When It Comes to Scott Walker, Media Think Bias Is the New Objectivity
The journalism industry has a problem. The core principles of objectivity and impartiality have become a lost art, now we’re left with bias and hypocrisy. This disconcerting reality has been recently heightened with the revelation that journalists from both the print and broadcast media in the Badger State have signed petitions to recall Governor Scott Walker.
Instead of doing some soul-searching to get to the root of this problem, the Wisconsin media have promoted attacks on a free-market online publication that reports information they'd rather not know about.
On March 23, the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported that 25 Gannett Wisconsin Media employees had the signed the recall petitions. This violation of the organizations principles of ethical conduct included 7 reporters from the Green Bay publication. In the state capitol of Madison, the media watchdog organization Media Trackers uncovered that employees of WISC-TV also signed the anti-Walker petition.
Management from Gannett and WISC-TV has condemned the activity of their employees and promised to provide additional training and move reporters away from the recall story as needed. But what is missing from these developments is widespread condemnation from the Wisconsin media and journalism academics.
If it was learned that journalism ethics were violated in support of a right of center politician or policy, would the industry and journalism school professors be silent?
The condemnation and accusations of conservative bias would serve as headlines in most major state publications. Media outside the state would cover the story in an effort to make a case that widespread conservative media bias exists and therefore Wisconsin voters are ill-informed about the Walker administration policies and recall efforts.
Such unfounded accusations occur on a regular basis against the online publication Wisconsin Reporter, a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Since its debut in January 2011, Wisconsin Reporter has found itself under a microscope by the journalism, political and academic community.
Wisconsin Reporter reports from a pro-taxpayer perspective. A position the organization freely and proudly admits. It also has a policy of not disclosing donor information, something that is not required by law. A policy shared by many non-profit organizations including the far-left Center for American Progress.
In February 2011, Wisconsin Reporter conducted a poll that found that Wisconsin residents were evenly split when it came to Gov. Walker’s $137 million budget repair bill, which included legislation requiring union workers to contribute more to their health care and pensions and removed many of their collective bargaining privileges. The same poll revealed that 71% of the public supported legislation requiring union workers to pay 5.8% of their salary toward the cost of their pensions plans and double their contributions for health care premiums to 12.6%. The latter result caused a firestorm of bias accusations from Democratic lawmakers, liberal activists, academics and fellow members of the press.
Wisconsin Reporter published all the results and details of the poll. But the revelation that Wisconsin voters overwhelmingly believed that public employees should contribute more money to their benefits was the only thing that mattered to the organization’s critics. The pro-taxpayer perspective and donor confidentiality policy became fodder for those afraid of the poll findings.
Those who do not approve of Wisconsin Reporter’s pro-taxpayer point of view include the Wisconsin Democratic Party. In August of last year, party spokesman Graeme Zielinski threatened the organization in an email over their disapproval of an article published by Wisconsin Reporter. Zielinski claimed that Illinois was outpacing Wisconsin’s economy. In the article Wisconsin Reporter included U.S. Department of Labor statistics showing Wisconsin’s economy creating 9,500 jobs in June of last year, and Illinois lost 18,900 jobs the same month.
Zielinski called the publication a “shill for the Republican Party.” He even threatened to contact “publishers and editors” of newspapers that use Wisconsin Reporter content and express his concerns about their “obvious bias.” He also threatened the publications press credentials at the Capitol press pool.
Franklin Center Vice President of Journalism Steven Greenhut wrote in a March 2012 commentary that the left-of-center perspective amongst journalists “is so ingrained in newsrooms that reporters often can’t see it. It’s how almost everyone around them thinks, so their thinking must be unbiased.”
Unfortunately this is the thinking that permeates the industry. Bias is viewed as objective and objective is perceived as bias. This clouded thinking is the only logical explanation to why nearly thirty journalists signed a petition that compromised their professional judgment.
This also explains why a non-partisan publication such as Wisconsin Reporter is under attack and an industry that has a blatant left-of-center agenda is free of professional scrutiny.
Jason Stverak is the President of Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity