David McKinney resigns from Sun-Times: What a mess

"Readers of the Sun-Times need to be able to trust the paper. 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.

It’s had a chilling effect in the newsroom. While I don’t speak for my colleagues, I’m aware that many share my concern. I’m convinced this newspaper no longer has the backs of reporters like me." (David McKinney)

Earlier this month, the Chicago Sun-Times, in conjunction with NBC 5, ran a story about Bruce Rauner and one of his companies. The story offered an unflattering view of the gubernatorial candidate. Sun-Times reporter David McKinney contributed to the investigation and story.

The Rauner campaign fired back, denying the incidents described. They hit back by accusing McKinney of having a conflict of interest.  McKinney's wife co-owns a political consulting company that works for Democratic causes. She is not working on any Illinois races.

McKinney was put on leave until the issues could be sorted out. He was returned to work five days later, after hiring former federal prosecutor, Patrick Collins to make inquiries.

The story did not die. McKinney and the Sun-Times became the story.

Publisher Jim Kirk issued an explanation in the paper. The Sun-Times reversed its non-endorsement policy three days later. The first candidate they endorsed? Bruce Rauner.

Rauner is a former investor in Wrapports, the owner of the Chicago Sun-Times. It is alleged he is also a friend of Wrapports CEO, Michael Ferro.

As they say in comedy, timing is everything.

McKinney alleges he faced problems from management upon his return to work. He decided to resign. David McKinney was a 20 year veteran reporter and the Springfield bureau chief of the Sun-Times.

Crains Chicago Business, Chicago CBS Local, and the Daily Herald, among others ran the resignation story.

It appears the Chicago Sun-Times stumbled in handling this affair. The optics are very bad. James Kirk, who is considered a great newspaperman and honorable person, does not come off looking good after this fiasco. Michael Ferro, CEO of Wrapports, looks worse.

McKinney went very public with his resignation, posting the resignation letter to Michael Ferro on his personal blog. It appears the blog was set up for that specific purpose. There are no other posts or archives.

Since the media picked up on it, the mess created by the Sun-Times management is out there for all to see. If more news media outlets pick it up, it will get even messier.

Cozy relations between news editors, owners, publishers and powerful people, especially politicians is nothing new. Some media outlets were specifically formed to promote a political party or ideology. Punishing reporters or editors for going after the power elite, especially if they are friends of media personnel, is also nothing new.

From Kirk's defense of McKinney and his justification of bringing back endorsements, to McKinney's very public resignation, the Sun-Times and Wrapport come off looking nefarious.

This could have been handled in a manner that made everyone look good. Instead, Wrapports, the Sun-Times, Michael Ferro, James Kirk, and even McKinney are all being splashed with the same mud.

It appears whoever is running or managing the Sun-Times does not care about optics. The paper generated  national media attention, much of it negative, when it suddenly fired its photographers last year. There was also the torturously over long paean obituary to a personal friend of Ferro's that ran in the Sun-Times. Ferro was criticized for that.

It is hard to tell who is really running the news operation. Who ever it is, they are stumbling very badly.

The Sun-Tinmes may not be able to ignore this mess and move on. This may turn out to be "The Song that Doesn't End".

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