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Bloggers should be Careful not to Comitt Libel

Lately, the battle over the Milwaukee County budget has become nasty.  The national recession, a recent pension scandal, and a 10% unemployment rate has created a tough situation for the Milwaukee County Board and the Milwaukee County Executive.  They must decide between raising taxes or forcing concessions on county employees, and off course these options have not sat well with certain personalities. 

Those familiar with the Wisconsin blogosphere understand that there are certain blogs that go out of their way to blast government officials.  The Cognitive Dissidence, for instance, has published 283 critical articles about Scott Walker from January to October, which is nearly an article a day.   

In the past, there have been a lot of accusations made by Liebenthal about Walker that are simply untrue.  But what transforms false accusations into libel is when the are knowingly false (lies) and cause some sort of damage to a person's reputation.    I will lay out a few examples that come dangerously close to libel, and you can make the call. 

In the last article that Liebenthal wrote, he made three accusations against Walker.  First, he accused Walker of bragging and joking about sending layoff notices to county employees.  Second, he accused him of lying about the layoff notices to score cheap political points.  And third, he accused Walker of feeling scorn and contempt toward the people of Milwaukee County.  All three accusations are baseless.

First, Liebenthal accuses Walker of bragging and joking about issuing layoff notices to county employees based on a report by Steve Schultze of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  Schultze said that Walker sent layoff notices as a strategy to encourage the County Board to find more savings.  What Schultze doesn't say is that if the County Board couldn't come up with the savings, the layoff notices would have been the only way to help balance a budget hole of $3 million. 

This means, of course, that the layoff notices weren't just a tactic meant to bluff the County Board, but rather a real money saving solution that would have saved the County over $800,000.  So again, Liebenthal lied when he accused Walker of bragging or joking about layoff notices because there is nothing in the report that shows Walker bragging or joking about budgetary matters.   

Second, Walker didn't lie about the layoff notices.  Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that if the County Board had agreed to the 35 hour work week (for County Employees) in May, then the layoff might have been avoided.  The problem here is that Milwaukee County is facing an $80- $90 million shortfall in their budget, and the County Board isn't taking the fiscal situation seriously. 

It wasn't until Walker sent the layoff notices that County Board members suddenly found unspent money in multiple departments adding up to at least $450,000 in savings.  Again, Walker did not lie about the layoffs.  If the Board didn't squeeze the savings out of their department heads, the layoffs would have gone into effect.

And Third, Liebenthal accuses Walker of feeling contempt and scorn for the people of Milwaukee County.  How exactly does Liebenthal know this?  And how does protecting taxpayers translate into contempt and scorn toward the people of Milwaukee County?  Perhaps Liebenthal is confusing Milwaukee County Employees with the people of Milwaukee County. 

Chris Liebenthal needs to back away from the games he's playing before he gets himself tangled in a libel lawsuit he can't afford to be in.  What makes the situation worse is that Liebenthal created himself a non-profit organization back in June called Milwaukee County First, which he is using as a platform to attack Walker. 

On the non-profit website, Liebenthal has made the same accusations about Walker bragging and joking.  He also accused Walker of lying and being malicious toward the County Board.  Be careful, Chris, using the status of a non-profit organization to damage a politician's reputation is not very wise. 

I will personally send the Walker office a link to Milwaukee County First's website so they can determine if they want to take further action.  One thing is for sure, if they wanted to pursue a libel lawsuit, they wouldn't have a problem finding something in the 300+ hit-pieces on Liebenthal's site.   


 

Comments (3)
  • Doug

    "Again, Walker did lie about the layoffs." I think you mean "did not lie about"

    Like your blog.

  • Jason Crye

    Thanks, I corrected it.

  • Jack Lohman  - Spend it when you have it

    Wouldn't it be nice to have a political system where the Pols worked for the public rather than the private interests that fund their elections?

    We take taxes from the people and give them to, as just one of many examples, the road builders so city mayors and county supervisors are squeezed to the point of cutting public services or implementing department layoffs.

    Only public funding of campaigns will get our tax dollars spent the way they should be spent, but even Walker was not supportive of that when in the state legislature. So now he's paying the price.

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