Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Christian Schneider and the Shame of the Journal Sentinel

Americans for Prosperity -- a Dark Money front funded by the pollution-and-power-addicted Koch Brothers of Kansas and New York -- are active in Wisconsin again, not that they ever left.  Hours after a sweat-inducing poll a month ago showing that the race for Wisconsin governor is currently tied, the Walker campaign (no doubt) coordinated with AFP -- which is neither a group nor are the check-writers involved concerned in the least for anyone's "prosperity" but the Koch's -- to drop $866,000 in Wisconsin media markets on slick advertising with people and/or actors pretending to be pleased by the havoc wreaked on the state by Scott Walker and the radical Republicans in Madison in the past four years.

"$866,000, six months before the election," you think. "Boy, that's a lot."  But, in the post-Citizens United era of limitless Republican money and the post-Randa-approved (for now) coordination of resources and strategy between the Dark Money entities and Walker's 24/7/365 campaign, you ain't seen nothing yet.  $866K is what they call chuckle money in the depressing bowels and ivory towers of the right-wing hierarchy and the state capitol.  If anyone complains about that kind of spending, they chuckle. Haha, as the kids text.  If you think that kind of coordinated spending to promote the effort to fool Wisconsin into electing Walker again the least bit interesting, just wait.  You ain't seen nothing yet.

Yes, the well-coordinated Dark Money of the Kochs, the Bradley Foundation and other of the self-serving rich will flow again to Wisconsin for the rest of this year because wealthy billionaires and corporate interests want to keep Scott Walker ensconced in its previously proud governor's office to serve and do their bidding.  And, for the purpose of the campaign, they are willing to do his. But the obscene spending by the silver-spooned elites to promote their selfish, destructive agenda is not the worst of the poison that pervades the current political environment in state in general and the southeast Wisconsin in particular.

No, the worst element warping the state to the right is our very own Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  In its news pages and especially on its opinion pages, the biggest newspaper in the state has completely abdicated its responsibility to be an honest arbiter of political discussion.  Hiding behind a veneer of reasonableness by taking some weak-kneed progressive stances on issues that will never progress -- their constant harping on redistricting reform is hilarious, none more so than to GOP leaders in the Capitol, who laugh out loud every time they read another one -- the newspaper has been lurching rightward in its news coverage and -- especially -- the opinion pages for years.  By promoting the disaster that is school "choice", encouraging the decimation of local control and the Milwaukee County Board and otherwise standing on the sidelines while the radical Republicans run amok in Madison, the once-proud (at least the Journal half of it) paper is now just a willing and useful tool for the hard-right Walker regime.

Following in the footsteps of its parent company -- which runs wing-nut poison through its radio stations not only here but elsewhere in the country and promoting and funding the Right Wisconsin propaganda and Sykes-vanity website -- those running the newspaper also seem to think their future is in right wing advocacy and nonsense.  In the years since the Journal and Sentinel merged publication in 1995, the increasingly right-wing editorial board of the newspaper has jettisoned its few liberal voices like Joel McNally and Eugene Kane to the dustbin of forgotten columnists and not bothered to replace them with anyone with a consistently progressive perspective, much less anti-Walker or pro-Barrett (now Burke) sentiments.

Instead, in their place are white-hot right-wing Walker-coordinated extremists like Patrick McIlheran and, now, Christian Schneider.  As chief clown in the right-wing parade for much of the '00s, McIlheran had free reign at the paper to make up any old nonsense he wanted.  Of course, that was until the anti-government zealot left the paper to begin his career as a federal employee, working PR and putting words in the mouth of Sen. Ron Johnson, the biggest buffoon in a Wisconsin Senate seat since Bobby Kasten.  From their elitist perch in Washington, RoJo and McIlheran have gone on to make beautiful music together, to the amusement of all.

