Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


"Who is a legitimate journalist?"

By Timothy J. McNulty
The National Enquirer, derided by most journalists as a tabloid rag, exposed John Edwards’ infidelity and love-child long before the former senator and vice-presidential candidate acknowledged his affair and many months before other news media grabbed hold of the story.
Eager to be recognized for its journalistic chops on that scoop and for work uncovering other scandals, the Enquirer campaigned last month for consideration in this year’s Pulitzer Prize competition.
After some hemming and hawing by Pulitzer officials on technicalities, Huffington Post blogger Emily Miller reported last week that the Pulitzer Prize Board has quietly agreed to accept the Enquirer’s submission for the Edwards story.
Another milestone reached in changing the definition of what we call journalism.
Several months back, the issue came up in another context: A U.S. Army general talked about embedding reporters with military units in Iraq and Afghanistan. The decision over who gets priority in going to the front line, he said, isn’t always so simple.
“Who’s a legitimate journalist?” the general asked with a fraction of frustration.
He was referring the many freelancers and bloggers, some of whom paid their own way to the war zones, and been accredited to cover the American military effort.
The decision isn’t so hard if journalists are from well-established institutions such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, from NBC and Fox News, or from CNN or another cable news outlet. But what if the choice on whom to embed is between an inexperienced reporter from a small, recognized newspaper versus a combat-experienced blogger who contributes to a half-dozen websites, or just to his or her own blog?
Does the institution or the work confer legitimacy? How do we define journalism?
The question also goes beyond political or military reporting and involves the Congress, the U.S. court system and even how journalists view themselves.
First Amendment protections apply, of course, to every American. But are bloggers, freelancers, students and others who call themselves journalists protected from revealing sources under “shield laws” adopted in more than 30 states?
A federal shield law offering that protection has been stalled in Congress for years. Last spring, the House approved a broad definition covering anyone who makes a portion of their living as a journalist. The Senate version, however, is much more restrictive, identifying and limiting those considered “legitimate” journalists to those who are salaried employees or independent contractors for an established outlet.
The Obama administration has been working with Senate leaders on a compromise formula to find common ground between the House and Senate versions, but it has remained on the back burner since last fall.
It seems self-evident that many freelancers and bloggers adhere to all the traditional values of journalism, but that professionalism is not evident to all.
For years, journalists from traditional print and broadcast institutions (aka mainstream media) questioned whether to consider bloggers as colleagues. An article for the Society for Professional Journalists in as late as 2006 framed it this way: “The controversy with Webloggers lies with accountability, accurate reporting and fair access to information. Some in the mainstream media question the truthfulness of blogging reports, while the bloggers themselves maintain they are an unheard, ubiquitous voice that filters missed opportunities by bigger media outlets.”
Occasions to rethink journalism and legitimacy follow one after another. Last weekend the Polk Award, one of journalism’s most cherished honors, was given for the anonymous video of the death of Neda Aghan-Soltan, who died during last year’s protests in Iran.
The idea of honoring the valor of a person in a crowd for using a cellphone camera to record an iconic news photo is unprecedented in the 61-year history of the awards, along with the category of “videography”. The image of the dying protestor was sent to at least two news organizations and quickly went viral on the Internet.
As more news organizations accept such “user-created content” in their reports, should so-called citizen journalists have the same access to press conferences, courtrooms and other meetings with elected officials?
Do they represent the public? Certainly many do and in an era of severe cutbacks in traditional media outlets, the public will need more and more information from fellow citizens operating as watchdogs of government and business.
But what if the citizen journalists represent a personal or perhaps hidden interest?
That question came up when a contributor to a suburban Chicago newspaper edition wrote an article praising the election campaign of a local candidate. The piece was printed, but days later the paper discovered the writer was also the candidate’s campaign manager. The paper created a policy insisting that citizen journalists must voluntarily declare if they have or might have a vested interest in the topic they are writing about.
