John Nichols, the Capital
Times associate editor and Washington correspondent for the liberal
magazine The Nation has (in the
latter outlet) a strikingly underreported piece
By the time Wisconsin went to the
polls last week to vote on whether to recall Gov. Scott Walker, exit polling found that 60 percent felt that
recalls themselves should be reserved for official misconduct.
Yet if polling last year is to be
believed, Wisconsin residents didn’t always feel that way. Last November,
Nichols reports, a St. Norbert College survey found 58 percent of voters
supported using the recall mechanism to oust Walker. In January, a Marquette
University poll found 53 percent similarly favored keeping the state’s broadly
worded recall language as it was, instead of limiting it to matters of criminal
wrongdoing. Indeed, the historical
record suggests that the father of the state’s constitutional amendment that
enables recall elections – the Progressive lion Bob LaFollette – favored such a broad approach as part of his
larger pro-democracy, anti-corporate agenda.
So what changed? Nichols argues
that a series of huge, under-the-radar media buys – TV ads, direct mail and
other messaging – by pro-Walker forces pushed a message opposing recall
elections on principle. “Scott Walker ran hard against Tom Barrett and the Democrats, but he ran harder against the
recall,” Nichols noted.
The recall was a national story of course, and at Politico, columnist Dylan Byers points out how cable news and commentary outlets
covering it played into their
most partisan stereotypes:
was blatantly rooting for Tom Barrett to defeat Gov. Scott Walker, even sending
union champion Ed Schultz to cover an event with no apologies for the dog he
has in the fight. (Earlier tonight, Chris Matthews even told Schultz that if he
wasn't an MSNBC host, he could be head of the AFL-CIO.) When it became clear
that Barrett would lose, Schultz looked almost teary eyed . . . . Meanwhile, Fox News was blatantly rooting for
Gov. Scott Walker, and the moment it became clear that Walker might win, host
Sean Hannity called it "a repudiation of big unions" . . .
Fox's Greta Van Susteren later hosted what amounted to a victory
celebration for the Republicans.
So where was CNN – which has been
touting itself as the still-objective alternative to the respective slants of
Fox and MSNBC? Re-running coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.
Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik (a
UW-Madison grad) piles
as I have often said at this blog, was our last best hope for fact-based,
journalism that serves citizens by providing them with reliable, trustworthy
information and analysis about the world in which we live. Without someone
performing that function, democracy is impossible. I don't know why more people
don't get this. One of the reasons we are at each others' throats and having
such angry incoherent debates about monumental matters like the economy is that
we are so misinformed about so many important matters by a failed and biased
Byers’ observation about MSNBC’s
coverage in particular leads me to a hypothesis: that if some segment of
anti-Walker voters last week were surprised by the outcome, and maybe even
unaware of the anti-recall messaging that Nichols describes in his Nation blog entry – is it possible that
their main source of TV news and commentary on politics is in fact MSNBC?
I say this not to bash the network.
But I do know that when I watched it over the last several months I saw
virtually no political advertising in the Wisconsin recall race. In and of
itself that’s not surprising; while there are local spot buys, for the most
part the advertising is national. My point is that viewers who didn’t watch
anything else might not have even realized the specific pro-Walker, anti-recall
messaging that was going on in the weeks leading up to last Tuesday.
And if my hunch is accurate, it’s
another, possibly unintended and certainly unexpected consequence of the way
our news and commentary media have fragmented along ideological lines.
Did the Journal Sentinel’s
examination of how the Milwaukee Police Department reports crime data to
state authorities move any votes to the Walker camp? That may be unknowable –
just as whether a late-breaking report of Walker’s non-cooperation with the
ongoing John Doe investigation in Milwaukee either turned some voters against
him or actually produced some sympathy votes.
way the story was twisted to be used in a Walker ad against Barrett may
inevitably feed conspiracy
theories that the timing was intended to damage Barrett’s mayoral race.
For the record – I harbor no such
suspicions. Although I’ve criticized the
story’s execution, I think the topic is a legitimate one, I think the
initial findings raise important questions, and I don’t believe that the
newspaper was deliberately trying to torpedo Barrett’s campaign.
Money has been pegged as at least part of the big story of this
election. In that vein, the most comprehensive
examination of just how much Walker raised and where it came from was
undertaken by the Appleton Post-Crescent,
part of the Gannett chain. The paper’s story was picked up by Gannett’s
national daily, USA Today.
And in the aftermath, Bill Lueders’ column on how
that money was spent – not just by Walker, but his opponents as well – is
not to be missed.
Finally, former Milwaukee Magazine editor Bruce Murphy, now holding the editor’s
title at the website Urban Milwaukee, offered a
contrarian view of why Walker won.
And farther afield . . . The New Orleans Times Picayune – along with sibling southern papers in the Advance
Publications group – becomes the largest daily to date to drop daily print
publishing—and announced it would cut
staff by one-third. Instead, starting in the fall, the paper will be
web-only except for three days a week. But online columnist Richard Prince, who monitors the topic
of diversity in the news business, points to research suggesting the change will
particularly cut off poorer, nonwhite readers.
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