What on earth, you may wonder, is going on in the Journal Sentinel newsroom?

Have they gone nuts?

The newspaper’s reaction to a perfectly legitimate, fully legal automated telephone call from the Linda Clifford for Supreme Court campaign is nothing short of hysterical.

Clifford’s campaign made calls touting the newspaper’s endorsement of Clifford. Nothing unusual there. It is a long-standing, common practice for political campaigns to tout newspaper endorsements. Campaigns use them in their radio and television commercials, quote them in their literature, and sometimes reprint and distribute the entire editorial door to door.

But when the Clifford campaign calls began on Monday, the JS went crazy.

First came an online story claiming, “Clifford phone calls confuse some voters.”

That story was based, it appears, on a single call to the paper from a crackpot who claimed he thought the newspaper was making the calls for Clifford.

The complaint was from an Annette Ziegler supporter who hung up before the end of the call, so he did not hear the disclaimer, which came at the end, and said the Clifford campaign had paid for the call. Again, that is perfectly legal and legitimate. The Clifford campaign followed all of the rules and campaign laws.

Today's story neglected to mention that he was a Ziegler supporter or that he hung up before the disclaimer. An editorial -- talk about overkill -- said "many" were misled by the calls, but there is no evidence to support that claim.

But the newspaper, crazed over the calls, sent a “cease and desist” letter to the Clifford campaign. The calls were already completed before the letter was sent. Typically, the calls all go at once.

The Clifford campaign said it was making similar calls in other parts of the state, using local newspaper endorsements. She has received the lion’s share of the editorial endorsements statewide. No other newspaper complained – and why would they? There is truly nothing legitimate to complain about.

Today, of course, the story gets prominent play on the paper’s Metro page.

Lest there be any lingering doubts, it is now clear that Journal Communications, Inc., the corporate conglomerate that owns, among other things, the Journal Sentinel, WTMJ radio, and WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, has enlisted fully in the conservative cause and will stop at nothing to try to elect right-wing candidates to office.

It’s been apparent for some time, with the terrible threesome of Charlie Sykes, Jeff Wagner, and Jessica McBride on the company’s flagship radio station. All pretense of fairness was dispensed with long ago. The station, the most powerful in the state, serves up a full-time menu of conservative talkers. It’s basically a Republican propaganda machine that even produces its own attack commercials and runs them for free as commentary, as it did last year with vicious ads attacking Gov. Jim Doyle over school choice, comparing him to Southern racists.

The television station did all it could to defeat Doyle in the 2002 election, fabricating a story about an innocent Kenosha bingo game that it successfully blew into a scandal.

The Journal Sentinel coverage of the last governor’s race trumpeted every allegation against Doyle, trying its best to smear Doyle and make it appear he was scandal-ridden. It gave his challenger, Mark Green, a free ride.

In this spring’s non-partisan campaign for state supreme court, the newspaper has largely ignored serious questions about Annette Ziegler’s conflicts of interest and refusal to follow the judicial code of ethics. When it has covered the conflicts, it has made it appear that hypothetical conflicts for Ziegler’s opponent, Linda Clifford -- charges dreamed up as a defense by the Ziegler campaign – are equally troubling. No matter that Ziegler, the conservatives’ darling, has clearly chosen to ignore the rules of judicial conduct. Other newspapers have covered the issue extensively. The Journal Sentinel has mostly taken a pass.

The news operation is firmly in the grip of Managing Editor George Stanley, a suburban right-winger who has full control of page one, the Metro section and the rest of the news hole. He has the final word on what gets covered and where the stories are displayed.

The only piece of the Journal machine that’s out of step is the newspaper’s editorial page, which continues to have a liberal bent. That’s what produced the Clifford endorsement, which must have enraged Stanley. So the news side struck back with an election day story clearly meant to damage Clifford and to make voters think her campaign had done something wrong.

The story included this bit of hyperventilating:

"We understand the First Amendment right of free speech, however the Journal Sentinel cannot stand by while its readers are confused and misled by political telephone calls that undermine the newspaper's integrity and independence," Editor Martin Kaiser said.

Integrity? Independence? Spare me. Tell it to McSykes.

Kaiser continues:

"Any calls that mention the newspaper's editorial page endorsement should let callers know immediately and clearly that the calls are coming from the political campaign and not from the newspaper."

Who says so? Certainly not the law. The Clilfford campaign did everything by the book. Journal Communications believes it is a law unto itself.

This action is a clear and blatant attempt to influence the election and counteract the paper’s own endorsement.

Can a purge of the liberal-leaning editorial page be far off?

POSTSCRIPT: Mike Mathias did a nice job on pointing out how crazy this is. Right-wing bloggers followed the party line and pretended Clifford's campaign had done something wrong.

And furthermore: check out the sharp division between news and editorial content.

Still more: Brew City Brawler says the editors deserve an award.

Submitted by xoff on