Whether working for a recognized institution or striking out on their own to disseminate news and information, pairing the word legitimate with journalist has been a perplexing one. Back in 1996, Vigdor Schreibman was the first Internet-based journalist to apply for, and be denied, credentials to the Congressional press galleries. In 1995, Garrett Graff became the first full-time blogger to get White House press credentials. In both cases, the press associations were involved in the administration’s decision.
Merely writing for a newspaper, or appearing on television or radio does not mean the person is a journalist. Yet people commonly use the label freely, suggesting that anyone who reports or repeats some bit of news may consider himself or herself a journalist.
There is not, after all, any test to take, no licensing exam (at least not in this country) to pass, no government council (as there is in Britain and Australia) or private body to determine whether the person is reporting responsibly. There was consternation, for instance, when the FCC decided to describe Howard Stern as a journalist. Whatever their sympathies, I suspect that most reporters and editors oppose a government authority deciding who is or is not a journalist.
Writers and photographers without accreditation from any institution may be among the best journalists by their desire to discover and disseminate the truth. After working for the networks for several years, Kevin Sites took his own video camera to document wars around the world. After becoming a one-man operation for both words and images, Sites found a home for his work called the “Hot Zone” on and picked up numerous journalism awards along the way.
Yes, there are standards and ethical practices that journalists learn either on the job or at school. There are many journalism and/or communication schools in the nation’s public and private universities and enrollment there, despite the decline the newspaper industry, is blooming. (Full disclosure here, I am also a lecturer at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.)
The best guarantee of good journalism is not only the writing but the editing or vetting of a story before it is published or aired. Traditionally, or at least the tradition of the last 100 or so years, has been verifying or testing the facts and events. That came to the news industry in search of some credibility after the age of “Yellow Journalism,” when media barons used their newspapers to support one political cause or another.
Despite more recent political howling about bias on one side or another, the practice of journalism during much of the Twentieth Century was to seek independent verification of events and test observations with multiple sources.
That is the kind of work done not just in the news pages but even among opinion writers such as Thomas Friedman in The Times who are journalists employed to use their own reporting ability and experience to provide informed opinion.
Of course, there are also columnists whose opinion is not based on journalism principles but on political sympathy. Appearing on the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page, for instance, former adviser to President George W. Bush, Karl Rove, writes his heavily politicized commentary. I would no more call him a journalist than I would use that word to describe Garrison Keillor, the leftist humorist and usual Democratic supporter, who’s syndicated column appears regularly in the Chicago Tribune.
Brian Williams of NBC maintains a traditional position within the mainstream media, but Lou Dobbs, formerly of CNN, was a journalist who gradually turned into an advocate for restrictive immigration policy and possibly will become a political candidate. He is a journalist no longer.
Two stalwarts of the print media co-authored a book back in 2001 titled “The Elements of Journalism,” echoing the name of the classic book on good writing “The Elements of Style”. Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel aimed at setting out some pretty basic principles of journalism.
The pair stayed away from repeating words such as “fairness” and “balance,” along with the other overused journalistic words, “objective” and “neutral.”
Instead, Kovach and Rosentstiel came up with these nine principles:
1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.
3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.
4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
8. It must keep the news interesting and proportional.
9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
A discussion of what each of those principles entails would be worth having in every journalist’s newsroom and classroom. Just take the “discipline of verification” and see that verifying or checking it out is the basis for fair reporting.
Applying those principles to the general’s question of “Who is a legitimate journalist,” may be a better, if not an easier, method of coming up with an answer. Good journalists don’t need an institution to define them. The best reporting is based more on a reputation of honesty and the continuing work of the individual for truth-telling.


