In the matter of the stupid, eleventh-hour accusations against Mary Burke, a strong set of Republican "tells"

In the matter of widespread news stories just days before the election relaying a new Republican smear against gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke's business career, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel takes the prize for inconsistency, along with Gov. Scott Walker.

Why the Journal Sentinel? Well, the paper's first report of the accusation on Thursday was at the top of page one of the paper's print edition. Today's paper used that same prime space to print Burke's strong rebuttal, but the rebuttal had already been reported in the Thursday account. In the way of true journalistic balance what really mattered was this morning's Journal Sentinel story noting that Burke's accuser had posted a string of racist, anti-Obama comments and photos on his Facebook page, which the guy has since taken private. That story ran on page 6.

All of which is mindful of the adage, "A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on." A little more skepticism and circumspection from Journal Sentinel editors would be appreciated by those of us out there in the real world, but maybe in the new world of conservatively owned, mainstream journalism, that's just not to be.

To its credit, the newspaper also ran an editorial denouncing the evident smear, but it remains true that the Journal Sentinel blared the accusation in a highly sensational way on Thursday, thus widely distributing the unverifiable claims of a strongly partisan Republican who ran for office as a "fake Democrat" in the state Senate recall elections, recharging a continuing Walker campaign meme about Burke's competence. Expect a Walker TV ad over the weekend repeating the Journal Sentinel's original headline.

Meanwhille, the nimble Burke campaign already has an ad up, forecfully responding to the smear. You can stream it at the end of this message.

In a close election like this one, last-minute smears should not even be on the reporting map. Nor should self-serving election polls get top play. Real public policy issues must come first. This isn't about the game and process, it's about who's going to do what if elected -- although, of course, Walker has demonstrated what he pledges beforehand is not always what he delivers.

I simply refuse to repeat the ridiculous claims and crudely racist comments of Burke's accuser. Go Google it, if you must. But there is something else that bears notice, and that's Walker's own behavior in all this.

Walker has taken on the mien of an above-it-all statesman regarding this entire fracas, yet says he was aware of it months ago (!). Gee, how very interesting that the accusation popped up just now, on the eve of an election much closer than Republicans expected. Then Walker implies the news coverage may be justifiable, in that reporters have not properly "vetted" Burke's career and background, which is simply untrue.

But something else: That exact word, "vetted," was as of yesterday in common use as a conservative talking point on numerous partisan web sites regurgitating the accusation. Gov. I Don't Really Know Much About All This And Never Met The Accuser Who Posed With Me For A Photo nevertheless pulled the now standard, well-coordinated Republican talking point right out of his head. And in using it he's baldly joined the fray.

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