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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes

The New Republic "Exposes" the SykesBelling Monster Behind Scott Walker

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Posted at Right Wisconsin

As hit jobs go, this is pretty run-of-the-mill, except for its length and the fact that it is the cover story of the once-prestigious New Republic:  The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker: A journey through the poisonous, racially divided world that produced a Republican star.
The unsubtlety of the headline pretty much gives you the feel for this over-the-top and meandering trip through the fever swamps of anti-Walkerism.  Suffice it to say that writer Alec MacGillis establishes that he has frequented every anti-Walker website and twitter feed... and has fed deeply. His article is a heavy stew of urban legend, reheated unionista talking points, cherry-picked anecdotes and the usual journalistic hackery. 
And I haven’t even gotten to the part about me.
I actually had a drink with MacGillis (which he recounts) and found him to be as charming and engaging as he is clueless about Milwaukee. How clueless? At one point he described me as "a man-about-town with a smooth on-air manner and modish eyeglasses," which I’m pretty sure is eliciting guffaws from everyone who knows me. 
But the entertainment value here is pretty thin. 
You can read the whole thing yourself, of course, but I can save you the trouble: Walker supporters are raaaaacists. Suburban raaaaacists. Talk radio-listening raaaaaacists. Sunday morning TV show watching raaaaacists. And this goes on…. tediously…. for 7258 words.  (This has apparently become an obsession with the New Republic which featured a cover story in 2013, with the headline Original Sin: Why the GOP is and will continue to be the party of white people.)
MacGillis’s thesis seems to be that Walker is a product of reactionary politics aided and abetted by a two-headed monster of awfulness he calls SykesBelling. Even though he has a shaky grasp on the facts (we’ll have more on that later this week), he pays a somewhat flattering backhanded tribute to local talk radio and its influence on state politics. Short, non-New Republic Version: it’s a BFD around here.
No other midsize city has this kind of sustained and energized conservative forum for discussion of local politics. The only counterweights on the left are Wisconsin Public Radio, with its implicit but restrained liberalism, a lefty F.M. talk show in Madison with limited reach, and two African American talk-radio stations in Milwaukee, one of which recently went out of business.
In the past dozen years, two moderate state senators in metro Milwaukee have lost their jobs in Republican primaries after falling out of favor with SykesBelling, while a third has moved sharply right to avoid their wrath. "The listenership is just so much higher here," says Scott Jensen, the former Republican speaker of the state Assembly. "And the ability to get people to march in step when [the shows] are all hammering the same themes is extraordinary." Dale Schultz, a moderate Republican state senator in southwestern Wisconsin who is retiring this year, is blunter. "Talk radio gets going and some of my colleagues end up wetting themselves," he says. "It’s appalling."
But to get the flavor of the thing, let’s cut to the very end of this endless piece, in which the intrepid reporter commits a flagrant act of journalism by turning on the TV in his hotel room. 
On Sunday morning, as the convention concluded with a closed-door prayer breakfast, I headed to my hotel and flipped on the television, just in time for Charlie Sykes’s weekly show. One of Sykes’s panelists raised the issue of "an incident in the fifteenth aldermanic district where supporters of a liberal candidate bought meals for voters." The fifteenth district is mostly black, the candidate is black, and the former acting mayor who provided the lunches to voters is black. But the panelist didn’t mention any of that. For his audience, who live beyond Fond du Lac Avenue and its check-cashing outlets and shuttered storefronts, over the city line where the humble frame houses and bungalows give way abruptly to McMansion subdivisions with names like Harmony Hills and River Heights, he didn’t need to.
Let’s unpack this bit of fatuousness and faux-profundity.  


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