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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Politi"Fact" inconsistency mind-boggling, suggests nothing less than obvious bias against public employees

by folkbum

Two caveats before I dive in here: One, I count Bryan Kennedy as a friend and colleague, and he has had my support in many previous endeavors; and Two, I am a public employee.

That said, consider this: A couple of weeks ago, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Politi"Fact" column took a look at a statement by Milwaukee alderman Bob Donovan. After concluding that the very specific percentage he cited was false, they rated his statement "mostly true" because, and I quote, "his larger point--that MPS pays a lot more in benefits than other local governments pay--is on the money."

Today, the Politi"Fact" addresses a statement by Wisconsin AFT president Bryan Kennedy, that state employees earn 8% less than private-sector workers when you consider equivalent education and experience in equivalent positions. In full, Kennedy said, "Well, I think that there's been talking points used by those who don't like government to continually bash us and make us look as if we're the haves and we're really not. If you look across the board, we're averaging about 8 percent less than if we all worked in the private sector. Some of our people make half or a third as much as they could make if they worked in the private sector."

Politi"Fact" makes some calls and reads some studies and finds that 8% may not be exactly right: A report from the "Economic Policy Institute found that state workers across the country are paid 11 percent less than private-sector workers. The difference is 7.6 percent less, the report said, if pay plus benefits are considered," Politi"Fact" writes. Later, there's a stat about Wisconsin from a different study: "[A] second report [. . .] provide[d] one Wisconsin statistic: From 2000 to 2008, the wages of state employees was 6.2 percent less than for private-sector employees."

Knowing what we know about how Politi"Fact" treated Donovan's misstep in percentage-stating, it seems like Kennedy's statement ought to merit at least a "half true," to match Donovan, since you can certainly see that Kennedy's larger point--that public-sector employees are compensated less than private-sector ones--is on the money, which seems to be the deciding factor in these cases.

But, alas, no. Kennedy gets a "false" rating.

Nowwaitaminnit, you might be saying, you're leaving out the distinction made by Politi"Fact" that "Kennedy’s statement referred to pay." Um, where? Kennedy never said the words "pay" or "salary" or even "money." His statement did not make any clear distinction between salary and benefits, and so that 8% number is damned close to the 7.6% that Politi"Fact" cited. For Politi"Fact" to claim that Kennedy did make a distinction, and to call his statement false for it, is bogus. (And if they want to say pay only, Kennedy's 8% was still off by less than Donovan's stat.)

Nowwaitaminnit, you might be saying again, maybe these columns were written by two different authors and they haven't gotten the rules quite standardized yet. But you'd be wrong if you said that, as both of these items were written by Tom Kertscher and edited by Greg Borowski. Clearly, then, something is pushing these two to abandon the standard of "larger points" being "on the money" rating a "half true."

Could it be that it's because Kennedy is defending public employees from the onslaught of attacks by people like Donovan and Scott Walker? That Kertscher, who spends an inordinate amount of time in the Kennedy column perseverating on "benefits," has a bias against public employees, and prefers to side with those who attack them? That's the only logical conclusion--Kertscher and Borowski have a bug up their collective butts about public employees and use the imprimatur of Politi"Fact" to exercise it.

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