Game Change

By Shawn Healy
Even the most tried and true political junkie would have a hard time arguing that the 2008 presidential election demanded one more post mortem analysis. Yet journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin deliver just this in their recently released 436-page juicy collection of largely rehashed tidbits of the soap opera that yielded the historic victory of Barack Obama. They elevate Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin as the co-stars of this made for TV event, but one could argue that the media itself should garner nominations for their role as supporting actors.

A gripping page-turner even if the story lines are all too familiar, Game Change (2010, Harper Collins) is also all that is wrong with contemporary journalistic coverage of politics. True, we learned of candidate Obama's mettle and John McCain's meltdown in the midst of financial crisis, but we also delved deep into the marriages of the Obamas, McCains, and yes, the Clintons once more. We sifted through the savory details of John Edwards' own "bimbo eruption," along with his deranged vision to serve first as Obama's VP, and later his Attorney General. Altogether, Game Change elevates the horse race aspect of politics to its pinnacle, ignoring candidate resumes and policy positions for their gravitas on the trail.

The first 267 pages are devoted to the two horse photo finish between Democratic contenders Obama and Clinton . The current president comes off as cool under pressure, while Clinton seemingly fell victim to a poorly managed campaign and a self-destructive husband whose late game antics bordered on race-baiting. So much for Bill Clinton's reputation as the "first black president." Hillary was both unable and unwilling to reign her husband in, but she is painted as a sympathetic figure who would have served capably as chief executive.

The Republican primary, remarkable in its own right, garners a mere 50 pages. Perhaps the most interesting anecdotes relate to McCain's decision to bet the entire race on his support for the Iraq surge and New Hampshire town halls. Also interesting was the Republican field's mutual dislike for Governor Mitt Romney, the early favorite for the 2012 nomination. An awkward pre-debate bathroom scene paints the picture of a candidate who couldn't even connect with his party rivals.

Perhaps most illuminating is the authors' portraits of the vice presidential selection process by both candidates. For Obama, after a meticulous screening, it came down to Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, and the ultimate selection, Delaware Senator Joe Biden. The verbose statesman agreed to stick to the script as a condition of joining the ticket, and a late race slip aside, he mostly accomplished what many considered the impossible.

McCain, on the other hand, pursued a by the seat of his pants strategy typical of his personality. He favored crossing the aisle and selecting Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman as his wingman in a double-down national security team. This may have even included a one-term promise to make certain that control of the presidency wouldn't change parties in the case of his death in office. Concerns about further alienating the conservative base led his selection team away from the losing 2000 VP candidate. The safe option was Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (a prospective 2012 candidate in his own right), but the unknown son of a truck driver from a blue state didn't represent the "game change" McCain sought, and probably needed to pull off the upset.

He then shocked the world by elevating first term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to the VP perch. She was a late entry who impressed McCain's selection team with her steely nerves, but damaging details surfaced almost immediately as the press "discovered" the 49th state, Troopergate, and Bristol Palin's pregnancy. She delivered a stunning speech at the Republican convention, but it was all downhill from there, punctuated by her successive slayings in national interviews by Charlie Gibson, and especially, Katie Couric.

It's an understatement to say that Palin's portrayal in the media throughout the campaign and in the 15 months since Election Day has been disastrous, but Game Change delivers yet another devastating blow. She was clearly in over her head, surrounded by stacks of notecards containing factoids that should have been old hat to any candidate aspiring to stand a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. Her debate preparations for her single standoff were startling in their elementary nature. She refused to even eat, and some in the campaign feared that she might have to at minimum cancel, or even withdraw from the race entirely.

Only a late flight to McCain's Sedona ranch and a reunion with her family boosted her spirits. Palin somehow survived her exchange with the seasoned Biden as both played gently and spared the race of yet another "game change." Her endurance aside, even Palin's most devoted fans would have a hard time believing that she remains presidential timber, at least at this juncture, after encountering this troubling account.

The authors selected an apt title for this best-selling volume, but it probably should be reworded in the plural. The thesis isn't premised on a single game change, but several. What they put forth is a campaign narrative constructed by the media. Whenever this script is altered, a "game change" supposedly surfaces.

Obama's Iowa win made him the inevitable candidate until Clinton came back in New Hampshire five days later. The former Illinois Senator had the nomination wrapped up in February after a string of post-Super Tuesday wins, yet Clinton found traction once more with wins in Ohio and Texas. Obama's "race speech" stood as a defining moment until Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary. Obama sealed the deal with a victory in the North Carolina primary and a narrow defeat in Indiana on the same day, but Clinton won the West Virginia primary by a stunning 40 points. To quote Yogi Berra, this race wasn't over until it was over, no matter how many times the talking heads told us so. And this was just one side of the coin.

