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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

Hey, Governor Walker? Can Milwaukee borrow your grill?

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We apparently went to war while I was away.

It seems the Journal/Sentinel (the company that owns this radio station) and Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn are officially at-odds over the way the paper treats his department, the tip-in coming when JS claimed Flynn fudged crime numbers to make it look as though felonies were on the downturn.

UrbanMilwaukee.com's Bruce Murphy takes JS to task for the way it handled that story, going on to claim that the paper has lost all perspective when it comes to the way it reports on the Chief.   

Murphy is a former JS reporter who is best remembered for breaking the Tom Ament pension scandal, one that led to the County Exec's resignation as well as the recalls of seven county board supervisors.   He's broken tons of other stories, too.   Bruce Murphy has serious journalistic chops.   That said, it was on his watch as Milwaukee Magazine editor that Jessica McBride was allowed to pen a glowing piece on Flynn, one that was drawing questions about it's balance even before it was learned that McBride and Flynn had a fling.   

Such wars aren't uncommon in these parts.   Former Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier's battles with the Journal were legendary.  Maier once famously claimed that if he were to walk across Lake Michigan that the Journal headline the next day would read, "Maier Can't Swim."    I remember famed Journal cartoonist Bill Sanders showing up in costume at one of Maier's news conferences dressed up like Colonel Sanders in response to a Maier slam.  The mayor's newsers were carried on live TV back in those days, and it made for great theater as Sanders fished his sketchpad out of a chicken bucket. 

One of Flynn's predecessors, Harold Breier, had his issues with the local press as well.   In fact, it seems most top cops don't like the way the paper handles their story at one point or another, be it Phillip Arreola or Ed Jones to name two.

Is the paper losing perspective?   Don't know--I don't work there, I just work for the same company.   I do know J/S and government officials are supposed to have an adversarial relationship--journalists are supposed to hold government accountable.  They're supposed to raise questions.    They aren't supposed to be buds, and certainly not cheerleaders.    

When I came to Milwaukee in the early '80's, Breier was the chief.  Tough as he was, we were allowed to directly call his detectives for overnight stories.    Police calls could be heard on scanners.   The chief was accessible--not warm or fuzzy, but available.   

Now?   Calls directly to the detective bureau are no longer welcome.   Instead, we get "The Source": the department's official web page, as well as the MPD Facebook presence.  There we find the occasional MPD snark about "come here for the truth", as if the media aren't to be trusted.  And, it's hard to ask questions of a web site.   

Those scanners?    Useless as buggy whips, now that the MPD went to it's digital Open Sky radio system.  The concept was sired before Flynn came to Milwaukee, but he went through with it's implementation anyway even amid questions about it's reliability,  saying too much money had been spent to walk away.   One of the offshoots: only radios with the right codes can hear the calls.   Chief Flynn could give the media the codes, but chooses not to.    

JS didn't just go after the Chief on the crime numbers.   It had the story about how some on the department still have jobs despite brushes with the law.   Then there's the one about police response times.   We also have the allegations about officers doing illegal searches on the street, some involving cavity probes, that endanger possible convictions of known criminals.   Does that amount to a "war", or is it merely a case of a newspaper doing it's job.

It's a different day, to be sure.   Things change.   Administrations change.   Responsibilities remain the same, though.   Police are the thin blue line.   The paper is the Fourth Estate, with a mission and an obligation.

Are any of these issues that split the paper and the police deal-breakers?   Couldn't a lot of this get hashed out face to face?   Is it time for Flynn or J/S editor Marty Kaiser to don the apron, spark the grill and do a brat summit?   

Couldn't hurt.   

An addendum: Bruce Murphy and another reader point out that the McBride/Flynn affair happened three months AFTER she penned the article in question.    

 

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