Sen. Mark Kirk’s campaign aggressively pushed back Friday against allegations the Illinois Republican verbally and physically abused staff, two days before The Chicago Tribune is expected to publish such claims.
In an unusual pre-emptive strike, Kirk’s campaign manager Kevin Artl provided his correspondence with veteran Tribune investigative reporter Todd Lighty, along with supplemental materials, to state political site Capitol Fax. Artl dismissed the anticipated story to Capitol Fax as “terrible journalism written by a biased reporter.”
Tribune editor Gerould Kern said in a statement Friday that Kirk's campaign and the conduct of his office "are subjects of legitimate inquiry" and the paper "stands fully behind" Lighty.
"We will not comment on unpublished reporting, but we can say that the Kirk campaign has wholly mischaracterized Lighty’s diligence and thoroughness," Kern said. "Lighty has been direct, open and honest at all times with the Kirk staff in his reporting. He is a meticulous and professional journalist. Good reporters ask tough questions. We will not allow the Kirk campaign to attack unchallenged the professionalism and integrity of Lighty and the Tribune."
Campaign pushback is nothing new, but typically such rebuttals come after publication. When asked about this pre-emptive strategy, Artl told HuffPost the campaign felt that Tribune's version of events was "flawed" and therefore "wanted to get our facts out in advance."
Some of the alleged incidents include Kirk berating one staffer and giving another the middle finger, according to a memo Artl provided to Capitol Fax. The campaign manager wrote that Lighty had "identified four staffers whom he says were verbally or physically abused, however staffers involved have said the incidents never occurred.”
For instance, Artl offered as evidence an affidavit from Patrick Campion, a former staffer who is purportedly an on-the-record source for the Tribune article. In the affidavit, Campion said he never found Kirk to be physically or verbally abuse. Artl provided additional materials to rebut other anticipated claims of abuse.
Kirk's campaign brought concerns about the forthcoming story to Tribune management earlier this month.
In a Sept. 11 letter, Artl wrote that Lighty “crossed the line from acceptable aggressive reporting to harassment of people who aren’t telling what he wants to hear.”
To demonstrate what the campaign considers harassment, Artl provided a list of people Lighty contacted and the number of calls or text messages they received. The list included not only several former and current staffers, but also indicated the reporter called Kirk's 79-year-old mother and his sister multipe times.
Artl threatened in the letter that if Lighty continued to "harass" the senator's family and "print any falsehoods without a reasonable basis to believe them accurate — the Kirk for Senate campaign will not hesitate to avail itself of all available."
This story has been updated to include comment from the Tribune.