While I confess that Game Change was a thrilling read for this incorrigible junkie, it also speaks to a media culture that revels in its own self-importance and plays a disproportionate role in political outcomes. The "media primary" is alive and well as the party has largely stepped aside and left it to the pundits to vet would be office-seekers over the course of a protracted campaign. Its positioning in the general election was equally pivotal, and probably a sign of things to come in 2012 and beyond.

Heilemann and Halperin contend that Game Change coalesced on the dual assumptions that we witnessed "as riveting and historic a spectacle as modern politics has ever produced," and that the story behind these headlines was not told. No disputing the former contention, but the latter is highly debatable. We knew enough about Michelle and Barack, Hillary and Bill, John and Cindy, and Sarah and Todd to consider them close acquaintances. Game Change arguably elevates them to family, and allows two accomplished journalists to put their own presidential experiences to bed.

Nowadays, all of the jokes in a romantic comedy are seemingly packed in the trailer. We flock into the movie theater, laugh a couple of times, but leave disappointed. Game Change represents a close parallel. Media coverage close to its release informed us of Harry Reid's racially-tinged missteps, John Edwards' mistress, and Bill Clinton's continued philandering. These revelations aside, Game Change largely sticks to a familiar script. It offers a rich narrative of memories ingrained somewhere in the back of our brains. For the politically obsessed among us, it allows us to finally lay the game-changing 2008 presidential election to rest.

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State Secrets?

By Dave A
I'm torn. Secret governments or open governments? It doesn't seem like it should be a tough choice. I'm forced to think about this because of yet another important story from the Chicago Tribune. Today the Tribune reported that many of Illinois' 59 senators participated in a private (no members of the public or press were allowed) "joint caucus" to hear presentations on budgeting and the economy from national experts ( Legislative leaders from both parties claimed this gathering, while rare, is perfectly legal. Presumably they were silent on whether it violated good governance principles. It seems to me that once again, our elected officials are demonstrating their contempt for those they govern by acting in secret. Whether it's private meetings by the party leaders to determine the marching orders which become law with little or no public debate or endless denials of Freedom of Information Requests, Illinois elected and appointed officials routinely act as if they are our masters rather than our public servants.

If I feel so strongly, why am I torn on this issue? Simply put, I'm fond of pointing out periodically that our founding fathers met in secret in Philadelphia during the Constitutional Convention. In fact, they went so far as to post guards and they closed windows (during a sweltering summer in a time before air conditioning) to enable that generation of leaders to speak frankly without worry that an eavesdropper or member of the press might embarrass them. This gathering yielded, arguably, one the greatest political documents ever written and the brilliant and dedicated men who wrote it recognized how politics might preempt their efforts and they took the bold, anti-democratic, step of debating in private. The results (save for the shameful compromise on slavery) were, in my mind, miraculous and a gift to mankind.

With that said, I think the Illinois legislative leaders erred. We live in a time of deep discontent and dissatisfaction with government officials at the same time (or perhaps because of the fact) that government has never before in America had as much control over each of our lives than it does now. Our government is established "of the people, by the people and for the people" and to leave people out of vital discussions on budget and economic issues when the state is in deep debt and near fiscal ruin, simply doesn't serve Illinois citizens. The founding fathers got away with meeting in secrecy but it's important to note that they weren't operating under a law which mandates that government meetings be open to the public. These laws serve the vital purpose of exposing elected and appointed officials to the illumination of transparency - they help build confidence in the system by exposing logic and illogic, altruism and personal gain. Ultimately, transparency requires them to articulate their beliefs, ask their questions and vote in a way that their masters - the public - have a chance to measure their decisions and capabilities. Had the founders had such a law, I've no doubt that they'd have followed it though I acknowledge it might have changed their work-product.

Of course, this isn't all theory. The practical impact of this is the precedent this sets for future legislative actions. What other secret meetings will be justified with the same rationale (a "joint caucus")? How far can they take it? It's important for each of us to decide for ourselves what we expect of our leaders and how we intend to hold them accountable.

