Why the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel endorsed Gov. Scott Walker in recall

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Sunday editorial endorsing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the upcoming recall election has been in the works for months, the paper’s editorial page editor said by email.

“We began to think about what we wanted to say as soon as it became clear that Gov. Walker would be recalled,” said David Haynes on Sunday night. “We began to discuss it informally in meetings when it became apparent earlier this year that the petition would succeed … We formally discussed it once, the week before last.”

The endorsement was teased from a front page feature about the matchup that highlighted a 23-minute documentary produced by the paper. (Front page courtesy of the Newseum)

Sunday’s editorial supporting one of the country’s more controversial governors echoed an editorial written over a year ago by Haynes, in which he defended the paper’s initial endorsement of Walker: “One issue — even a policy disagreement as large as this one — shouldn’t lead to recall.”

Sunday’s editorial emphasized the same point: “a disagreement over a single policy is simply not enough to justify a vote against the governor.” Further, it read, “the yearlong tantrum over Walker has been harmful.”

Though the paper did not endorse any candidates during last summer’s recall elections “to make the point that we considered them an overreaction to what had happened,” Haynes said, “we always kept our options open in case the governor was recalled.”

“And we decided to state our case now (we usually wait until later in campaigns) because this isn’t a typical election.”

The editorial, which was the consensus of the 6-person board, drew immediate and sharp criticism — from voters who considered the recall endorsement a hypocritical reversal of last summer’s position and from the Wisconsin Democratic Party, whose chairman Mike Tate’s public statement attacked the paper’s news coverage of Walker, too:

“Scott Walker not only owns the back editorial pages of the paper — he also owns the front pages of the paper with what is is supposed to remain a neutral forum for actual news. In this case, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has practiced repeated journalistic lapses, underplaying the shocking criminal corruption scandal in Walker’s midst, downplaying the enormity of the division and dishonesty emanating from this administration and hyping up and adopting a shocking re-engineering of the truth by Walker on everything from jobs numbers to government transparency.”

Journal Sentinel Editor Marty Kaiser, a member of the paper’s editorial board and of Poynter’s National Advisory Board, responded to these charges:

Interesting that this is the first time I have heard complaints from the Democratic Party about where we have played our stories on the John Doe investigation related to Scott Walker’s time as Milwaukee County Executive. The stories have appeared on the home page of JSOnline and the front page of the Journal Sentinel. Not sure how this could be called buried? Most of the stories have been exclusively reported by the Journal Sentinel. When we broke those stories and reported other stories on the investigation, we heard complaints from Republican Party supporters.

On the job numbers, we have dispassionately reported and explained numbers as accurately as possible — often to the disappointment of the party that saw political advantage in whatever numbers were being reported.

On government transparency we have led the fight with our reporting and editorial board support.

It is not surprising that during possibly the most heated and divisive election campaign in the history of Wisconsin that we hear complaints from both sides about our news coverage and our editorials.

PolitiFact Wisconsin, a partnership between the Journal Sentinel and PolitiFact, also hears complaints from both sides. (PolitiFact is a project of the Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times.)

“Our reaction has ranged from critics on both ends of the political spectrum who do not like specific ratings to — more commonly — readers who are confused by the blitz of charges and looking for help in sorting them out,” says Greg Borowski, editor of PolitiFact Wisconsin and a Journal Sentinel senior editor.

That help comes from a new “Behind the Rhetoric” series, a Walk-o-Meter that tracks the governor’s promises, and a roundup of recall charges and counter-charges that Borowski said they would do at least one more time before the election.

“PolitiFact Wisconsin often has the highest traffic of any PolitiFact state site because the Journal Sentinel staff does excellent work and readers in the state are so interested in politics,” PolitiFact Bill Adair said by email.

And sometimes that interest has its price. This Walker endorsement “may be the first time I have heard people from both sides of the political spectrum threaten to boycott the newspaper, the website and its advertisers,” Kaiser said.

Haynes is tracking response as well. There are about 2,000 online comments about the editorial, “which is high for a non-Walker editorial but not unusual considering the subject. Many stories on Walker and the recall have had 2,000 or more comments,” said Haynes.

