,” he said in a letter written to Sun-Times Chairman Michael Ferro.
McKinney’s announcement comes a week after the paper removed him from covering the governor’s race for five days because of an article he co-authored with Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin about a current lawsuit Rauner is facing. The suit alleges that Rauner made personal threats against a former executive he recruited to run one of his companies.
Republican candidate Bruce Rauner attacked McKinney’s journalistic integrity after the story ran. His campaign maintained McKinney’s involvement in the story was inappropriate because he was married to Ann Liston, a political consultant for the Democratic Party. McKinney denied that his wife had any conflict of interest because she only works on campaigns outside of Illinois. McKinney also pointed out in his resignation letter that he began working on the story in January, before he and Liston tied the knot.
McKinney alleged the Rauner campaign attempted to quash the story and intimidate him and his editors. “Prior to publication, the Rauner campaign used multiple tactics to block it, including having campaign staffers vowing to ‘go over’ our heads,” he said.
Sun-Times editor and publisher Jim Kirk said he was sorry to lose McKinney but strenuously defended the paper’s editorial integrity.
“It is with reluctance that I accept Dave McKinney’s resignation,” said Kirk in emailed statement.
“I disagree with Dave’s questioning the integrity of this newspaper and my role as editor and publisher,” he said. “I call the shots. While I’ve been here, our ownership and management have never quashed a story and they have always respected the journalistic integrity of this paper.”
McKinney said he believes the fracas over the Rauner lawsuit story stemmed from personal relationships between Rauner and Ferro, who were both investors in Wrapports LLC, the company formed to acquire the Sun-Times out of bankruptcy. Before Rauner ran for governor, he had a 10 percent stake in Wrapports.
Rauner sold his stake for $5 million to Ferro in April 2013.
“Readers of the Sun-Times need to be able to trust the paper,” he said. “They need to know a wall exists between owners and the newsroom to preserve the integrity of what is published. A breach in that wall exists at the Sun-Times.”
Five days ago, the Sun-Times ended its commitment to not endorsing political candidates. On Saturday, the paper released an enthusiastic endorsement of Rauner, calling him “an extraordinarily capable businessman who just might have what it takes to break the stranglehold of uninspired, self-serving, one-party rule in Springfield.”