How can we trust their reporting as unbiased and neutral given their opposition to recall of the Republican Governor?...
By Brad Friedman on 3/26/2012, 7:03pm PT  

Out of scores of journalists who work for the Gannett Wisconsin Media-owned Green Bay Press-Gazette, just seven were willing to offer their personal, non-business related support for a recall of Wisconsin's controversial Gov. Scott Walker. They are now being disciplined.

The rest, the vast majority of Press-Gazette employees, all cast a vote for their support of the Republican Walker's fitness to complete his term as governor by refusing to sign the petition for his recall.

How can we now trust them to report without bias on the Walker story they are tasked with covering in a neutral fashion?!

Despite the clear and unethical conflict of interest demonstrated by their support for Walker --- for which the Governor is almost certainly grateful --- those journalist are somehow still expected to cover the Democratic Party and union-supported political challenges against him and his administration in an impartial manner.

Clearly, that is impossible. At least according to an editorial published last night by Kevin Corrado, the president and publisher of the Green Bay Press-Gazette...

In his editorial, Corrado chides his journalists and apologizes to readers who, he says, "must be able to trust that your newspaper is providing you the most complete picture, without bias of any kind."

Of course, Corrado isn't apologizing for almost all of his journalists who voted in support of Walker by refusing to sign a popular recall petition signed by nearly one million of their fellow citizens. He's apologizing for the ones who did.

"[N]one of the editorial employees who signed a petition has any involvement in our news or political coverage or decides how those stories are developed and presented," Corrado writes. Nonetheless, he says, "it was wrong," for those who signed it to have done so.


His bizarre and backwards logic is as bizarre and backwards as the way we originally presented this article.

What Corrado seems to be saying is that supporting a politician is fine, but opposing him or her, by signing an official petition for their recall, is not.

Yes, a Press-Gazette employee may vote either for or against anyone they like on Election Day, but, beyond that, they may not participate in the (small "d") democratic process --- even if it is publicly disclosed they are doing so (the signatures on recall petitions are public) --- because, as Corrado writes in his hand-wringing apology, "journalists must exercise caution and not cause doubts about their neutrality, especially at a time when the media is under a microscope and our credibility is routinely challenged."

This is 21st century idiocy, cowardice, and the direct result of a decades-long campaign by the Right to strike fear into the hearts of journalists, by portraying them as the "liberal media" out to get "conservatives". Or worse.

I have no idea what Corrado's political affiliations are --- or even that of his paper's editorial staff --- and don't particularly care either way. Given that he's chided a minority of employees (seven journalists at the Press-Gazette signed the petition, twenty-five out of all of Gannett Wisconsin Media's 223 news employees did so), while seemingly encouraging employees to oppose such petitions by refusing to sign them, suggests that, for all we know, Corrado is an ardent Republican supporting the Governorship of Scott Walker and demanding that his employees do the same.

Is he? I don't know. But, after all, how can we now know that his "newspaper is providing ... the most complete picture, without bias of any kind" now that we all have "cause [to] doubt...their neutrality" given Corrado's insistence that employees --- even those not involved in political reporting --- support the Governor by refusing to sign a recall petition?

Ya see the tangled web he's now weaved? It's absurd. As absurd as pretending that human newspaper employees have no "bias" or that they are "neutral" on controversial subjects. If, on the other hand, what they report is independently verifiable --- as we strive to ensure our reporting is here at The BRAD BLOG --- and if they are transparent about who they are (as we also are), the pretense of "neutrality" shouldn't even come in to play. Readers can decide for themselves whether their reporting is credible and accurate --- end of story.

Pretending otherwise, as Corrado seems to be doing, is just silly, and succeeds in achieving the opposite of what I'll take him at his word for suggesting he was trying to do in publicly slapping and privately disciplining his own employees for having personal political opinions on the events that affect their own lives, and those of their families.

How the obvious point --- that declining to sign a recall petition is, in itself, a vote in favor of the politician being challenged by said petition --- seems to have completely escaped Corrado, is well beyond my pay grade.

It should also be noted that Gannett Co. Inc. employees, according to the editorial, are expected to follow "32 principles" of ethical conduct when initially trained by the company. If one of those principles stated that employees shall sign no political petitions, Corrado would certainly have a case to make that his employees had violated terms of employment.