By Monday morning the paper had received about 300 letters on the Walker endorsement — “pretty close to what we’d receive in a normal week,” said Haynes, who plans to run some letters this week and “carve out extra space in this Sunday’s paper” for responses.

Haynes said the paper plans to let both sides have their say the Sunday before the election. “We’ll deputize two columnists to make the case for both candidates” on June 3. The special recall election will be held on Tuesday, June 5. The latest polls show Walker leading.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IK7DA26H4TQ6KKY6UCZBIMIDQM mary

    I do not understand why it takes reguestered voters to put a person in office
    but any body can sign a petition to remove them. To m voters put theses peeople in and
    ishould be up to them to keep or remove. We could save a lot of time and money if we had to prove we
    are legal to vote before siging these petitions

  • Genevieve McBride

    No mention of the MJS editorial board not even meeting with both candidates but actually cancelling the meeting with Barrett — the mayor of Milwaukee.  Why bother, when the MJS decided this months ago, long before the people made their decision on the other candidate, and even before the ruling for a recall?

    This is not what good journalistic practice (or even basic courtesy) looks like, not in the MJS and not in this Poynter reportage.  This reads like a press release.  Or like a typical MJS job these days.

  • Anonymous

    Journal Sentinel Misled, Blindsided Barrett Campaign
    Barrett was supposed to meet with the MJS editorial board next week for an interview, the Barrett campaign confirmed today, but the paper canceled last week — since it already knew what it was going to do.
    Barrett Communications Director Phil Walzak said he asked Editorial Page Editor David Haynes directly whether the paper was planning to endorse.
    Haynes didn’t answer, instead saying the paper was going to say what it had been saying all along about the recall.
    And what it had said was that the recalls were misguided and therefore the paper would not make any endorsements. So Sunday’s editorial came as a shock.

  • Anonymous

    Could the JS be more cynical?  They really think wisconsinites are stupid.

    This isn’t over a single policy.  It’s an endless stream of
    extremism, bills rammed through the legislature with lightening speed,
    and continuing lockout of any opposing voices in the discussion.  
    This is about stripping unions, stripping $1.8 billion from our
    schools, stripping funds from our state universities and technical
    schools, throwing people off Medicaid and Badger Care, repealing our
    Equal Pay Act, mandating abstinence only sex education, stripping funds
    from local governments and prohibiting them from raising taxes beyond a
    tiny limit set by the state, allowing hunting in state parks close
    enough to trails and paths that hikers and recreational users are
    fearful of their lives, a frightening concealed carry gun law.

    And then there’s the job creation issue…If Wisconsin were merely following the national trend of job growth
    since Walker started in January 2011, we’d have 66,000 more jobs now
    than we actually do.  Wisconsin has lost 4,700 private sector jobs under Walker and needs to
    change direction pretty radically to add 7,700 every month from now on
    to get to where he promised to take us.

    It’s not ONE issue, no amount of smokscreening can disguise it.

  • Anonymous

    I will not even read the jsonline posts.  I support boycott of the newspaper…Shame on them.

  • Anonymous

    I won’t even read anything posted by jsonline anymore…DO NOT TRUST THEM…or MARQUETTE UNIV (unless they fire the researcher who skewed the last poll)…

  • Anonymous

    Wait, you pay all those taxes, and Illinois is insolvent & in debt to the tune of “tens of Billions of dollars”?  Perhaps Illinois should adopt some of Wisconsin’s traditional tax policies and investment practices, which has kept our taxes relatively low (in your own view) and delivered consistently high services for state residents, both of which have contributed to Wisconsin’s high quality of life and a competitive economy. 

    Note that this was the case _before_ Scott Walker got into office, and now we are dead last in new jobs. 

    One correction:  you say of this teacher that by the “age of 70 she will have 25 years of State support.”  That is not true.  That pension is HER money.  It belongs to her.  It was part of her salary/compensation, and is not “State support.”  She earned that money.  It was paid to her.

    Tommy Thompson tried to (illegally) raid the pension fund, and a landmark State Supreme Court decision confirmed that the Wisconsin employee retirement trust fund is the PROPERTY of those individuals to whom it was paid.  It is not and never was State property, nor was it ‘given’ to retirees out of some sort of goodness-of-heart as though they didn’t deserve it.  It’s their property, and taxpayers have no claim on it. 

