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Friday, June 25, 2004  

News and analysis: Jack hits the road

Jack Ryan has officially withdrawn as the Republican nominee to the Senate from Illinois. Ryan, who sought to conceal seamy allegations about his sex life, blamed his inability to remain in the race on the media. His opponent, Democrat Barack Obama, has chosen not to comment on the scandal. USA Today has Ryan's parting remarks.

"The media has gotten out of control. The fact that the Chicago Tribune sues for access to sealed custody documents and then takes unto itself the right to publish details of a custody dispute over the objections of two parents who agree that the re-airing of their arguments will hurt their ability to co-parent their child and will hurt their child is truly outrageous.

"The debate between competing visions and philosophies is a vital one one the voters of Illinois absolutely deserve. Elections, after all, are about choices. But it's clear to me that a vigorous debate on the issues most likely could not take place if I remain in the race.

"What would take place, rather, is a brutal, scorched-earth campaign — the kind of campaign that has turned off so many voters, the kind of politics I refuse to play.

Accordingly, I am today withdrawing from the race."

Ryan has claimed he wanted his divorce records sealed, a very unusual step, because his son has 'special needs.' However, the material a California judge allowed to be released, a small part of the record, revealed intriguing information about Ryan himself, not the boy. Actress Jeri Ryan, his ex, alleges Jack Ryan took her to sex clubs on four occasions and asked that she engage in sexual activity while other people watched. Ryan disavows the allegations.

Party leaders were angered by Ryan's denial, up until the divorce files were opened, that the material contained any embarrassing revelations. They believe he knowingly misled them.

Despite a thorough reading of news and opinion about Ryan's predicament, I found few people who accepted his alibi for attempting to block the release of the material. Instead, the effort to shield himself with his son backfired, leading to negative assessments of Ryan's character.

Ryan's withdrawal statement also is an exercise in blame shifting, in my opinion. He takes no responsibility for having created the circumstances he finds himself in. Such an admission could attach to the unseemly behavior alleged by Jeri Ryan, his efforts to prevent the release of the material in the court files or his failure to be candid with party officials. All three opportunities to atone were ignored. Instead, Ryan attempts to shift the blame to the media. It has been clear since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), that a higher standard of conduct is expected of public officials than of ordinary citizens. The consideration they pay for receiving privileges not offered to the average Joe or Jane is having less privacy and being subject to more public criticism without grounds for complaint. Ryan, a Harvard Law School graduate, should have been well aware that as as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, he was a public figure. He should have known that being a public figure means having his behavior scrutinized by the media. I doubt he is ignorant of his legal status, so I must assume he is dissembling.

Jack Ryan left investment banking after becoming a multimillionaire. He taught at a Catholic school for boys for three years. During his campaign, youths from the all-black school were used as props in Ryan's public appearances and a television ad. I am curious to see whether Ryan returns to teaching or returns to accumulating wealth. The imbroglio over his divorce records appears to have been an effort of damage control he began years ago when his marriage was on the rocks. He knew then that he wanted a career in politics and planned accordingly -- getting his divorce records sealed. Is Ryan's supposed altruism another maneuver meant to profit his hoped for political career? Time will tell.

5:10 PM