By Tim Kiska
This has already been a lousy week for journalism.
Jon Yinger, a religious broadcaster from the Flint area, filed a complaint with the Congressional Ethics Committee, alleging that Congressman Dale Kildee was involved in a sexual abuse case 50 years ago.
An anonymous caller alerted the news media during the weekend that “something big” was up with Kildee—a 17-term congressman who retires next year. Initially, that “something big” was a weird, thinly-sourced blog, posted late last week.
No names – other than the alleged abuse victim was named Patrick. No names of family members. The alleged victim’s father (again, no name) apparently made a death-bed confession to a priest. No ID of the priest. Not a lot to go on. But that was enough for The Washington Times to send a camera crew to pursue Kildee at an airport. “You do realize how serious this is? … Are you concerned about your legacy?” the interviewer asked, in the “Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife?” style of interrogation.
And the right-wing blogosphere went on fire.
By Sunday night, the story had leached into the mainstream media. Backed into a corner, Kildee had to respond. The accusing family is Big Trouble. They were trying to blackmail him. Kildee even posted the family’s own audio tape, in which the topic blackmail is discussed. “Republicans tried to peddle these scurrilous allegations during my last congressional race and authorities and reputable news outlets rejected these false allegations,” he wrote.
He was right then. Nobody serious picked up the story. But he’s wrong now, because it’s everywhere this week: Atop Google: “Rep. Dale Kildee Accused of Incestuous Sexual Abuse.” Atop The New York Daily News: “Dale Kildee, Michigan rep, accused of sex abuse.” (This, despite the fact that the blogger who broke the story, Susan Bradford, now tells the Flint Journal that she’s “uncomfortable” with the story.)
So how did this sordid story make the leap from the right-wing fringe to mainstream journalism?
Who is this guy who says Dale Kildee molested him? Nobody but Jon Yinger could get to him until Saginaw’s WNEM-TV found him for a chat. Patrick has been diagnosed as a manic depressive schizophrenic. There are so many holes in Yinger’s initial telling that he’d be road kill for any city editor I’ve ever worked for. Still, the denial is being picked up, and being used against Kildee.
The mainstream media took the congressman’s statement as bait, using it as a way of getting into a story they’d never touch in the past.
Democrats think the Republicans are using this to sink Kildee’s nephew, Dan, who is running for his uncle’s old job. In other words: The Republicans were out to get Dan, but old Uncle Dale was collateral damage. A month ago, nobody would have touched the story. But we live in a post-Jerry Sandusky world.
These days, anybody who whispers the word “child molester” – true or not – can get a hearing. What we may have here is the use of the Internet and journalism as an instrument of destruction.
It’s going to be a long and bloody political year.
- TIM KISKA-