    Further, the Wisconsin ETF is flush with funds because it was invested wisely.  Those employees also own the interest accrued, and it is that time-tested, conservative long-run investing philosophy that will deliver a pension to Wisconsin teachers and state workers.  ETF managers did not invest in credit default swaps, nor did they get suckered into the giant, unregulated casino that Wall Street had become and still is. 
    The reason Wisconsin state workers have a pension is because Wisconsin government worked.  It functioned flawlessly in this area – and that’s why Wisconsin’s a target.  Our government actually functions.  It delivers return on investment.  It is (was) responsible with taxpayer money.  In the case of the pension funds, forward-looking financial managers planned ahead, and as a result retirees do not have to look for handouts from taxpayers — or live destitute and scorned by those who weren’t responsible enough to invest for the future.

  • Anonymous

    Please note
    with some care that the Journal-Sentinel’s assertions about how, when and why a
    recall can be undertaken are not consistent with the spirit or letter of
    Wisconsin state statute. This alone invalidates the basis for Marty Kaiser’s
    & the J-S Editorial Board’s position.

    Sayeth the
    Journal Sentinel:

    should be used to punish gross malfeasance or corruption – something that
    cannot wait for the normal election cycle – not to overturn the results of an
    election or to dispute policy differences.” That’s an opinion. It’s not
    the law. The Journal-Sentinel’s opinion directly contradicts the Wisconsin
    State Constitution, which specifies a recall process but requires no grounds –
    as in most states — for initiating the process.

    So the
    Journal-Sentinel’s desire for a _really difficult_ basis for organizing a
    recall election is just that, only that: it’s a desire, it’s what they want and
    nothing more. The J-S Editorial Board position has no basis in Wisconsin State

    Further, use
    of the recall has been rare, undermining the Journal-Sentinel’s implied concern
    that recalls are too easily undertaken when no just cause is to be had.


    the claim that the recalls are an attempt “to overturn the results of an
    election [and] to dispute policy differences” is a plainly non-factual
    assertion. The Journal-Sentinel Editorial Board at best grossly
    mischaracterizes why the recalls were organized, at best disingenously
    misrepresents the methods and activities Scott Walker selected that did
    motivate the recall.

    Here’s the

    Journal-Sentinel Editorial Board doesn’t want a recall election — a democratic
    election, by the way — so they have to say recalls can only be about
    corruption or malfeasance. Let’s leave aside the demonstrable fact that Scott
    Walker has openly demonstrated both malfeasance and corruption unseen in
    Wisconsin in nearly a century.

    But the J-S
    has to make it about corruption. It can’t be about the law, or effective
    policy, or about the economy, or even popularity — because they lose on each count.
    Thing is, the Journal Sentinel _covers_ the John Doe investigation of Scott
    Walker and his staff, which has yielded:

    felony charges


    convictions, to date.

    and multiple
    resignations.  So far.

    And the
    Journal-Sentinel says no to this recall election, because recalls should only
    be based on corruption or malfeasance? In the face of this record, they pretend
    this is about policy disputes to justify their position, when a long and
    detailed history indicates it’s about something else entirely? Indicates
    something that is exactly the very basis that the J-S Editorial Boards
    absolutely _insists_ must be the basis for legitimate recalls: corruption.

    That John
    Doe investigation points straight at the heart of Scott Walker’s
    administration. Recall elections are a core and legally valid feature of
    Wisconsin’s democracy. The Journal-Sentinel wants you — and you at Poynter –
    to believe otherwise.

    But J-S in
    its infinite wisdom had nothing to say when Scott Walker demanded recalls of
    Milwaukee County’s elected officials. Turnabout is fair play, but oh it is so
    hard to take.

  • Anonymous

    The comments of Journal Sentinel staff/editors are remarkably self-serving and not a little dishonest.  When Marty Kaiser glibly asserts that “Interesting that this is the first time I have heard complaints from the Democratic Party about where we have played our stories on the John Doe investigation,” he mainly demonstrates he hasn’t listened, but much worse, is not willing at all to try to hear the MANY justified complaints about the Journal-Sentinel coverage registered this past year.

