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.


jimspice said...

I agree with you that JS has impeached itself by providing paid shills (yes, multiple) a platform. But you can't peg one board member for scorn. Maybe, maybe not any given editorial board member is pushing an agenda, but it's just as likely they are not. Yes, I get that by calling them out you are asking for pushback from the inside. But I would suggest a tact of finesse over heavyhandedness would be apropos. The board members I know are fair.

David Blaska said...

I propose a drinking game. Toss one back every time Plastered writes "right-wing." Yes, the Milw Journal-Sentinel is now owned by the nefarious Koch Brothers, all purpose hobgoblins. Must be, the newspaper prints one conservative local column a couple times a week.

Mike Plaisted said...

Hah. Plastered. Brilliant! Not since 5th grade. Actually, it rhymes with "wasted". They that one next time. Rule One of wing-nut commentary - attack the messenger. Check!

As for using "right wing" as a descriptor, I admit you have more options than me. As a useful tool for that group, you can use terms like "buddies", "home-team" and "fund-providers".

Mike Plaisted said...

Jim - I did not intend to imply criticism of Ernie, I was just describing what was going on.