Even in the cutthroat world of television news, competitors can agree on one thing: Covering the Dennis Hastert story is not a fun assignment.
“The underlying support of this case is so awful,” Fox News Channel Correspondent Mike Tobin told TVNewser outside the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago Tuesday. “It kind of leaves you with a bad feeling at the end of the day.”
ABC’s Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross agrees. He tells TVNewser the case is an important story nonetheless. “Here’s a person who held great power in this country and had, according to what the FBI says, this dark secret. And now it’s come out.”
Ross and Tobin were part of a massive media presence that greeted the former Speaker of the House as he arrived via a black sedan for his arraignment. He pleaded not guilty. The site has become all-too-familiar to television viewers who just a few years ago followed the Rod Blagojevich saga at the same location.
“These Illinois politicians are the gift that keeps on giving,” says Tobin, adding that covering the former Governor was a different type of story, however, “because Blagojevich was so goofy and colorful.”
The mood is quite different this time around, particularly in the aftermath of a bombshell interview last week Ross conducted with Jolene Burdge. Her late brother, Steve Rienboldt, was a Yorkville High School graduate whom Burdge says had been a victim of Hastert’s sexual abuse.
The interview was nine years in the making. Burdge initially contacted ABC News nearly a decade ago with an off-the-record tip. She “wouldn’t go on-the-record,” recalls Ross, “and we couldn’t take it any further…There just wasn’t enough at that time for us to go with it.”
But as news broke last month of Hastert’s indictment, Ross says his producer Rhonda Schwartz dug into her old story files and was able to track down Burdge in Montana, where she now lives.
“We flew out there and persuaded her – at first, she was reluctant – and then persuaded her to come on-camera and make her allegations.”
This kind of “cold case,” as Ross calls it – involving a tip that can’t be fleshed out – happens quite a bit in his line of work. But the leads never become “closed.” “We always keep an eye on them.”
(Photos: Alissa Krinsky)