    Most of that ongoing criticism has been muted because recall organizers and their supporters have by-&-large NOT engaged in overly divisive tactics or over-the-top or unwarranted attacks — which makes Mike Tate’s comment striking and particularly noteworthy — but that steady stream of complaints could never be missed by editors/publishers whose job it is to be aware of reader feedback.

    So note carefully how utterly disingenuous Kaiser is in so narrowly scoping his feigned surprise.  Does he really suppose anyone thinks that _where_ the John Doe coverage ran was at issue?  It’s not.  Kaiser’s total unresponsiveness is damning:  after holding his fire all year, Mike Tate’s statement held more accurate content than a year’s worth of Journal Sentinel coverage.  I mean, think about how weak Kaiser’s comments really are: ‘this is their first complaint about running these stories on p32′ (completely botching the narrative even though some of the John Doe investigation _has_ run in the back pages).

    That’s hardly a substantive or responsive or fact-oriented reply to Mike Tate’s concise summary.  It’s kind of snide, really.

    The Journal-Sentinel’s coverage has had its flaws, but this editorial is a particularly egregious “re-engineering of the truth.”  Kaiser & Co. are basically pretending it’s a difference of opinion, a policy dispute, a political question.  That’s simply not true.  The corruption at the core of Walker’s regime involves  the hijacking of state assets and funneling those assets and associated wealth to private interests who had nothing to do with building those assets or wealth, a process wholly at odds with the law, and actively enabling non-elected interests to write legislation that benefits only those actors/businesses.  Scott Walker had to lie about this agenda to get elected, and the two-faced MO to governing and the 180 reversal once elected amounts to a massive breach of integrity, and much, much more grievous crime than the Journal-Sentinel would have you believe.  This is nothing short of a looting.

    But keep your attention on Marty Kaiser’s failure to defend his work.  Tate stated that the Journal-Sentinel “practiced repeated journalistic lapses, underplaying the shocking criminal corruption scandal in Walker’s midst [and] downplaying the enormity of the division and dishonesty emanating from this administration.”  At long-last, someone says what we all already know. 

    And what does Mary Kaiser have to say?  ‘Hey, this is news to me.  Did you want that run on page 3?’  Mike Tate just laid out a reality-based assessment of Kaiser’s life’s work &/or mission in life, and Kaiser’s empty-handed.

    Poynter has failed us here as well.

    PolitiFact’s reputation has been in tatters for over a year, due to repeatedly, consistently and openly misreading the printed word so as to ‘come up with’ Truth-o-Meter readings that wildy deviate from the factual record.  It’s not an issue of shading one’s writerly judgment or even hedging one’s editorial bets, or even a question of balancing divergent points of view.  PolitiFact’s adjudication of statement after statement departed from the factual record and served a partisan agenda.  It’s very far from a credible source of statements regarding balanced coverage or differences in point of view–and everyone in the state knows it.

    Poynter is not blameless in this.  The column above doesn’t cut to the issue at hand here; opting instead to merely report out what someone else says, uncritically.  Friendly coverage that asks no real questions from anyone on-the-ground comes as no surprise, and Julie Moos tells us why:
    “PolitiFact Wisconsin [is] a partnership between the Journal Sentinel and PolitiFact, also hears complaints from both sides. (PolitiFact is a project of the Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times.)”

    There it is. 

    Kaiser and Moos are not alone.  The sheer lack of utility of the quotes provided are amply demonstrated by Bill Adair’s surreal comment:

    “PolitiFact Wisconsin often has the highest traffic of any PolitiFact state site because the Journal Sentinel staff does excellent work and readers in the state are so interested in politics,” PolitiFact Bill Adair said by email.  There’s a lot of Truthiness in that  bit of self-aggrandizement.

    The only reason everyone checks PolitiFact Wisconsin is to monitor just _how much_ the propaganda is deviating from the written record and real-world reality on any given day.  Like checking a broken thermometer, you want to know just how egregious and exactly how sizeable the Big Lie is before you head out to work in the morning. 

    Seriously, this schtick is problematic.  It doesn’t shore up anyone’s reputation.