I vote for no more state secrets. How about you?


By Shawn Healy
I have long admired the work of political scientist Morris Fiorina, for he manages to bridge the divide between academia and practical politics better than anyone else in the field. His three-decade old retrospective voting model remains a paramount explanation for individual voting behavior at a macro level. More recently, Fiorina confronted what he considers a false Red State-Blue State paradigm in Culture War?, where he disproves that the 2004 presidential election was decided on "gays, God, and guns." Disconnect (Oklahoma U. Press, 2009, 196pp) is the latest installment of a research project contending that political polarization is elite-driven and not reflected in the general electorate.

His basic argument suggests that we correlate voters' decisions to back liberal and conservative candidates with ideological alignment, yet most of us don't hold extreme positions on any number of issues, abortion most prominent among them. Moreover, our worldviews lack the clarity of the political class, and we fail to line up uniformly behind ideologically coherent party platforms. Thus the "disconnect" between the wider electorate and the ruling political class.

Fiorina attributes the current fiercely polarized political environment to a plethora of factors. While the regional sorting by party that encompassed Republican replacement of conservative Democrats in the South, and Democratic takeovers of seats formerly held by moderate and liberal Republicans in the Northeast and Midwest, explains about one-third of contemporary polarization, additional and less heralded factors account for the balance.

Robert Putnam famously documents the decline of civic organizations in Bowling Alone, and Fiorina argues that these heterogeneous and inclusive organizations were replaced by more homogeneous and exclusive single-interest groups. Abortion, environmental, and religious groups are among the most prominent examples. Rather than stimulating civic engagement and integrating their members into politics, these emerging groups fan the flames of partisan animosity and for the most part engage their members in mere check-writing causes to further their exploits.

Fiorina also claims that the stakes of winning and losing have increased in today's political environment, further stoking partisan animosity. The irony is that the field of political science, the author included, long called for "responsible party government" where the two major parties offered distinctive platforms and upon victory implemented their entire agenda. Then, during the next election cycle, voters would be the ultimate judges of their success or lack thereof. Their writing accompanied the 1960's and 1970's when the two parties were relatively heterogeneous ideologically and their overall power in relative decline.

The scene changed during the Reagan years and perhaps most prominently in 1994 when Republicans recaptured Congress for the first time in a generation, effectively nationalizing an election under the "Contract with America." Parties and partisanship returned in full force, alternating between unified party control and gridlock. In retrospect, Fiorina prefers the earlier era he once lamented, contending that it was at least friendlier and perhaps not less productive.

Most disappointing is Fiorina's failure to illuminate means of breaking this partisan stalemate. Legislative redistricting, the merits of it withstanding, is by no means the panacea that many of its proponents lay claim. The same holds true for campaign finance reform. Fiorina even allows that it may perpetuate the problem given its protection of ideological incumbents. Party primaries, though the most often attract an unrepresentative sample of the electorate, yield little discernible difference in this respect when their open and closed varieties are placed side-by-side for the sake of comparison.

Fiorina does offer the prospect that the hot issues of the day may soon recede into the rearview mirror of history. Among them are the lingering cultural clashes of the 1960's, the current anti-immigrant fervor, and the changing nature of what formerly constituted the "religious right." He also makes way for a transformational figure, and sincerely hopes that President Obama is that man. Early returns predict quite the opposite, as he may prove every bit the "divider" of his predecessor.


Life Support for Lieutenant Governor

By Shawn Healy
In the last quarter-century, 24 lieutenant governors have been promoted to chief executives of their respective states, 14 on account of the career advancements of their predecessors (see Clinton, Bill, and Bush, George W.), 5 due to scandal-imposed resignations (see Blagojevich, Rod), and the other 5 death-related. Since statehood, 7 Illinois Lieutenant Governors, Pat Quinn included, were elevated for various reasons.

