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Thursday, May 7, 2015 12:01 am

No time to talk

Rauner continues tradition of dodging the press

Gov. Bruce Rauner


Last week was a turbulent one in the media for Gov. Bruce Rauner. He dodged questions from journalists, took questions from union adversaries, and held a press conference for an empty room.

Rauner’s administration has been careful about limiting media access literally from day one. But one longtime media observer says the governor is following a pattern that started with impeached former governor Rod Blagojevich.

Last week, Rauner made an appearance at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) conference in Chicago. After speaking to a room full of journalists for 15 minutes, he made a quick exit without taking any questions.

Jeffrey Kanige, editor-in-chief of the financial news website TheDeal.com said Rauner would have been better off not showing up at all.

“I understand he’s a busy man,” Kanige said. “Don’t agree to appear in front of a bunch of journalists if you’re not willing to take questions.”

The journalists at the SABEW conference were somewhat shaken by the governor’s refusal to take questions, but it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise to reporters covering the Capitol beat.

Media advisories for Rauner’s inauguration were mostly open to the press, but a handful of events were restricted access, only allowing one news outlet in. Out of the nearly 200 public events the governor has attended since then, nearly two thirds have been announced to the press with a note reading, “No additional media availability.”

The governor’s office told Illinois Times he has done 113 interviews so far this year, about 40 more than what was found in his public schedule. That number includes one-on-one interviews and meetings with editorial boards.

Rauner’s allergy to the media is not limited to how much he is willing to answer questions. During his comments at the Illinois Department of Transportation’s (IDOT) listening tour at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield last week, he said his “Turnaround Agenda” was in bill form, but as of press time, the bills constituting his agenda have not been made public. There are, however, working groups wherein legislators engage in high-level discussion and debate about the bills behind closed doors.

The IDOT event was also where Rauner found himself answering a question from one of the union officials whose organization Rauner has spent much of his governorship vilifying. Last week also saw Rauner signing a bill that would allow the Obama Presidential Library to come to Chicago. He signed the bill in an empty room in front of a camera.

Charlie Wheeler, director of the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois Springfield, says Rauner’s media avoidance isn’t surprising.

“He is less accessible than any of the people that I dealt with as a reporter,” Wheeler said. “But back in the day, it was a whole different environment; you didn’t have candidates and officeholders so surrounded by the image-makers and the shapers and handlers keeping them on message, standing as a roadblock to the media.”

Wheeler said that when he was a Capitol reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, it wasn’t unheard of for a governor to take a stroll through the press offices and chat with the reporters there.

Wheeler thinks the change is the result of a move by the Blagojevich administration, when all of the state’s public information officers were consolidated under the state Department of Central Management Services. Instead of being based in the offices of the departments they represented, they were moved to two offices: one in the Thompson Center in Chicago and one in the Stratton Building in Springfield. Wheeler said that’s when the offices became less about providing information and more about selling the administration’s message.

“So much of political life has become, I would say, infected by the image-shapers,” Wheeler said. “It makes it difficult for a reporter, and it makes it, I think, harder for individual people to know what’s going on.”

Contact Alan Kozeluh at intern@illinoistimes.com.


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