Monday, March 26, 2012

I Call B.S. on the Appleton Post-Crescent

A few days ago Genia Lovett, the president and publisher of the Appleton Post-Crescent newspaper, which is owned by Gannett, made note in her column in the newspaper that 25 Gannett Wisconsin media journalists, including nine employed by the Post-Crescent, signed the petition to recall Governor Walker.  She went on to say those employees broke the paper’s “Code of Ethics” by signing, and further said they would be disciplined.

This is the biggest load of BS that’s come down the road in a long time.

First, before we go any farther, I’m sure people more experienced and smarter than I, have already explained (in colorful language) to Ms. Lovett that Wisconsin has very specific laws in place to prevent organizations like Gannett from taking any sort of “disciplinary” or “retraining” action against employees who are exercising protected rights.

The concept that a reporter can’t write unbiased news coverage because he or she signed a recall petition is as ludicrous as saying a reporter who owns a Ford  can’t write about General Motors.  Or a reporter who's ever been treated by a doctor can't report on health care.

Ever since I was a boy who grew up in Hortonville reading the Post-Crescent, the paper has endorsed political candidates every election cycle.  So, the newspaper itself takes political positions.  And yet its reporters can’t?  What kind of cockamamie “code of ethics” does Gannett follow?

Shout-radio tea partiers like Charlie Sykes and Vicki McKenna loudly trumpet that they’re going to “expose” local reporters who signed the petition, apparently unaware that one of Appleton’s other notorious products, Senator Joe McCarthy, had a brief and failed career trying to “expose” the communists that he saw everywhere.

It’s being reported that Ms. Lovett (who apparently lives in Hortonville!) is on the board of the Appleton Chamber of Commerce.  If that’s true, I expect she will resign that position immediately - or resign from the Post-Crescent - so there can be no “appearance of conflict of interest” if her newspaper decides to report anything about a business located in Appleton.

In her column (and yes, there is a difference between a column and an article) Lovett talks about the “higher standard” she expects her reporters to adhere to, by apparently not having any opinion on any political issue.  Some of my long-time friends in the news business have made public posts on social media, clucking about how “wrong” it is for “journalists” to engage in such blatant political activity as signing a recall petition.

Next thing you know, reporters will be outed for voting.

In a world where Rush Limbaugh refers to himself as “America’s Anchorman” and people actually believe he is giving “news” on his program….in a world where Fox News and MSNBC both exist under the banner of “news”….in a world where George Stephanopoulos leaves the Clinton administration and suddenly becomes a “trusted, non-biased journalist”, it may be well past time for organizations like Gannett, and Ms. Lovett, to get off their high horse for a few moments and re-think their “code of ethics” for reporters.

Have the hiring standards for news reporters plummeted since I was last in that business, four years ago, to the point where reporters can’t be trusted to hold a political opinion and still write balanced, unbiased work product?

Or, are we “safe” because Ms. Lovett and her ilk are carefully monitoring the work-product of these reporters, making sure no “opinion” slips into their work?

Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse.


  1. I, too, was flabbergasted by this story when I saw it. My suspicion is that the paper is upset not so much because of the supposed violation of its commitment to "ethics," but because it fears the shitstorm that opportunists like Sykes and McKenna would likely bring down on it, and they're trying to cut it off before it happens.

    Would the people who find the idea of reporters (and judges) signing Walker recall petitions so egregious be equally upset if the ongoing effort was to recall a Governor Barrett? What a stupid question.

  2. Provocative piece, Tim. The news business is different than it used to be and the fact that "journalists" are willing to publicly tell us their political positions, in my view, cuts both ways. When journalists tell us which side they are on, we are in a better position to judge for ourselves whether or not reporting is biased. But there can no longer be a presumption that journalists are free of bias and, sadly, that is inconsistent with journalism ethics.

    There is bias at the Post Crescent and no one who reads it regularly is surprised by this evidence. It simply confirms what we already knew.

    1. You saw it for what it is, Sheree: provacative. I think Judge Flanagan had every right to sign the recall petition, but - I also believe he should have recused himself from sitting in judgment on any case directly related to the governor and his administration.

      As to the P/C's political bent: we know which side they'll come down on, editorially. In Madison, the joke is "9 Capital Times reporters were disciplined for not signing the recall petition".

  3. Given the slow death of journalism we are experiencing in this country, this is a timely topic. While I have no idea if the PC can legally enforce rules about reporters signing petitions, it is clear to me that what the PC really wants is to keep the political views of their reporters secret. They believe this will keep up the "appearance" of actual journalism, when we all know that the PC has done very little unbiased reporting in recent years. I am so tired of everyone in the media pretending they are unbiased, that I am now in favor of news organizations, and their reporters, taking the opposite approach. Tell me your political views upfront, every time, in every article. Tell me who you voted for, what party you belong to, and in this case that you did or didn't sign a recall petition. Then, when I see your name as the "journalist" on a piece, I already know your views and I can discount your article appropriately. Don't pretend that you're unbiased. You're not. I'll decide if your reporting is fair because I'll know where you stand.

  4. Sounds to me like you will decide if reporting is fair only if it agrees with your political views.

  5. Pete,

    Could you please "be the change you want to see in others" and preface any comments you make on the internet by telling everyone who you voted for, what party you belong to, and if you signed a recall petition or not.


  6. The employees have 'protected rights,' but they also signed on to a code of ethics which prohibits SOME exercise of those rights.

    IOW, they took a bunch of money in agreement with the code. That's very different from NOT agreeing to such a code and exercising rights.

    1. Dad, this is something I do happen to know a little bit about. No reporter ever "signs" anything about ethics, particularly a document which would be unconstitutional on its face.

      BTW, one could also make the argument that NOT signing the recall petition is also a political statement, don't you think?

    2. I grant your expertise.

      If the organization has a "code of ethics" which prohibits certain (otherwise protected) activity, and one joins the organization's payroll, is this not an implied contract?

      One cannot argue that the prohibition forces an illegal activity, nor does it constrain "good" activity (like saving a life, e.g., or charitable efforts.)

      Instead, the prohibition is based on the Company's need to preserve an appearance of neutrality in politics--because such neutrality is valued by the Corporation's customers.

      (Of course, we all know that's BS, but regardless....)

      IOW, the Corporation's interests are served by an appearance of neutrality. This is not a demand which is in conflict with public policy, nor any laws.

      And--again--the reporters voluntarily subscribed to the code when they accepted their FIRST paycheck, and (effectively) re-subscribed with every ensuing paycheck. They had the right to quit and sign anything they wanted including the Communist Manifesto--but they did NOT quit.

      It would be interesting to test your logic in a court of law. Respectfully, I think it would not be upheld.

  7. Well I see the Wisconsin State Journal has joined the chickenshit brigade with the Post Crescent and revealed some employees signed recall petitions (reported in the paper on 3-28.) This is the same editorial department that thinks columns by Chris Rickert, Jonah Goldberg, and that idiot Charles Krauthammer have merit.

    1. Ain't that the truth....

      The tea party folks also "outed" a couple folks at Channel 3 in Madison, one of whom is not on the air in any capacity.....