The modern office is a product of the revised 1970 state constitution when the Lieutenant Governor position was forever tied to the candidacy of the gubernatorial candidate atop the ticket, avoiding split ticket scenarios like the one in 1968 that paired Republican Governor Richard Ogilvie with a Democratic Lieutenant, the iconic Paul Simon. From this point forward, the two candidates ran as a team, though they (mostly) ran independent of one another in the party primary that set the ticket. Moreover, they forever divorced the Lieutenant Governor from his or her perch as President of the State Senate, removing the last vestiges of formal authority tied to the office. He lays the crux of the current dilemma facing both parties in Illinois.

It is important to acknowledge that these problems are not unique to Illinois. Wisconsin State Senator Alan Lasee described the duties of Lieutenant Governor as “…sitting around, waiting for the current officeholder to pass on or leave town.” Our federal system enables great variability across states, some allowing split tickets, others enabling gubernatorial candidates to select their own running mates, and a few doing away with the position altogether.

The powers associated with the seat span from Texas’ elevation of the second-in-command to the co-equal of the chief executive, while others are left to languish in a spiral of pet projects and lost causes. While the vice presidency has risen in importance with the succession of accomplished and empowered number twos (Gore, Cheney, now Biden), most of their state counterparts occupy an office equivalent to what former Vice President John Nance Garner once said equated in worth to little more than a “bucket of warm spit.” Some suggest that history substituted “spit” for an even more unsavory word.

The diminished profile of the Lieutenant Governor position in Illinois established, it should then come as little surprise that the race for the respective nominations of both parties drew little attention from the news media and voters alike until the fruits of our labors (of lack thereof) led to the elevation of two political neophytes, one with more than his share of personal baggage. The unsavory past of former Democratic nominee Scott Lee Cohen has been well-profiled elsewhere, eclipsing the victory of Republican nominee Jason Plummer, a 27-year old lumber company executive employed by his family’s firm. Both candidates spent lavishly and thus bested arguably more qualified candidates in crowded fields.

Democratic State Representative Art Turner was endorsed by both major Chicago newspapers, while the Tribune picked Republican State Senator Matt Murphy, and the Sun-Times downstate Mayor Brad Cole. Murphy was Andy McKenna’s running mate and was just eclipsed by Plummer at the finish line, while Turner probably split votes with rival State Senator Ricky Herndon, allowing Cohen to vault ahead by flaunting his credentials as a “small businessman” and job fair host.

The gubernatorial, U.S. Senate, and county board races gulped their share of print headlines and broadcast features, a reflection of their political power and statewide prominence. The news media industry in a large metropolitan region like Chicagoland simply lacks the resources to cover downballot races, most often because of the multitude of districts that cut across their readership and broadcast reach. The Lieutenant Governor’s office, while claiming statewide scope, remains out of the limelight unless the Governor is indicted, imprisoned, or falls ill.

It took only a day before Cohen’s triumph attracted its own share of the headlines and column inches. When it became clear that Governor Pat Quinn would be forced to run alongside an accused domestic-abusing, prostitute-attracting, steroid-using deadbeat dad, Cohen’s exit from the race was all but inevitable. Speculation over and the scramble for his eventual replacement is the story this week, but the larger issue of the position’s utility lingers in the snow-filled February air.

State Representative Lou Lang has proposed that gubernatorial candidates hereafter select their own running mates just as President Obama picked Vice President Biden and Senator John McCain selected former Governor Sarah Palin. State Representative Bill Mitchell takes reform one step further and kills the position altogether. His constitutional amendment would terminate the office by 2011, saving the state an estimated $2.5 million annually.

Before panic sets in amongst the electorate, five states already make do without the office (Oregon, Arizona, Wyoming, New Hampshire and Maine), and others are contemplating similar death knells, including Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who would make the Secretary in State his next-in-line successor. I should also note that Illinois has “survived” without a Number Two since last February.

In sum, the latest political crisis in Illinois is once more one of our own making. We can either A, reform the selection process through which we nominate lieutenant governors and/ or enhance the power of the position, or B, eliminate the office altogether. Otherwise, option C will continue to haunt us. Below the radar candidates will rise, their skeletons hidden in the closet until it is too late, battling for a meaningless office that rises to importance only because of its association with the candidacy of an elevated stripe that has a notorious track record for sending a series of placeholders to prison. Scott Lee Cohen and Jason Plummer thus stand as natural outgrowths of a disjointed and erroneously prioritized process.