It was around the time of McIlerhan's flight to federal pay, benefits and pension that the paper started running talking-pointed Republican press releases under the name of "Christian Schneider" on its opinion pages.  Schneider -- who, according to his LinkedIn page has never worked in journalism and whose only political experience is as a flunky in the state Capitol as a staffer for various Republicans -- was working for a Dark Money entity, the Bradley-funded "think" tank WPRI at the time his columns first started appearing in the paper.  His columns then had a disclosure at the end that Schneider worked for WPRI, which the paper laughingly referred to as "a non-partisan organization".  They did the same with Mike Nichols, who now runs the same right-wing organization.  Under David Haynes, the opinion pages have been just in love with WPRI, even to the extent of covering up its true nature.

And now, Schneider is an official columnist with the paper.  Part time, supposedly, and not being paid by WPRI anymore. Supposedly. Getting paid by other right-wing moneybags? Probably.  I mean, they all get paid -- that's why they spout this unoriginal tripe that they are too smart to believe.  I have the inclination but not the time to research what else Schneider is up to.  But here's something interesting that pops up on his LinkIn page: He offered a recommendation to someone who worked at the Alabama Policy Institute "as a fellow think tank employee" in March 2013.  As you can see from the link, API appears to be a fairly typical GOP Dark Money conduit.  I don't know if he is still working there or if he was officially an employee of the paper when he was.  I also don't know if Journal Communications still has an outside employment policy -- that appears to have been trashed a long time ago by Charlie Sykes double-dipping at WPRI and god-knows-where-else.

From the beginning until now, Schneider has consistently toed the Republican/Walker party line of the moment, when he wasn't writing it and developing it himself.  Schneider columns have always a dreary consistency -- he starts with something off topic that he thinks is amusing before diving into the talking-pointed tripe. Engaging recently on FaceBook with J-S associate editorial page editor Ernst-Ulrich Franzen, trying to smoke him out as to why Schneider was so prominently featured at the paper (and it's like pulling teeth to get anybody at the Journal Sentinel to talk about what the hell they are doing over there), he called him a "distinctive conservative voice".  What a laugh.  Schneider is about as distinctive from Charlie Sykes or any of the other Walker-coordinated voices in the free right-wing media as Rush Limbaugh is from Sean Hannity.

So, fine.  Marty Kaiser and David Haynes want to have a Republican voice above the fold on the opinion page every Sunday and other times of the week, without a counter-balanced progressive voice.  Whatever.  Those are their pages and their journalistic ethics on the line.  You would hope, as the biggest newspaper in the state, that they would want to play it a little more straight, be a more responsible corporate citizen and not turn the paper into the Wall Street Journal, at least until Australian Rupert Mudoch, David Koch or some other people buy them out and they can dive in without apologies.  Their choice; our loss as an informed electorate.

But, as the 2014 election for governor gets into full swing. Schneider's "work" at the newspaper has taken an ugly turn. He has dropped all pretense of being a casual conservative observer and dived headlong into a full-time campaigner for Scott Walker.  Of all the various forces, groups and voices the Walker handlers are coordinating with, Schneider is the most widely read, influential and obedient.  All of his columns are of a sickening piece, but, in the last month, four stand out as straight-from-the-campaign dictation.

On May 24th, Schneider boldly declared that Mary Burke is "the Candidate who isn't there".  It is a straight-up hit job on Burke, who, the Walkerites know all too well, is still relatively unknown to Wisconsin voters.  The Walker cronies on talk radio have been working hard since her name first got mentioned as a possible candidate to define her negatively before she gets a chance to define herself, and Schneider is more than willing to help, with a deliberately misleading and disingenuous review of her positions and ideology.  The piece runs above the fold on the front page of the Sunday opinion page -- not down the gutter on the back page where his column usually (but not lately) resides.

Exactly one week later, Schneider again is allowed a prominently-displayed hit piece on Mary Burke -- and this time, it's personal.  Accusing her of taking a "cheap shot" at voter-suppression-obsessed Republicans, Schneider just can't get over his fake outrage about anyone who would take a political shot at someone during a discussion of crime in Milwaukee.  This, from a member of the same right-wing media cabal that had been taking pot shots at Mayor Barrett and Chief Flynn for weeks, taking it as an opportunity to promote the overheated rantings of David Clarke (who, by the way, NOT a Democrat).  Before or since all of this double-barreled very personal attacks on Mary Burke, not one columnist or editor has come to her defense.

