Over a month ago, (yes, I know, not breaking news, but here is my analysis anyway) Mark Belling broke a story that the state government worked behind the scenes with a reporter from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in order to publicize the takeover of the Milwaukee County Call Center. The story was confirmed by an exchange of public emails between two government agencies attempting to put Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker on the defensive. This, of course, was an attempt to redirect attention toward Walker during a time when the media was pressing Doyle hard about the state's massive budget deficit.
In early February, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Karen Timberlake, made a public announcement that the state would assume control of various public assistance programs because Milwaukee County, according to Timberlake, had “demonstrated a sustained inability to successfully provide services to its poor customers”.
Interestingly, public emails during that time show that the DHS literally had to track down and pressure complainants to make statements to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in order to justify a it to the public. Seth Boffeli, Communications Director for DHS, emailed a journalist saying, "We're still working on getting the plaintiffs to talk more to you, but one person who I know is ready and willing is Joe Volk with Community Advocates".
This is somewhat bizarre. If the takeover was necessary, then why does the government have to pressure individuals to speak up and serve as a liaison between them and the media? The answer is quite simple. If they couldn't find complainants, then citizens would start to think that a state takeover was more of a political move than a legitimate endeavor.
Public emails show that the Wisconsin Department of Health Services collaborated with the Wisconsin Department of Administration to hurry their takeover announcement before Walker could catch wind of it. However, it would appear that the Walker Office anticipated the move, and proactively released a letter urging the state to intervene. Later that day, reporter Steve Schultze emailed Seth Boeffi of DHS suggesting they should speed up their announcement for political purposes. Below is the email.
Opportunely, the first to cover the story was Steve Schultze, who cited Holloway as saying that Walker’s letter was meant to upstage state officials before they could make a move on him. After reading Schultze's email to Beffeli, one has to wonder if Schultze nudged Holloway to make such a statement? Either way, evidence shows that Schultze stowed important information about the government's scheme to seize the Call Center. And while he did this, he waited for the best time to headline the story at Walker's expense.
And this is not the first time that Schultze has exploited Walker for a story. In early January, Schultze fudged a story about Scott Walker refusing stimulus funds, which successfully generated a ruckus with some community leaders and had Walker on the defensive about a position he never took. Schultze’ piece entitled, “Walker Says No Thanks to Federal Stimulus Dollars”, portrayed Walker's position as stubborn and opportunistic. However, it was Walker’s position all along that he wouldn’t pursue a handout unless it involved “no new spending commitments”.
When I wrote about Schultze’ biased reporting, it drew the ridicule of liberal blogger Chris Liebenthal, who just happens to be the Chairman of a Walker-hate site called "Milwaukee County First." Liebenthal scoffed at the idea that Schultze was biased stating that Schultze was “in the bag” for Walker. Below is a screenshot of his blog post.
Here is the problem. As a reporter, Steve Schultze violated the ethics of journalism. His ethical duties are to seek the truth, provide a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues, and to serve the public in a way that endeavors to keep the government transparent and accountable for her actions. Instead, Schultze withheld information from the public and collaborated with the state government in a scheme to sabotage a County Executive. Worse yet, Schultze presumptuously offered advice to the DHS about the most opportunistic time to make their announcement. He felt he could do this because there was already a mutual understanding. Below is the copy of an email exchange showing that the DHS considered Schultze to be a Doyle sympathizer.
The problem with Steve Schultze underscores a larger problem we have with the media as a whole. It’s no secret that broadcast and print media has a liberal bias and often gives favorable coverage to Democrats. This has been the norm for decades. Liberalism pervades newspapers to an extent not seen in the past. However, the public in the current era has responded by reducing their consumption of liberal perspectives. Bastions of liberalism like the NY Times and the Boston Globe are hurting because the public is tired of unbalanced coverage.
As of April of this year, 25 of the top newspapers in the country have posted declines in sales volumes except for the Wall Street Journal, which is a conservative news outlet. Similarly, Fox News has dominated the cable news market beating CNN, MSNBC, HLN, and CNBC all combined. And of course, conservative radio dominates the AM frequencies with substantially disproportionate numbers. It is not just a coincidence that conservative media is out-competing their liberal counterparts in print, television, and radio. When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sits on story while collaborating with the state government to embarrass a conservative County Executive, it's just one more feather in the hat for conservatives.