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Right Jab
A difference of opinion between a top editor at the Journal Sentinel and Right Wisconsin, the latest web venture by Charlie Sykes.

For years some outside observers have claimed that Journal Sentinel editors let right wing talk radio set their news agenda. JS editors have always rejected the claim, and I’ve never been convinced of it either.


Now, a tussle between JS Managing Editor George Stanley and the Right Wisconsin website operated by corporate sibling WTMJ-AM 620 has thrown some more cold water on the theory.


The exchange was rooted in the breathless “exclusive” last week in which RW – launched this year by the Journal Broadcast Group to further promote its tent pole host Charlie Sykes – reported that a UW-Platteville student Gov. Scott Walker nominated to the UW Board of Regents might have signed a Walker recall petition.


You read that right. When Right Wisconsin first posted the item, the website was simply asking if the Josh Inglet who signed the petition was the same one Walker nominated. That hadn’t been confirmed, but when it was later, the site posted a triumphant update.


Within two days, Walker had withdrawn Inglet’s name, and GOP operatives had insinuated without any evidence that he had somehow misled them during the vetting. The JS story on Walker spiking the appointment topped page 1.


This was the first time the paper had covered the issue, and its story made no mention of Right Wisconsin’s role in exposing Inglet’s recall signature. The RW crew was miffed – and singled out Stanley for criticism.


The managing editor at the state’s largest newspaper is too small, too petty to properly attribute any story broken by Right Wisconsin. Two scoops broken on Wednesday and Thursday by our website earned front-page coverage and the efforts of four reporters at the newspaper – but there is not one mention of who first broke the story. Most other media had no problem telling the story and giving credit where credit was due. But not Stanley's paper.


RW further accused the paper of “purloining” an “exclusive” story on the IRS investigation of Verify the Recall. Asked for a response, Jason Stein, who reported the Verify the Recall story, said, “I did my own work on that story. I called all the sources myself. The story was a more complete story than appeared in other outlets.”


RW’s swipe at Stanley finished by reiterating his alleged “smallness.”


He doesn't have to like us. He doesn't even have to respect us. But attribution and credit is common journalistic ethics and courtesy. And failure to do just makes you look small, George.



I asked Stanley what reply, if any, he had to the jab, and he said he hadn’t read the item, although a high school friend had called him about a “Deep Tunnel” award Sykes had given him on the air. (Sykes named the dubious honor after the city’s underground holding tank for storm water and sewage.)


“I don’t think we would've thought an 18-year-old signing a petition was a news story or something to spend time researching. It's not like exposing government corruption or wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars or a lack of skills for a public job,” Stanley says in an email.


Not until Walker withdrew Inglet’s nomination did the story become news, the JS’s managing editor reasons. “A governor withdrawing his own nominee to a government board is always a story,” Stanley says.


He adds that RW and other partisan sites that went after Inglet “never interviewed the student or other students or folks at Platteville, or reported his background or why he wanted to be a regent, or reported how the administration called him after the nomination and asked if he signed a petition and he told them he had, in support of his school teacher mom. Did they just say he signed a recall petition and shouldn't be appointed to the Board of Regents as a result? And they want credit for saying that or something along those lines? That sounds like political opposition research or commentary, not news reporting, if that's the case.”



Following up later, Stanley repeated the opposition research comparison.


“So political partisans have been doing opposition research, digging up dirt on their opponents and potential competitors, since Jefferson and Adams. In this case, Gov. Walker appointed a student to the Board of Regents who appeared to reflect his own values. Josh Inglet belongs to a CEO club and a club for young entrepreneurs; he's started two small businesses; he's a resident assistant, an engineering student, a pastor's son like the governor. He would be the first regent from UW-Platteville.

“But party whips went after this kid and his appointment because he signed a recall petition when he was 18 – it turned out he also was a teacher's son. Then the governor takes back the student's seat on the board of regents, a couple days after publicly praising him. Insinuations are made that maybe this student hadn't been truthful in the interview process – but we don't want to drag his name through the mud, so let's not say anything more. Now it's news.

“When independent reporters tell a more complete story of who this 20-year-old is and how he lost his seat on the regents, the partisans worry about looking petty for what they did. So they spin it. They find someone else to call petty. Better me than a college kid; my skin is old and tough like leather. (Although Josh appears to be taking it all in stride.)

“There are many differences between what we do as an independent newsroom and what the various partisan supporters and outfits do. They have every right to do what they do; we just serve different masters. We work for our readers, whose politics are as varied as the people of Wisconsin. The partisan groups work for their parties, candidates and political platforms. We would have reported this story the same way if the governor had been a Democrat. They take opposition research, post it on a web site under a headline, call it news and claim they're doing the same thing we are. That's why it's called spin.”

Sykes declined an opportunity to respond to Stanley’s riposte, saying only that the original item criticizing the editor “speaks for itself.”


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