How can the New York Times pay attention to corruption in Wisconsin when the Wisconsin State Journal does not? Seriously, stuff is happening here

NYT 2-21.2016How can a newspaper located 942 miles away publish a spot-on editorial about corruption in Wisconsin, while the local newspaper manages to say… nothing?

It happened again today when the New York Times editorial board wrote

I paid for a copy of the Wisconsin State Journal! First time in a long time

This week your humble scribe actually forked over a dollar for a copy of the Wisconsin State Journal (print edition). I hadn’t done that for a long time.

Over the last 15 years — buffeted by the internet, and hemorrhaging ad revenue — the State Journal, like other newspapers, laid off newsroom staff. The product went from a healthy thud landing in the driveway each morning to a light-weight tissue fluttering in on the morning breeze. Combine this shrunken ability to get to the bottom of things with a dismal editorial page that far too often works against the interests of ordinary people, and you’ve got a product that I normally do not buy.

DeFour and Hall Front PageBut then there was this. A front-page story by Matthew DeFour and Dee J. Hall, handed out free, as usual, on Sunday at Metcalfe’s Sentry.  Whoa, actual investigative journalism!?! Not just a summary of another scathing audit of the “troubled” Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), but an investigation into one of the loans made by WEDC. And it was one highly peculiar loan.

This was the kind of story that used to make people like me buy the State Journal.

A quick summary:

Struggling business owner gives $10 thousand to the Walker campaign in 2010. It’s the day before the election; it’s the maximum donation allowed by law. Later the struggling business owner wants a loan from Wisconsin taxpayers via Scott Walker’s WEDC, which exists (supposedly) to create jobs in Wisconsin. On the loan application, business owner lies. Sez he’s not been sued lately, although he has been sued… including once, recently, by the State of Wisconsin. Nobody at WEDC checked? Hard to say. The loan file’s gone missing! The guy gets a half million dollars in an unsecured loan!!! (No collateral!!!) Who gets that kind of loan? The business fails. A half million dollars of public money vanishes. Not a single job is created. Walker, harkening back to the secret email scandal, says he knows nothing. Yes, Walker’s top staff, including campaign manager Keith Gilkes and DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch, had lobbied strongly for the loan (actually for a loan 8 times larger!!). WHY? And they did so without Walker even knowing??

In an online discussion, reporter DeFour said he’d been working on the story for two months, so this was an expensive story for the State Journal to fund.

During the rest of this week, I bought a copy of the State Journal every day, either at the Sentry or the Walgreens. It’s not subscribing, but I’m happy to have reporters DeFour and Hall at work. Tip o’ the hat to them, and to the unnamed editors and bean-counters who supported them.

The story is now playing out, even in the thinnest of news sources (the radio, the tv). It seems like there’s more to the story than what’s been reported so far. The numbers make no sense. Guy gives $10,000 and gets back $500,000 no strings attached? Did some of that $500,000 come back to the Walker recall treasure chest, but this time through an impenetrable conduit of dark money like Wisconsin Club for Growth? Maybe some reporter, someday, finds someone to talk more.

Supposedly William Randolph Hearst once remarked,

“News is something which somebody wants suppressed: all the rest is advertising.”


State Journal criticizes Republicans? No weasel words?

Over the weekend a teensy-tiny little thing happened in the Wisconsin State Journal. They published an editorial criticizing Wisconsin Republicans, namely the gov and his loyal minions majorities in the legislature.


The thing is, there was no fuzzy language, no ambiguity, no blaming ill-defined “state leaders” or “state gubmint” in general. No random speculation that Democrats, too, had they been in charge, would have done the same. No, they just said “Republicans”, who are, after all, undeniably in control of every branch of our state government.

It’s a tiny thing. (Yes, very tiny.) But it’s unusual (and refreshing) to see the State Journal editorial board just say the obvious — their pals are screwing up.  As we all know, it’s hard for them to criticize Republicans without some fig leaf of fuzziness or both-siderism to obscure and soften the point.

Seriously, this is a newspaper that somehow (hard to believe but true) blamed “Congress and all of Washington” for the dangerous and ill-advised debt-ceiling fiascoes of 2013 which were, of course, motivated not by “Congress and all of Washington” in general, but specifically by the Tea Partying zealots of the Republican House. Somehow the State Journal editorial board was careful never to assign the blame where it actually belonged. It was actually a bizarre pattern of misinforming, performed over and over as we noted repeatedly.

So, are we giving them too much credit for one tiny event on Sunday? Well, sure. Almost certainly. But we try to encourage even small progress when we can.


Who’s editing this mess?

Ever wonder how news editors decide what stories to put on the “front page”? We do.

Now we have never worked as a news editor. But we have always figured that, among their most important duties, editors are supposed to evaluate the various potential stories and put the most important ones up front.

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But if that’s so, where were the editors of the Wisconsin State Journal on Sunday? Their front page story highlights a downtown “bath house” that’s going to be prosecuted for giving more than “baths”. Sexy! But actually not very important. Meanwhile, not on the front page — inside the paper instead — is a very important story.

