Milwaukee County Supervisor Deanna Alexander has taken quite a few across the chops in recent weeks. Journal Sentinel reporter Georgia Pabst took issue with Alexander for using her Facebook page to post a link to her father’s obituary. The obituary page itself is set up to collect donations for the costs of the burial.
The gist of the story, also summed up in the Journal Sentinel editorial, is that Alexander might have violated the County’s code of ethics -- using her public position or office for personal gain.
But contrary to Pabst’s story, Alexander didn’t use her Facebook page to solicit funds. She posted a link to her father’s obituary, thanking people for their condolences. Even the obituary page didn't directly solicit money.
So the question is, why did Pabst do the story at all? Why make Alexander a headline over a story that didn't have a smoking gun and wasn’t particularly newsworthy?
Purple Wisconsin blogger Ashley Schultz says it was personal. In a stinging rebuke, Schultz blasted Pabst for playing a “twisted game of political payback.”
“Just a few weeks ago Pabst published a piece on Alexander, pointing out an error in her newsletter. Alexander responded, saying Pabst’s article lead readers to think she had purposely misinformed them. It looks like Pabst didn’t take too kindly to the criticism.”
But Pabst denies the allegation that her recent flurry of stories have anything to do with Alexander calling her work "sloppy journalism."
“This story has nothing to do with the other one and I do deny her [Schultz’] contention, Pabst wrote in an email. “I posted an update on that Voter ID story to correct the record and in response to Supervisor Alexander's press release . . . the timing is unfortunate, but totally coincidental.”
Four stories critical of Alexander in two weeks may be coincidence, but it was undeservedly harsh. Brian Nemoir, a Republican strategist and communications expert, put it this way,
“How inhumane and/or morally bankrupt does a reporter have to be to use an elected official's loss of a loved one to push her personal agenda? Personal loss such as this should garner empathy, not hostile accusations."
In Pabst’s defense, she did try to mitigate the blow – ever so slightly.
“I know the death of your father has made this a difficult time and I'm sorry to have to ask you about this,” Pabst wrote to Alexander. “But it is in the pubic domain and given you [sic] elected position, I feel I have to ask these questions.”
Kudos to Pabst for her steady resolve, asking the tough questions – even as a family mourns. But where were the tough questions when Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan Jr. used $5,000 in county funds to mail 13,000 letters, criticizing State Representative Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) weeks before he would challenge him for his seat in the State Assembly?
“The hypocrisy here is stunning,” Sanfelippo said by email. “Supervisor Weishan misuses nearly $5,000 of his taxpayer funded expense account and no one bats an eye. Yet, somehow a funeral on a private Facebook page makes it into the local section.”
One Wisconsin Now – bless their liberal hearts – has now filed an ethics complaint against Supervisor Alexander for the fishy Facebook link.
It is unfortunate that no one from the Journal Sentinel reported that Orville Seymer, an active member from Citizens for Responsible Government, filed an ethics complaint against Supervisor Weishan months ago. If they would have put as much zeal into chasing Weishan as they did Alexander, we would know more about the investigation the Milwaukee County DA's office opened (and apparently closed) concerning Weishan's use of public funds to pursue a substantial private benefit.
The findings of that investigation are still sealed under lock and key until the County Ethics Board or Weishan decides to make them a part of the public record.
The gotcha journalism story about Supervisor Alexander’s Facebook page is really much ado about nothing. The complaint filed by One Wisconsin Now shows just how petty partisan politics can get and is a waste of time for the DA’s office.
Rick Esenberg, President of the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty (WILL) says, “Alexander didn’t use her public office to solicit anything for herself or her immediate family as that term is used in the ethics code. She was a daughter who, at a time of great loss, linked to her fathers obituary on a page where her Mom, like many, sought help to defray the expense of burying her husband.”
Except in anyone else's case, there wouldn't be a problem.