And then there is last week.  After an excellent piece about racist talk radio in Milwaukee and its (no doubt) coordinated effect on Walker's election and prospects in the New Republic on Monday morning June 16th, the entire right-wing media -- starting with the morning talk-radio puppets -- lept into action to defend themselves, but mostly Walker.  As if on cue (because he was), Schneider and his editors rushed a column onto the web site, attacking the writer (of course) and expressing shock -- shock! -- that anyone would accuse Our Governor of being a racist!  But Schneider misses the point, on purpose. Republicans have always used their useful stooges on talk radio to say the racist things -- code-worded and otherwise -- so the politicians themselves don't have to.  But the Walker-as-victim meme was part of the plan so, there he went.

On Thursday, June 19th, of course, the John Doe documents were released (the Walker stooges were instructed to call it a "document dump") and all hell broke loose in WalkerWorld and Christian Schneider was more than willing to join the fight against the forces of Truth.  Within hours of the release, Schneider was up with an article, trumpeting all the talking-points we heard from Walker and the other fellow travelers for the next week (still).  After seeing this, I again challenged Franzen as to why the newspaper runs such obvious rapid-response Walker campaign columns by Schneider whenever he (and the campaign) wants.

I related what followed on FaceBook after I called out Franzen and his newspaper.  This is my post on June 22nd.  Franzen has not responded or complained that I got anything wrong:
Christian Schneider hits the hat trick for Walker in the Journal Sentinel. Thursday: five minutes (seems like) after the "criminal scheme" documents are released, JSOnline zooms Schneider's rapid-response tripe onto its web page. Ernst-Ulrich Franzen promises in a comment to me here that the (no doubt) Walker-coordinated defensive piece would not run in the newspaper itself. Friday: Most of Schneider's "featured blog" crap is quoted in bold type on the edit page of the print version. Saturday: Franzen sends a comment that, ooops, the Walker-as-Schneider press release will run as a column in the paper. Sunday: There it is, in all its smarmy glory. 
You wonder what kind of conversations and lobbying went on in the editorial board to get the piece in the paper. You wonder what kind of deal the Kings of State Street have cut with Schneider and/or Walker and/or WPRI or whatever other Dark Money entity that allows Schneider to run, every week, pro-Walker and anti-Burke screed on a whim. You wonder why the paper has not bothered to try to get someone to consistently present the other side (other than their own very occasional editorials). You wonder how far the Journal Sentinel has fallen and how far it has yet to go into the abyss of right-wing advocacy.
It really is sad to see the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel slide into this kind of right-wing hole, all for the sake of a power-mad governor.  It is not worth the loss of credibility, prestige and community respect they have suffered in recent years.  But, as I said, it's their choice.  And our loss.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

All or Nothing for Scott Walker

Scott Walker's Achilles heel may be his star-struck need to be loved and noticed by national Republican heavyweights.

During the furor caused by the radical governor's decimation of Wisconsin government in the dark winter and spring of 2011, Walker was comically recorded giving warm platonic phone sex to a brilliant prankster pretending to be democracy-killer David Koch.  Walker, usually a publicly dreary on-message robot, became an effusive chatterbox with fake-Koch, even accepting an invitation to one of fake-Koch's imaginary Xanadu mansions in California after the smoke had cleared on Wisconsin democracy.

Walker apparently did the same thing in August of that year in a revealing and potentially incriminating email to the real Karl Rove.  Earlier this year, when emails were released from the Kelly Rindfleisch investigation from the time Walker was pretending to be Milwaukee County Executive, Walker's contributions were short and terse.  It was as if he could barely be bothered with his puny office drones and the details of the campaign that was being run out of his office in the Courthouse, much less (and I mean much less) his duties as county exec.

But in the email to Rove (the details of which are only hinted at in the too-brief excerpt quoted in the documents released this week), Walker is as giddy as a school-boy, bragging to the putrid Rove about how nicely everybody with dark money in the state was coordinating with his and other official campaign committees; "a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin".

