On Friday, Rich Miller’s Capitol Fax reported on a most unusual and “high-risk” push back against a yet-to-be-published Chicago Tribune report by Todd Lighty, that will presumably report that “Sen. Kirk had allegedly physically and verbally abused staff members.” Kirk’s campaign manager, Kevin Artl, called Miller and warned that the yet-to-be-published piece in the Chicago Tribune would be “shoddy at least and downright false at worst.” Miller agreed to present the Kirk side of the story, but Miller warned Artl that this is not something to take lightly and that Chicago Tribune response and that a “Preemptive hit on a reporter from a major newspaper” will not go unanswered and that “The Tribune will probably murder you.”
In fact, the Chicago Tribune did respond to Miller’s posting about the yet-to-be-published story, that will allegedly detail physical and verbal abuse of U.S. Senate staff members.
The criticism is especially unusual because it preceded the publication of any story. The Tribune said it does not comment on unpublished reporting. But it issued a statement defending the conduct of Chicago Tribune reporter Todd Lighty, saying, “good reporters ask tough questions.”
“The Kirk campaign has wholly mischaracterized Lighty’s diligence and thoroughness,” Tribune Editor Gerould Kern said in the statement released by the newspaper. “Lighty has been direct, open and honest at all times with the Kirk staff in his reporting. He is a meticulous and professional journalist.”
In a memo that the Kirk campaign released, the four staff members involved were quoted. The Kirk campaign also released some memos and emails related to the story.
The four staff members are Patrick Campion, Seth Jansen, James Zenn and Dan Bower. All four apparently were interviewed by Lighty and the fact of the matter is that the Kirk campaign would not have reacted in this manner if these four staffers had not said negative things about Senator Kirk and his behavior toward them. Presumably under pressure from the campaign, they are not retracting what they may have said to Lighty.
Read the details here in Patrick Campion’s affidavit here. Two Campion e-mails to Lighty on August 26th are also here. (These were redacted by Miller 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.
According to the memo released by the Kirk campaign, Patrick Campion stated: “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.
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 responded 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%.”
Dan Bower simply said: “No sources to support Mr. Lighty’s assertion.”
This will be interesting and now the Kirk campaign must work hard to assure the four staffers do not flip or assert they were pressured. Good luck to all.