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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, September 22, 2006

Anti-Doyle MJS Editors Driving Campaign Narrative

A couple of years back, during the 2004 election season, I got an email from a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who could not believe, as he called it, the "hard right in its political coverage this fall. [. . .] Every day gets sadder. The only way its going to stop is if someone calls the editors on it, and that's not something that's going to happen from inside the paper."

Well, I'm calling the editors on it now: There is indeed a very clear pattern of the Journal Sentinel's news editors driving the narrative around the campaign for governor over the summer and now into the fall.

The latest round is but a symptom: In yesterday's paper, they give lengthy, front-page-above-the-fold treatment to legal (though monumentally stupid and ethically iffy) behavior on the part of the Doyle campaign--and, as Gretchen Schuldt notes, bury as an afterthought on page seven the story of Mark Green's dodging campaign contribution limits, an activity that is, indeed, illegal.

Bill Christofferson (I think) noted a while back--though I can't find the link now--that the way the Journal Sentinel has tried to create the appearance of a corrupt, pay-for-play Doyle Administration is at odds with how the paper covered Tommy Thompson: When Tommy used to meet with developers and utilities, he was lauded for creating investment opportunities in the state. When Doyle's staff does the same thing, it merits front-page-above-the-fold headlines about whether or not there is corruption and scandal.

And that front-page-above-the-fold treatment has been going strong all summer for Doyle and any little thing that could create even the tiniest sense that Doyle's is the most corrupt adminsitration since Boss Tweed. And yet, Mark Green is a line-toeing member of the most corrupt Congress in recent memory and his legislating on behalf of donors has merited exactly one front-page-above-the-fold story.

Even with news that came out yesterday, we can see how the Journal Sentinel is downplaying those things that make Doyle look clean and Green look dirty.

The front-page-above-the-fold story is all about Green going to court to fight that dirty elections board which, as the very first paragraph reminds us, ruled against Green only after Doyle wielded his undue influence. And, in fact, after only a brief few paragraphs on Green's transfer, the story jumps right into reactions to the revelation that Doyle's campaign lobbied the board. What's missing is information from the Justice Department Brief (.pdf) that explains quite clearly how and when Mark Green broke federal and state law. The DOJ makes it clear that this is not retroactive application of a rule passed "the day after," as the paper called it in its story on Doyle's lobbying yesterday, but rather clear and unequivocal violations of the law:
The language of the [the law] as it existed at the time of the Barrett decision, specifically required an itemized reporting of the funds that were being transferred. [. . .] There would be no reason for requiring such itemized reporting if the transferred funds were not subject to the contribution limits. [. . .]

In 2004, Congress amended BCRA [(McCain-Feingold) to allow] federal campaign committees to move funds to state campaign committees, but only in the form of "donations," and such donations were required to be made in conformance with state law. [ . . .]

As a legal matter, therefore, Green's action in converting federal funds to a state campaign was contrary to both state and federal laws.
None of that made the article.

And the front-page metro section story is the news that, as I predicted, a lawsuit alleging pay-for-play was thrown out. When I first called that lawsuit baseless, I epxlained how the paper was still making Doyle look guilty, and they do it here, giving the thrown-out plantiff the sub-headline to call Doyle improper in big letters and explaining away the decision as one made on a technicality. The article ends with a re-hash of all the other ongoing--and media-driven--investigations.

The paper's playing up of anything that can be portrayed as scandalous--even when it is not, even when that same action was praised in Republcan governors--combined with the paper's playing down of Green's deliberate violations of campaign finance law, is driving the media narrative for this campaign. Doyle is dirty and Mark Green is a victim, if all you read is the state's largest daily paper. And with no major media to counteract this (Journal Corp owns so much of Milwaukee's media), the storyline is taking hold. It puts me in mind of the media's simplification of the narrative in the Bush-Gore campaign (Gore was a liar, Bush was a nice guy)--and we all know how that story turned out.

The editorial pages of the paper--which endorsed Kerry, despite the rightward direction of the 2004 news pages, and will probably endorse Doyle--at least takes a moment to recognize the complicity of Republicans in the current mess. They write today that every Republican who opposed the kind of changes to the state elections board that would have stopped the ability of Doyle's lawyers to lobby them and now complains about it is merely being partisan. (They don't mention the irony of the Republicans' earlier filing a complaint against Tom Barrett for doing what they said Green was allowed to do.) But the editors then call the elections board's rejection of what is clearly illegal money (see above!) a "blatantly partisan" move. So, again, Green is the victim.

If Doyle loses this election, we'll know where to place the blame. We know who's writing the narrative.

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