Primary Postmortem

By Shawn Healy
It’s perhaps fitting that the 2010 Illinois primary was held on Groundhog’s Day given that the outcome in both parties’ gubernatorial races remained uncertain through this morning with the prospect of mutual “do-overs.” Acknowledging that neither the Democratic nor Republican Party produced clear winners, and that a number of absentee and provisional ballots have yet to be counted, not the mention the prospect of a “discovery” recount, the balance of this piece will work with the assumption that incumbent Governor Pat Quinn will represent the Democrats this fall against Republican State Senator Bill Brady.

Quinn is currently a little more than 8,000 votes ahead of Comptroller Dan Hynes, who conceded and pledged his support to the incumbent this morning. The incumbent emerges scarred from a brutal two-way brawl marred by negative advertising that arguably had the effect of turning potential voters off entirely. Two weeks ago, Quinn staggered as Hynes brought Harold Washington back from the dead to question his executive competence, but Quinn counterpunched by accusing Dan Hynes of malfeasance in the Burr Oaks Cemetery scandal. The comptroller may have employed with the uppercut one week too soon as the governor appeared to regain his swagger in the final hours of the campaign, enough to cling to power for at least another nine months, as he struck the continual chord of “jobs” alongside a continued barrage of jabs at his opponent.

However, it goes without saying that Quinn is a wounded incumbent in a year where they are ripe for the picking from coast to coast. He barely eked out a majority over an opponent who ran a relatively lethargic campaign, as Democratic primary voters sent a message that Quinn’s first year in office was wobbly at best. He has until November to further polish his credentials and restore the luster he carried into an office his two predecessors forever tarnished.

Quinn’s strongest trump card may be the fact that his fall opponent is still to be determined. Brady leads fellow State Senator Kirk Dillard by a mere 400 votes, and a recount is probable. This could take weeks or even months, shattering Republican unity and undermining their best shot at the Governor’s Mansion in more than a decade.

The six Republican candidates split the vote almost proportionately, with five of them exceeding 14% and Brady leading the pack at 20.3%, a tenth of a percent ahead of Dillard. Brady was the only downstate candidate and benefited from the fact that he owned the Land of Lincoln south of I-80, the Springfield area excepted. Three DuPage County candidates (Dillard, Jim Ryan, and Adam Andrzejewski) and two Chicagoans (Andy McKenna and Dan Proft) fought fiercely on regional turf and diluted one another’s support.

The Republican race was characterized by funding shortfalls across the board with the exception of former state party chairman Andy McKenna. A late entrant to the race, he aired clever ads early on, playing off of Rod Blagojevich’s ridiculous pompadour as symbolic of Springfield corruption, to raise his statewide profile. With name recognition came a reciprocal rise in the polls, and McKenna then turned on his top challengers, first relegating Ryan to and out-of-the-money fourth place finish and then pivoting to Dillard late in the race when internal polls predicted a late charge.

While McKenna secured only a costly third place show for himself, he sent Ryan into a second political retirement and likely forced Dillard to fight for victory in the courtroom. Meanwhile, Brady built a strong southern turnout operation and vaulted himself unscathed into an apparent below-the-radar, come-from-behind victory, leaving Chicago area residents to ask yesterday in unison, “Who is this guy?”

I’ll recuse myself from making a premature November prediction and conclude by lamenting the low voter turnout witnessed statewide on Tuesday. Sure, the early primary date and two inches of snow share partial blame, as the state power brokers recognized the incumbency advantages of mid-winter polling first established to propel the favorite son presidential candidacy of Barack Obama. Also in play is the record voter turnout in the fall 2008 election, inflating voter registration lists and making Tuesday’s showing appear proportionately small.

I would suggest that the largest factor was a slate of candidates, particularly at the top of the ticket, who failed to inspire and whose nominees have much to prove in the nine-month slog to the general election that lies ahead of this February fog. Haven’t we witnessed this before?


Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at