I grew up reading the Milwaukee Journal. Every evening, in a small town 70 miles north of the city, my dad and I would settle in after dinner and read all or part of the then-afternoon paper. It was then one of the great newspapers in the country.
How the mighty have fallen.
After floundering and failing to recover its quality and prestige through the '70s and '80's, the Journal merged with the more raw and right-wing Sentinel in the '90s -- both were owned by the same company, anyway. While the merged paper looks like the Journal, it has become even more right-wing than the sensationalist Sentinel ever was.
The most blatant example was and is school "choice", in which millions of public school dollars have been squandered on mediocre-to-lousy private schools, some run by charlatans and thieves. The Journal Sentinel has lavished praise on the program and its conflicted promoters, in spite of absolutely no signs of progress or the promised deliverance of poor children from lousy schools.
As a corporation, Journal Communications Inc. has gobbled up every local paper in the state and controls some of the state's most powerful radio and TV stations. The radio station, WTMJ, is the only clear-channel station in the state and has evolved, as so many AM stations have, into all wing-nut commentary (when not running sports). This runs the gamut from the smug local Bradley Foundation mouthpiece Charlie Sykes to racist fire-thrower Michael Savage.
With circulation continuing the spiral downward, the only newspaper left in town has apparently decided to go wing-nut in its news pages, chasing the same angry-white guy that have flocked to their radio station. The paper often takes its lead from talk-radio, where straw men are constructed and non-issues are inflamed.
This Republican slant to the news is almost embarrassingly stark in this year's race for governor of Wisconsin. The incumbent, Democrat Jim Doyle, is being challenged by Mark Green, a Congressman from up north who has spent the last five years in Bush's lap.
The coverage has been truly incredible. Everything bad for Green is buried in the back sections. Everything good for Green -- including a meaningless Green proposal on stem cell research, the product of a press release, basically -- runs above-the-fold on Page One. The front page screams if any Doyle aide is discovered to have used the phone to get anything done. Green's many contacts with Jack Abramoff and his use of industry flacks to draft his campaign proposals is stuffed in the back pages or not covered at all.
The J-S Green-for-Governor campaign reached it's most outrageous point this week, when a judge ruled that, not only was the State Elections Board correct to order Green to return over $400,000 that he illegally transfer from his federal congressional funds; he also should return $1.3 million because the transfer was also contrary to federal law. The J-S played it on Page One, alright, but put some incredible spin on it, headlining and leading with the predictable fact that Green would appeal.
The outrages continued later in the week, and I decided to enter a dialog with the Journal Sentinel editors:
As if yesterday’s coverage of Mark Green’s loss from protecting his illegal money in court – leading with Green’s vow to appeal rather than more important story and details of the ruling itself – the all-Green-all-the-time coverage by the Journal Sentinel continues. The Journal Sentinel is losing a lot of its credibility and its soul on this race. Is it worth it?
In today’s paper alone, the following headlines:
"Face-off over Green's bill -- Sensenbrenner blamed for holdup"
Story: Mark Green introduced a sanctimonious bill about cock- and dog-fighting over a year-and-a-half ago and couldn’t get it through a Congress run with an iron fist by his own party. Mean old Jim Sensenbrenner stands in the way, still. And is it a “face-off” when nothing is scheduled on the bill and Green is just whimpering on the sideline, through press-releases and compliant Journal Sentinel editors? It is important, though, as Congress gets out of town this week to remind our readers, in big headlines on page A-3, how much Green has done to pretend to care about cock- and dog-fighting.
"Green's anti-Doyle TV ad may pack a punch"
Story: The Journal Sentinel jumps into ad-war analysis for the first time this year, just in time to praise Green’s first official foray into name-calling. It doesn’t hurt that the J-S has provided the fodder for much of the ad’s misleading claims. The Green ad is compared not to Doyle’s classy and truthful official ads that have been running for some time about Green’s illegal money, but rather to an amateurish ad by an outside group; “a supposedly independent group”, a precedent-breaking slice of skepticism that we’ll look forward to seeing in future reviews of GOP-inspired smear ads. Indeed, Green’s ads “may pack a punch”, especially when they are promoted in the J-S news pages and on talk radio, where they are playing audio from the ad for free. The only surprise here is that the J-S didn’t find room for this important piece of biased reporting above the fold on Page One.
"Residents feel better about state, poll says"
Story: No kidding? In an election year with an incumbent governor? Reading further, it appears the same survey came up with Doyle still leading Green by 5 points. And, it was done by a right-wing group, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, that can usually always get the results it wants. But facts and perceptions are stubborn things, are they not? Let’s hope no one notices. By all means, hide it on Page B-3. You can bet contrary results and Green actually gaining on Doyle for a change would have been on the front page.
"Doyle promises state funds to boost biofuels"
Story: Well, it’s not exactly cock- and dog-fighting, is it? How boring – Doyle continuing to take the state forward in important areas. How far back can we stick this on the business page? (Answer: D-3)
Bottom Line: In coverage and story placement, the Journal Sentinel has decided to be an incredulous shill for Mark Green against Jim Doyle. And I can already see the spin after Green loses: the GOP put up an inadequate, damaged candidate, which is the only reason the corrupt Doyle administration is allowed to continue. The Green loss will be all the more unfathomable, considering all that free help from the Journal Sentinel.
I didn't hear back from them yesterday, and my answer came in the newspaper this morning. I wrote again:
Wow. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has followed up on the judge’s ruling that Mark Green has to give back $467,844, as ordered by the State Elections Board, by filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission that Green give up over twice as much – almost 1.3 million! – because of his violation of federal law. This has got to be Big News, right?
Not according to the Journal Sentinel. Once again the paper has buried a negative story about Green’s campaign on page B-3. I suppose if Green had somehow “appealed” the complaint or at least “vowed to fight”, that would have been the lead on Page One. But, since he might lose this one (too), the J-S sticks it way on the inside. “Federal clarification of Green move sought,” the sub-head says. Whoa. Easy, Journal Sentinel. You wouldn’t want anyone to notice such a bold move. If it were Doyle who was alleged to have violated federal law, just imagine the headline, not to mention the story placement.
The story does, however, bring back the voice of Mike McCabe, who was often quoted and cited in anti-Doyle stories in the past, but has been remarkably silent on the J-S pages since the illegal Green money has been exposed. This, even though he brought the complaint to the State Elections Board in the first place.
And how about that Elections Board? The Journal Sentinel’s bigger election story on B-1 promises more than it delivers. Apparently hoping people read just the headlines, the article about the “advice” of the Elections Board “evolving” cites only two previous instances, with only one – involving Tom Barrett – even roughly similar to the issue at hand with Green. In addition, the Board doesn’t give “advice” – it rules on the application of state law. Just because the Board was wrong about Barrett (the notion of Republican voting to allow the transfer to prop up the weaker opposition candidate is unconvincingly pooh-poohed in the article) doesn’t mean they have to make the same mistake again. As the judge ruled just this week (a fact buried in your “Green will appeal” story), the Elections Board happened to be right in demanding that Green give the money back, no matter how they might have got there.
The Journal-Sentinel continues to disappoint in its biased election coverage.
I did get some indication today that they might run some of this as a Letter to the Editor, but I'm sure that won't be the end of the story.
I think this blog might take a local bent for a while. Let the truth be told.