Instead, he lists the following 6 principles which, he says, "are directly relevant to the recall petition issue":

» We will remain free of outside interests, investments or business relationships that may compromise the credibility of our news report.

» We will maintain an impartial, arm's length relationship with anyone seeking to influence the news.

» We will avoid potential conflicts of interest and eliminate inappropriate influence on content.

» We will take responsibility for our decisions and consider the possible consequences of our actions.

» We will be conscientious in observing these Principles.

» We will always try to do the right thing.

Am I missing something here? Do any of those "principles" either expressly prohibit employees from signing political petitions or otherwise give permission to oppose such petitions, as Corrado is now requiring of his employees?

Only the third one listed --- "We will avoid potential conflicts of interest and eliminate inappropriate influence on content" --- could arguably be "directly relevant to the recall petition issue". But, even there, refusing to sign, in support of Walker, would seem to present the very same "conflict of interest" and "inappropriate influence on content," but in favor of Republicans rather than Democrats.

In his conclusion, Corrado writes: "The super-charged emotions [of the recall effort] alone should have been a red flag to the journalists who signed the recall petitions. The journalists' instincts, if not their training, should have kicked in, warning them not to get personally involved. They should have realized there could be a public backlash resulting from this lapse in judgment."

So fear of a "public backlash" --- more appropriately described as political backlash from political operatives and those fomented by them --- is the real fear here. That is the reason readers must be treated like children, and employees must be disciplined for having violated no ethical or legal requirements of their job. There is no illegal, or even unethical behavior involved here at all, unless the signing of a recall petition is now to be classified as "unethical".

This is "journalistic" idiocy at it's most basic and most cowardly. It happens to have come on the heels of a report by the "Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team," finding --- or "exposing", as Corrado describes it --- that "29 circuit court judges ... signed the petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker."

There is no prohibition against judges signing such petitions in the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Ethics either.

Nonetheless, the Gannett report came on the heels of the WI Republican Party filing an ethics complaint against one of those judges, Dane County Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan, who had the temerity to find that the GOP's new polling place Photo ID restriction law --- which has already succeeded in disenfranchising previously legal voters in the Badger State --- was in direct violation of the state's constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.

The WI GOP judicial ethics complaint filed against Flanagan --- for having signed a recall petition against Walker before he was assigned the case, and then failing to disclose that he had done so before ruling on the NAACP's complaint against Walker's new law --- was filed just days after the ruling was issued. Since then, a second judge, in a different complaint challenging the same law, has found almost identically to Flanagan on the unconstitutionality of the law. Finally, a WI appellate court has subsequently ruled that Flanagan's decision, issuing a temporary injunction against the law, was correct.

Under the premise that signing a recall petition against Walker would have made Flanagan unfit to decide the case, wouldn't his refusal to have signed it given the plaintiff's reason to find him similar unfit?

You see how absurd all of this is? But it gets even worse.

Following Gannett's report on the 29 judges who broke no laws nor violated any code of ethics, a far rightwing organization headed up by a far rightwing talk radio host and funded by the likes of Exxon-Mobil and the far rightwing Charles G. Koch Foundation, has now reportedly filed judicial ethics complaints with the Wisconsin Judicial Commission against all of the 29 circuit court judges "exposed" by the Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team.

(Read today's report on that particularly bit of nonsense from The BRAD BLOG's legal analyst Ernest A. Canning right here.)

After all, Gannett Wisconsin is willing to put the resources of its "investigative team" into ferreting out judges who broke no law, nor violated any state code of ethics, while giving a pass to all of those judges who supported Scott Walker by not signing the petition for his recall.

Similarly, the president and publisher of the company's Green Bay Press-Gazette is willing to go on record chiding a small number of journalists who signed a public petition, by demanding that, in the future, they join the political side of those who oppose such petitions. Got it.

Hmmm...Now I'm really starting to question whether Gannett Wisconsin Media is able to report with "bias" in a "neutral" fashion at all!

Perhaps Mr. Corrado would do better for the credibility of his own newspaper if he stuck to trying to report the news with as much independent verifiability and integrity as possible, rather than treating both his readers and employees like children for fear of what any particular political group might think. In the end, his embarrassing public disciplining of his own journalists --- for having done nothing wrong --- succeeds only in creating even more questions about the political "bias" of his own outfit.

Stick to reporting news, Mr. Corrado, rather than making it.