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Does Sheriff David Clarke get kid gloves treatment from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel? So some readers have complained, and I’m beginning to think they have a point. Take last week’s story about a dispute between Clarke and District Attorney John Chisholm over whether to prosecute a jail nurse who made $20,000 in international phone calls. The […]

Does Sheriff David Clarke get kid gloves treatment from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel? So some readers have complained, and I’m beginning to think they have a point.

Take last week’s story about a dispute between Clarke and District Attorney John Chisholm over whether to prosecute a jail nurse who made $20,000 in international phone calls. The first graph of the story refers to the nurse as a “county employee.” That’s true, but this particular employee is supervised by Clarke. Shouldn’t that have been made clear at the outset?

The headline, subhead and first paragraph suggest Clarke wants tougher enforcement of this “county employee,” and the DA says there’s no statute to cover this. But isn’t it just as important that this was Clarke’s employee who bilked the taxpayers for two years?  In short, doesn’t it look like Clarke is shifting the blame for his poor supervision by attacking Chisholm?

Yes, if you read the whole story you can figure all this out. But many people just scan headlines. And will be misled.

The decision by the District Attorney’s office, by the way, was made back on Sept. 13, and a two-and-a-half page letter was sent to Clarke with a citation of specific statutes and why this doesn’t qualify for prosecution under any of them. Two months later Clarke sent out an outraged press release assailing the district attorney and suggesting “theft of services comes to mind.” With no statute number noted. Isn’t that two-month delay relevant?

Or take the recent series on Milwaukee Police who evade discipline. The first story looked at police charged with drunken driving who got off easy. In some cases, the police chief may have disciplined them, and the action was overturned on appeal to the Fire and Police Commission.

Clarke is quoted in the story as to the need to get tough on officers. “If I’m going to hold the public’s feet to the fire in terms of drunken driving, how can I not hold my officers’ feet to the fire?” he asked. “It’s dangerous behavior.”

As it happens, Clarke was fired by former Milwaukee Police Chief Harold Breier back in 1983 for alleged intoxication and untruthfulness. He appealed to the Fire and Police Commission, the decision was overturned, and Clarke got his job back. Breier, of course, faced legal action back in the 1980s for discrimination toward black police officers, and this may be such a case. At this point there’s no way to know. But to quote Clarke as the voice of righteousness on drunkeness seems strange indeed  – unless you’re going to let readers know his history. But the JS story didn’t.

Then there was the dispute between Clarke and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele over cuts to the sheriff’s department budget. Clarke was quoted to the effect that Abele was soft on crime. Abele’s office, however, released a powerful statistical justification for its action, including (1) the Sheriff Department’s budget has risen 61 percent over the last decade, far faster than any other county department; (2) In 2009, the sheriff reported only 12 crimes to the FBI, compared to 41,375 for the Milwaukee police and 242 for the UW-Milwaukee police, meaning the campus police nabbed 20 times more criminals than Clarke’s department; (3) Just 10 percent of Clarke’s requested property tax levy is for police services; and (4) according to Uniform Crime Reports, Milwaukee County has 30 percent more law enforcement employees than comparable counties.

Little of this, however, made it into the JS account of the dispute.

Why would the paper go easy on Clarke? It’s the squeaky wheel principle. Clarke simply goes to conservative radio talker Charlie Sykes with his complaints, and that can generate calls and emails from his listeners to the Journal Sentinel. Over time that can have an impact.

And fortunately for Clarke, there is no on the left who generates the same kind of pressure on the newspaper.

The Bradley Foundation’s Big Change

On Sunday, the JS did a nice story on Milwaukee’s conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and its huge political impact. For Bradley watchers there wasn’t a lot here that was new. The best info was the comparison between Bradley and the Scaife foundations and particularly the Koch Brothers’ foundations when it comes to funding conservative causes. The Bradley is a far bigger player yet far less demonized   by liberals these days. 

That was not always the case. In the 1980s and 1990s the Bradley Foundation got more scrutiny and attacks. Indeed, former Bradley president Michael Joyce once told me had gotten death threats. Joyce was always quite outspoken. Upon his arrival in Milwaukee to take the job in 1985 he announced that Wisconsin was too “complacent” and needed to be shaken up. He was not shy about criticizing “liberal” public school teachers and championing school choice.  But he became best known for his association with The Bell Curve, the controversial book by Charles Murray which critics charged with making unproven accusations that African-Americans had a lower average intelligence. Joyce was credited by Murray in the book’s forward for his support. Michael Grebe, who succeeded Joyce in 2002, once admitted to me that the foundation viewed the whole episode as a mistake that hurt the Bradley’s reputation.

But Joyce loomed so large at the Bradley that it was probably hard to constrain him. He essentially created the entire approach for the foundation. The long list of right-wing think tanks it funds all started with him. (Grebe’s innovations have included creating the “Bradley Prizes” as a kind of conservative counterpart to the MacArthur genius grants, and a fascinating move into Hollywood, detailed by the JS, to fund movies with a conservative theme.)

But the foundation did eventually make a change. Insiders have suggested to me that Joyce was essentially pushed out by the foundation in 2001. (Joyce died in 2006.) And as often happens with an organization, they looked for the antidote to the last leader, the anti-Joyce, if you will. Grebe ran the Foley & Lardner law firm, where discretion is the order of the day. His charge, it seems, has been to turn down the volume at the Bradley, and boy, has he succeeded. There hasn’t been a whisper of controversy associated with the foundation since he took over. That is why the Koch Brothers have now succeeded Bradley as the chief punching bag of liberals. Grebe has managed to take the “vast right-wing conspiracy” Hillary Clinton once complained about and make it look tediously boring. Michael Joyce must be turning over in his grave.