Turns out Governor Walker’s decision to refuse Medicaid expansion was really, really dumb… wasteful for Wisconsin taxpayers, higher costs and insuring fewer than simply saying yes to the “Obamacare” fully-paid-for Medicaid expansion. The Legislative Audit Bureau says we’re currently losing out on $206 million federal dollars, and we will lose half a billion.

That is a big, big, Big Story!  Why is it not on the front page? Why is it anywhere else?

Is it because the editors are reluctant to print hugely damaging front-page stories about the governor they endorsed? Because, make no mistake about it, this IS a hugely damaging story for the governor if people come to understand it.

a hugely damaging story for the governor

Why did Scott Walker turn down 100% funding from the feds to expand Medicare? It was, of course, purely political, serving a constituency of one — namely Scott Walker himself. Scott Walker thinks he’s Republican Presidential timber. And in order to get the Republican nomination, he’s got to demonstrate inchoate opposition to “Obamacare” in order win support among — oh, what should we call them? oh, let’s just say it — the insane wing of the Republican Party.  This angry neoconfederate wing happens to be pretty influential right now. So Scott Walker decided to royally screw Wisconsin taxpayers, to once again harm Wisconsin’s economy, and probably indirectly hasten a few deaths because hating Obamacare (even though it was originally Romneycare) would be helpful to him in his quest for the nomination.

Not helpful to Wisconsin in any way. Just helpful to him. It says a lot about Scott Walker.

It’s a true story that people can understand. If they hear about it.


Doing pretty good for all the wrong reasons

The Wisconsin State Journal stumbles today into a rare “Type II Surprisingly Correct Editorial” lambasting Wisconsin DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp.

As we’ve noted before, a Type II Surprisingly Correct Editorial needs not simply to be correct, it also requires a “surprise”. If the State Journal were to editorialize that ‘the sky is blue, and we heartily approve,’ that would be correct enough, but there’s no zing, there’s no surprise. Lacking the surprise, such an editorial would probably be a “Type III Filler” or the “Type IV Distractor”.

A ‘surprise’ for the State Journal is going against their Republican friends, and that’s exactly what they try to do today in “Stepp’s DNR deserved scrutiny“.

Wouldn’t it be nice to say that today’s editorial was motivated by the State Journal’s sense of right and wrong? You could imagine that was the case, because DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp (pictured at left) has been doing a miserable job for Wisconsin’s environment, evident in the recent work of the newspaper’s own reporter, Ron Seely. For example, here and here. But alas, the editorial appears to be motivated not by Stepp’s work but by Stepp criticizing the State Journal’s work (well, actually Ron Seely’s work).

In a classic case of “shoot the messenger,” state Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp is accusing the Wisconsin State Journal of “sensational” reporting on her agency’s weak actions against a polluter in Jefferson County.

Yes, only after Stepp criticized the newspaper’s reporting did the newspaper’s editorial page say boo. Even when criticized, it’s very, very difficult for the editorial page to be harsh with their Republican friends. Even before the editorial was done, it was back to sort of praising Stepp’s DNR:

The DNR has gone overboard with enforcement at times in the past. And the DNR under Stepp has been smart to try to prevent violations through a less combative posture and better communication of expectations with key business sectors.

In the end no one can be surprised by what Seely reports or by how the State Journal editorial board sees it. It is in the end “as expected.”

In 2011, when Walker succeeded in converting the DNR into a “charter agency” with “new ways to measure success”, none of the 5 measures concerned protecting the environment or citizen health. It’s obvious that Stepp was selected by Gov. Walker to run the DNR in a new way with less enforcement, easier permits, fewer penalties, greater harm (although not headline calamity) to Wisconsin’s environment, and stronger support from all the people who like all that.

Scott Walker requires money

Another fund-raising letter from Governor Walker arrived the other day. It seems odd that sophisticated campaigns send mail to folks who are surely NOT EVER going to contribute to a candidate. But, for now, we get these letters…

…which are weird.

Here’s how the latest one (dated Nov. 23, 2011) starts (emphasis in the original):

The Wisconsin Democrat Party is following through on their months-long threat; they’re launching a recall election against me.

Our rivals are probably bringing in out-of-state hired guns, circulating thousands of petitions, gathering the 540,000 signatures they need, and forging an alliance of Big Government Liberals, Big Government Union Bosses, powerful Far-Left Special Interests and Super PACs, and National Democrats from the White House on down.

WHO, we wonder, is this addressing? Idiot silly-people? We know that political fundraising letters always trade on fears of what the other party might do. That’s just standard.

But these boogeymen in the Scott Walker letter are just pitifully WEAK.

Who are these Big Government Union Bosses? The head of SEIU? We can’t at the moment remember WHAT “SEIU” stands for; and we surely can’t think of who might be its leader. Big Government Union Boss? The governor is known to have far more powerful pals than any union leader (aka “boss”).

And who are the Far-Left Special Interests? What far-left interests are they pursuing? Healthcare? Contraception? Roads and bridges? Jobs? Clean water? What? Is someone proposing to seize the means of production and create a worker’s paradise? (Answer: no)

We have no idea what the governor’s letter is talking about.

Are there people who get these letters, and find this overheated rhetoric motivating?