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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes


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Guest blog by George Mitchell:

 With one notable exception, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has provided extensive coverage of Wisconsin’s high profile debate on public employee collective bargaining.

 However, missing from the paper’s coverage is any meaningful portrayal of the belligerence, harassment, and intimidation by opponents of Governor Scott Walker.  As described below, a revealing e-mail exchange last week with the paper’s managing editor helps explain the omission.

 The Journal Sentinel’s selective coverage largely has been limited to brief reports of some individual incidents.  The news judgment is unmistakable.  Namely, these are isolated events.  They don’t warrant the kind of saturation “civility” coverage that followed the recent shootings in Tuscon. (One can’t help wondering if things would be different if the Wisconsin perpetrators operated under the Tea Party banner.)

 Last week blogger Jim Nolte (Big Government) compiled information involving “20 days worth of the death threats, vandalism, and intimidation” by Walker opponents.  At the same time, prominent blogger Ann Althouse detailed what can only be labeled as vile threats received by her and her husband following their reporting of the Wisconsin thuggery.

 My own view is that Walker opponents are hurting their cause with this kind of activity.   Without mentioning the Journal Sentinel or criticizing its coverage, I made that point in a March 18 e-mail that provided links to the Nolte and Althouse material.  My distribution list included George Stanley, managing editor of the Journal Sentinel. 

 Stanley responded, “Both sides are demonizing each other with deliberate, dishonest propaganda….You reap what you sow.”

 I asked, “Are you suggesting that the behavior of Walker supporters is comparable to that of his opponents?”  He replied, “I don’t ‘suggest’ like you, George. I didn’t say a word about behavior or go to your links. I prefer honesty to bullshit.”

 I replied, “You use the word "propaganda" and say "both sides" are guilty.  Death threats.  Nails in the driveway.  Obscene graffiti.  The list goes on and on.  This amazing and unwarranted conclusion apparently is how the MJS rationalizes not covering the story.”

 I asked Stanley if I could quote him, as I wanted to submit an op-ed to the paper.  He said, “No, you’re just full of shit, that’s all I’m saying.”  Not sure if the latter comment was a response to my request or just his way of emphasizing his disagreement with my views.

 We now have a better understanding of why the Journal Sentinel has shortchanged this important aspect of the ongoing story.   In the managing editor’s view, “both sides” apparently have culpability, “you reap what you sow,” and, in the end, it’s “bullshit.”

 P.S.  As part of this exchange, Stanley claimed I would “mis-quote” him.  On request, I will provide the full text of our exchange.It does not fit the template laid out in Sunday’s paper by Editor Marty Kaiser.  Referring to the volume of reader reaction to the Capitol news, he said, “We are doing our best to respond to each phone call, e-mail and letter. We explain to readers the difference between our news pages and our opinion pages.”  

 (George Mitchell is a public policy consultant. A former journalist, he reported for the Wisconsin State Journal, the Riverside Press, and the Wall Street Journal.)

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