Durkin hiring of former Rauner aide living with reporter raises conflict questions
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin's (R-Western Springs) hiring of Michael Mahoney, a former aide to Gov. Bruce Rauner, has the potential to cause some conflict of interest problems for WTTW, the primary public broadcasting member station in Chicago.
According to the real estate listing site BlockShopper, Mahoney lives with WTTW statehouse reporter Amanda Vinicky in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago.
“Amanda adheres to our News Standards which require balance, fairness and disclosure," Mary Field, the station’s executive producer of "Chicago Tonight," wrote in an email in response to being asked how WTTW would maintain balance in its coverage of the General Assembly. "I believe her works speaks for itself in that regard."
The Prairie State Wire story said that the hiring of Mahoney was being pushed by one of the Springfield’s top lobbyists and deal makers, Nancy Kimme, and David Walsh, Durkin’s top aide.
Mahoney, 31, would replace Andrew Freiheit, 46, of Wheaton, who worked for the Illinois House Republicans, including Durkin’s predecessors Lee Daniels and Tom Cross, for more than two decades.
Sources said that the move was precipitated by staff changes in Rauner’s office, where Kimme once had unrivaled access to information on state contracts, hiring and legislation. That access has reportedly been shut down with the departure of aides close to her, among them former Chief of Staff Richard Goldberg, Campaign Manager Mike Zolnierowicz, Communications Director Lance Trover and Research Director Edward Murphy.
“She (Kimme) needs a new way in,” a lobbyist familiar with the situation told Prairie State Wire. “Durkin and Walsh are looking to help.”
Commenting on an earlier story about the appearance of conflicts of interests when reporters are in relationships with people they report on, Prof. Adam Penenberg of New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute -- who garnered national attention in 1998 for unmasking serial fabricator Stephen Glass of the New Republic -- said that many ethics codes in journalism warn of any appearance of a conflict of interest.
“One good rule governing potential conflicts of interest is whether a reporter might pull his or her punches,” he said. “Write a critical story and your spouse could, potentially, suffer the consequences. She could even get fired and result in a significant loss of income.”
The Associated Press, in its "News Values and Principles" for Reporters, states: “Editorial employees are expected to be scrupulous in avoiding any political activity, whether they cover politics regularly or not. Non-editorial employees must refrain from political activity unless they obtain approval from a manager."
It also urges discussing any potential conflicts with one's manager.
"And a supervisor must be informed when a spouse -- or other members of an employee's household -- has any ongoing involvement in political causes, either professionally or personally," it reads.