Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Shame of Wisconsin News Media (a slightly late Labor Day post)

This past Labor Day weekend there were obviously so many talking points to speak on here in Wisconsin, where labor has been under assault for the past five years. But what kept jumping out at me were the litany of posts and pieces gleefully slagging Scott Walker's non-ready-for-prime-time hack job of a Presidential campaign. Perhaps the snarkiest came from The Guardian's Jeb Lund, titled "When you're as bad at campaigns as Scott Walker, you should just give up." Oof, it's harsh:
Scott Walker’s presidential campaign is only a little over 50 days old, and it’s increasingly obvious that Scott Walker sucks. Not for his record or what he believes, although both of those are – to borrow a phrase from William Safire – extremely sucky. But Scott Walker is not good at this campaign thing.
A good campaign introduces a candidate and his best ideas to sympathetic and like-minded voters through a combination of events, press coverage and paid outreach, allowing him or her to attract campaign donations and new supporters alike. A bad campaign forces a candidate to get on the phone to reassure his existing donors that he exists and is going to abandon the “sinking into obscurity” tactic that hadn’t been working. A truly terrible campaign is at hand when the most widely-reported news story is the candidate’s old claim that his bald spot totally isn’t genetic but comes from banging his head against the underside of a cabinet.
Friends of mine were gleefully posting this article all over their Facebooks, and i'll not lie--the sheer venom in the prose is a cathartic thirst quencher for those of us stuck in the desert of Wisconsin political news coverage, desperate for an oasis of objectivity, of investigative journalism, of holding politicians accountable for their words and deeds. But ultimately, the Guardian piece made me kinda depressed. If the national press have been able to sniff out Walker's bullshit this quickly--to the point where friends out of state have looked at the UNINTIMIDATED project and said, "geez, you guys better hurry--he's going to be irrelevant soon" (as if he'll stop being irrelevant in Wisconsin after he slinks back home from the aborted campaign trail)--what does that say about Wisconsin? Why did 52% of the electorate not see what the national news media has been not at all shy to point out: that Scott Walker is a lying shill who will at any given moment say the least-committal thing that will garner the most political points?

It is certainly one thing to pander to conservatives when you're only running against Democrats, such as he's done for three gubernatorial campaigns in Wisconsin, and another to try to triangulate your position among a field of 16 Republican Presidential candidates (especially when one of them is a billionaire blowhard who gives no fucks and doesn't play by the same rules you're playing). But still--the speed with which Walker's campaign has been torn apart compared to all the fawning coverage he's always received back home is staggering.

It reminded me of this article from Summer of 2014, which called its shot a year out by examining how the protective bubble of conservative talk radio and divisive racial GOP politics evolved in Wisconsin. It was a fascinating, if sobering read then, and it's twice as sobering now considering how much of its prognosticating has come true:
This interpretation of Walker’s appeal could hardly be more flawed. He has succeeded in the sort of environment least conducive to producing a candidate capable of winning a national majority. Over the past few decades, Walker’s home turf of metropolitan Milwaukee has developed into the most bitterly divided political ground in the country—“the most polarized part of a polarized state in a polarized nation,” as a recent series by Craig Gilbert in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put it. Thanks to a quirk of twentieth-century history, the region encompasses a heavily Democratic and African American urban center, and suburbs that are far more uniformly white and Republican than those in any other Northern city, with a moat of resentment running between the two zones. As a result, the area has given rise to some of the most worrisome trends in American political life in supercharged form: profound racial inequality, extreme political segregation, a parallel-universe news media. These trends predate Walker, but they have enabled his ascent, and his tenure in government has only served to intensify them. Anyone who believes that he is the Republican to save his party—let alone win a presidential election—needs to understand the toxic and ruptured landscape he will leave behind.
It's infuriating to see the rest of the nation turn Walker into a walking punchline while he's been treated with reverence in our increasingly corrupt state. True--thanks to years of conservative media crafting its own reality where anything even slightly critical of right-wing positions constitutes liberal media bias, a local media doing its job would have still likely been dismissed by most of the conservative voters in Wisconsin. But wouldn't it have been at least nice to know exactly what we were getting into back in 2010?

It's almost enough to begrudgingly admire the brass balls on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that they were willing to let this blog get posted on their site: "How the Wisconsin media failed to warn us about Scott Walker:"
By playing it safe, the Wisconsin media failed to meet its obligations to the public. Rather than pushing Walker to answer tough questions or criticizing him when he acted evasively, they allowed a career politician to feed them spin and to outright lie to us. We deserved better.
Around the time of the Rodney King trial and LA riots of the early 90s, Bobcat Goldthwait once said, "If you ever see me getting beaten up by the police, put the video camera down and help me." Thanks for all the help as our state's gotten beaten into the dirt, Journal-Sentinel Communications, Gannet Wisconsin Media, etc. Good lookin' out.

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