The Press and the Protester

graphic: Michael Masterson

graphic: Michael Masterson

It is impossible to understand what is happening in Wisconsin without understanding the intensity of popular opposition to Scott Walker and his policies, and the impatience many of Walker’s opponents have to traditional modes of political expression. Rather than rely on the often timid and half-hearted efforts of Democrats to resist GOP assaults, many have taken to direct action, ranging from rallies and attending committee meetings to organizing recalls and independent runs for office.

The press will have none of this. Reporters of all political stripes, from Isthmus and the Capital Times to the Wisconsin State Journal, have steadfastly refused to acknowledge the power, and often even the existence, of the two real political forces in the state: the corporate interests that dictate GOP policy, and the grassroots opposition that is organizing to oppose them.

The problem here is not so much political bias as laziness and a lack of imagination and observational skill, a kind of squeamishness about things beyond the ordinary rather than outright mendacity. Proper WCCA reporters view politics that take place outside of the conventional process in the same way sheltered affluent teenagers might view food in a third-world market, as something distasteful and slightly embarrassing. Politics begins and ends with the parliamentary dances in the Capitol. Anything else is illegitimate and unworthy of attention. Thus in the pages of the Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel you will find scant mention of the Koch brothers or ALEC. Meanwhile, Walker’s opponents operating outside of the legislative process are collectively dismissed as “the protesters,” meaning anyone who does not operate within the received political customs of the Capitol and thus does not deserve the attention of the Super Serious press. There is no effort to distinguish the protesters as individuals or to report on what they are actually protesting and why they are protesting it.

What follows are a few examples that illustrate how Capitol reporters view “the protesters.”

Jack Craver, Cap Times April 5, 2012
“Beyond the union issue, Walker is praised for standing up to another target: the loonies in Madison. Especially among voters outside Dane County, there’s contempt for what they see as professional protesters, liberal academics and hippies who prefer to cause a ruckus at the Capitol instead of getting a job.”

Mary Spicuzza, Wisconsin State Journal December 2, 2011
Uses the word “protester” six times and includes insulting remarks from Sen. Scott Fitzgerald: “Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau said, ‘Then again, they’re launching recall for the awful crime of balancing the budget, so the words ‘recall’ and ‘common sense’ haven’t been in the same sentence for a while now.'”

Doug Erickson, Wisconsin State Journal January 17, 2012
Martin Luther King Day Cover “While the majority of the two-hour program stayed tightly focused on celebrating King, some moments turned political . . . In an interview prior to the ceremony, event promoter Jonathan] Overby stressed the nonpartisan intent of the Capitol ceremony. ‘This is a time to set our political swords aside.’ . . . The most-active protesters — about two dozen — kept to the Rotunda area on the ground floor.”

AP, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel January 16, 2012
“Protesters hissed and chanted “shame” at Gov. Scott Walker after he read a proclamation at the state’s official Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday ceremony in the Capitol rotunda.”

Shawn Doherty, The Cap Times January 26, 2012
“The organizers got around new Department of Administration rules restricting protests in the Capitol — unveiled in December but not yet completely enforced — by organizing via Twitter. . .Outside, a discordant band called Forward played something called the Smash a Bank polka, composed for such activist street bands. . . It took a half dozen requests to clear them out, but even the most profane and passionate protesters left the building by 8:30 p.m., when Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs strode into the press room to inform reporters that the building was ‘all clean.'”

Scott Bauer, AP April 22, 2012
“But Walker also has a challenger — frequent Capitol protester and Walker opponent Arthur Kohl-Riggs. He has taken to wearing a top hat and claiming he is running as a Republican in the tradition of Abraham Lincoln and progressive Wisconsin Republican Bob La Follette. ‘I still think when people see two names on the ballot, they are so supportive of Gov. Walker almost to the point of being all in,’ Vos said. ‘I think they’re going to want to vote for him even knowing this guy’s a whack job.'”

Bauer also wrote an email to fellow WCCA members when Arthur Kohl-Riggs’ press pass was revoked for reporting on the “protesters” in the gallery late last yearNote his concern that it is Kohl-Riggs who is putting the “media’s access to the chamber in jeopardy,” and not those who would actually deny access, whose right to limit access they implicitly acknowledge:

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One Comment on “The Press and the Protester”

  1. Jane J. February 21, 2014 at 10:15 pm #

    It’s amazing how frightened they are of the sing along protesters. On the left, they blame them for losing the recall or excoriate them for not rallying the whole state against Walker. On the right, they defame and arrest, or rush to call the cops when the singers arrive to serve papers, bearing Valentines. Why is a incidental group of Wisconsin residents singing “If I Had a Hammer” so threatening?

    And does the AP realize how poor a job its journalists in Wisconsin are doing?

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