    The only question in Wisconsin and beyond has been how long will it take for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s leadership to get called on the vacuum of leadership that’s allowed Scott Walker to eliminate Wisconsin as an economically competitive state capable of wielding the self-generated assets, cutting-edge policies and clean governance that’s kept us in the running up to this point and enabled us to compete with any and all comers.

  • Max McGee

    This weekend I had the opportunity to talk with a Wisconsin teacher and a strong advocate for impeaching Walker. Her concern is that Walker’s policies will force her to work until age 65. At this discussion was a retired Illinois teacher who retired six years ago at age 55. My real estate tax in Illinois is over $12,000. My home is modest and equal in size to many in the Milwaukee area for which taxes are 40% of my bill. Family members in the Chicago area pay over $17,000 for the same size property. Our State Income Tax is 5%. The Cook County sales Tax is over 10%. Our gas is on average the highest in the country.
    I plan on retiring at the age of 70. Now the Illinois teacher will be receiving upwards of 75% of her three highest years average and pay no state income tax on her pension. By the time she reaches my retirement age of 70 she will have 25 years of State support receiving a minimum of well over 1.5 million dollars.
    School superintendents make (not earn)  well over $2 – $300,000 in the Chicago area suburbs. The State of Illinois is in debt tens of Billions of dollars. They are insolvent. Current  Illinois teachers will not see their pensions or at best receive $0.50 on the dollar. People of Wisconsin look South. Impeach Walker and you will be on the fast track to becoming illinois North for no politician will come forth with the courage to buck the entitlement mind set. As for teaching until your 65 this is the profession you choice because you loved working with and educating children. 
    I truly fear what we have become. President Kennedy’s words, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” has morphed into “When do I get mine”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Kenney/100000721688490 Joe Kenney

    I won’t bother you anymore from South Philly except to say that I’m old enough to have seen many scary political situations around the world. Walker’s hared, bigotry, coldbloodedness, and flat out disdain for the poor and Middle Class is stunning. Anybody with sense also know he’s guilty in the John Doe case as well. Remember Wisconsin, when you elect intolerance and bigotry, expect intolerance and bigotry. Walker is a bad dude who means you folks NO GOOD !!! In ALL of your hearts, you know I’m right.

  • Anonymous

    A telling quote from the editorial: ““the year long tantrum over Walker has been harmful.” Tantrum? Really? By whom exactly? Voters in sizeable numbers protesting against policies that the JS Editorial Board approves are having a “tantrum”? Harmful to whom besides the state. The Koch brothers, his local billionairess and the GOP certainly haven’t reduced their funding of Walker to destroy unions.

  • http://www.jimspice.com jimspice

    Perhaps a more telling, and curious, takeaway quote from the “Perpetual Campaign” story: “The Editorial Board will not recommend candidates in the recall elections. We believe policy arguments are best resolved on the floors of legislative bodies or at the ballot box during regular elections. Recalls should be used to punish gross malfeasance or corruption – something that cannot wait for the normal election cycle – not to overturn the results of an election or to dispute policy differences.” Why the about face?

  • Wendy Contos

    Ya gotta be kidding me with your support of Walker. That is just egregious.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/4WKUX77PO2NW5BKZ64SNT6RQG4 Peter S

    @ Jim.  The Stimulus was spent predominately in 2009 and 2010.  The Act 10 reforms did not go into effect until 2011 and affected the 2011-2012 school year (this is the first year).  Get your facts straight instead of talking points.  The Stimulus actually helped the prior Democratic Doyle Administration paper over their budget instead of taking the structural reforms needed to bring public employee compensation closer in line with the private sector or hike taxes by 3.3 billion dollars during a stagnant recovery.  

  • Anonymous

    Not entirely Jim,  It is true that the stimulus money helped plug budget holes for many districts, but the funding only lasted through the 2010-2011 school year.  It’s why some districts had large deficits before the funding changes at the state level (ie: Kenosha at $28 million).  The results of the cuts and any decisions made by districts to account for them are accurately reflected in the budgets for the 2011-2012 school year.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SNX7CPI5M6TJEHHSUOZE5A3S64 Jim

    The other critical fact JSO ignores is how stimulus money helped the schools handle Walker’s cuts the first year to enable him to post “success” stories on how “his” reforms didn’t hurt education.