There is more, of course -- much more.  Just the fact that RJ Johnson was (and still is) wearing (at least) two hats -- one with the campaign and the other as a conduit for the Koch brothers and other dark money as the main check-writer for the Club for Growth (which is a sham "organization"; neither a "club" nor are they much interested in anyone's "growth") is an outrageous F-you to anyone's previously universal understanding of the need for at least pretending that the "outside groups" (which are neither "outside" nor "groups" -- just different names and PO boxes laundering the same dark money) are not coordinating with the official campaigns.

[What would be even more interesting is the complete list of who the campaign was coordinating with in the free media.  Any complete list would have to include the wingnut talk radio circuit -- run in Milwaukee by Clear Channel and Journal Communication Inc. -- which seems to exist, especially in a panicked time like this, as a 24/7 Walker defense and promotion operation.  Every day, WISN and WTMJ provide hours upon hours of free advertising for Walker, always in sync with the campaign's message-or-the-day.  And Walker sometimes spends much of his day gabbing on the phone with his friends Jay, Vicki, Mark, Charlie and Jeff.  Also on the list would have to be the most prominently distributed Walker shill in the universe, Christian Schneider, a long-time Republican operative who, for reasons known only to the Journal Sentinel's clueless editorial board, has carte blanche to print Walker campaign talking points whenever he (and Walker) wants in the biggest (and most disappointing) newspaper in the state. But I digress.]

In his filing, the John Doe prosecutor laid out a very persuasive case for what the campaign coordination statute means, how it has been historically interpreted and why he has to investigate further.  But Walker and his handlers obviously took off on a radical path to completely ignore Wisconsin campaign law.  They didn't bother to rewrite it -- they just flaunted the law.  With the radical Republicans running amok in Madison, they certainly could have changed the law; or they could have gone to court for a declaratory judgement that the state's law was unconstitutional.  Instead, they just went ahead and coordinated and plotted and schemed in a manner nobody had dared to do, ever.

Walker's bevy of lawyers may have had some legal advice in their back pocket, in case they got caught (which they now have been).  But they didn't bother to tell anyone about it.  They developed their schemes in secret, hiding in broad daylight as the state was flooded with campaign-coordinated dark money.  The fact that they were coordinating messages and strategy was fairly obvious -- especially in retrospect -- but if you asked them back then, of course they would have denied it.

In fact, if Walker ever exits the cocoon of Fox News and talk radio where he has lived since Thursday and talks to a legitimate news reporter again, someone should ask him about the details of what exactly he was doing back then that he is now so proud of, now that the case is "over", as Walker falsely declared to his friendly interviewers in his desperate last couple of days..  "Was your campaign coordinating with the outside groups, governor?  When did it start?", etc.  I'll bet he doesn't answer the question -- he'd be crazy to do so.

The reason is because Walker and his lawyers know very well that the case is far from "over".   The lawyers for the dark money operators managed to convince one friendly federal judge and one state judge of their novel theory that the part of the state statutes prohibiting coordination between campaigns and outside groups, as written and as always interpreted, was unconstitutional.   But it is by no means guaranteed that the conclusion that dark money groups and campaigns can coordinate with dark money all they want as long as the dark money ads don't say "vote for Walker" will stand in the Courts of Appeals or even the post-Citizens United Supreme Court.

It is not Federalist Society activist Judge Rudy Randa who is going to have the last word on this -- it will be Justice Anthony Kennedy. As an excellent New York Times editorial noted this morning: "Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy promised in 2010 that there was nothing to fear from independent spending groups that raised unlimited dollars. Because they could not coordinate with political candidates, he wrote in the Citizens United decision, they 'do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.'" Having written that, how could Kennedy now follow the right-wing of the Court off the cliff by saying that anything goes for anyone with a checkbook and a candidate in their pocket? Hopefully, the bright line of campaign coordination with dark money is one the Fifth Justice will not cross.

Scott Walker better hope he does.  And the panic of Walker and everyone around him in the last few days makes clear he knows it. There is no middle ground for Walker.  There are only two ways this turns out.  It may be, sadly, that Walker and the forces of Dark Money will win, eliminating all hope for democracy in the United States and Walker can be Governor For Life.  The only other alternative? Scott Walker is going to jail.