Wisconsin threat condition red: but mainly only in the reckoning of Republicans | WisCommunity

Wisconsin threat condition red: but mainly only in the reckoning of Republicans

[img_assist|nid=50013|title=Fearmongers|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=150|height=114]The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel decided to file an open records request with the state in order to analyze threats against lawmakers. The threats came in during the protest-heavy response to Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to all but eliminate public employee bargaining rights.

The newspaper's instincts were fundamentally sound, because much was made of the matter in the midst of the dispute, when the Capitol was often surrounded by tens of thousands of protesters. I should be more specific and say much was made of the threats by Republicans, among them Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers, Scott and Jeff -- GOP legislators who control the Senate and Assembly respectively.

The GOP lawmakers were not shy in describing to reporters threats against them. They even used the spectre of these threats to justify massive police presence and security precautions at the Capitol, which just happened to keep protesters -- and Democratic Assembly members -- further at bay. One outcome is that, even now, some citizens and bloggers continue to openly imagine that the Capitol was "trashed," and violence rampant out on the streets thanks to "thug" union members, even though police agencies on the scene said the protests were amazingly peaceful, especially given their massive size.

The Journal Sentinel's print edition today led off its analysis with this headline: "Records detail threats against Walker, others"

Only one problem: Those "others" were mostly Democratic lawmakers, and it was Democrats -- not Republicans -- who received a plurality of the threats.

That's according to the newspaper itself. Despite the headline, the true lead of the J-S story is buried in paragraph four:

"Of the 78 actions made public, about 30 were directed at Democrats, a few less at Walker and other Republicans, with the balance made up of vague or implied threats against no specific target, or concerns over demonstrators."

The online version of the story changes the headilne to say "lawmakers" instead of "others," but still underplays the fact that much of the threatening talk was made against Democratic Senate members who left the state in order to deny Republicans a quorum and demonstrators against the GOP measure. Yup, it's interesting that the headline writer thinks of Demcrats as "others" -- you know, just like Mexicans or Muslims or Vulcans.

The Journal Sentinel, in other words, fashioned its story in a way that intentionally or otherwise served to downplay threats against Democrats and emphasized threats against Republicans -- and in a way that arguably tends to buttress Republican complaints that they were made special targets. Nope.

God forbid the Journal Sentinel or anyone else should give equal weight to threats against protesters or ever again mention how Capitol security police threw to the floor and roughed up at least one Democratic legislator as he was trying to enter the "people's building" to do his job. Gee, I thought that was what the Republicans wanted him to do.

The other pertinent fact that no mainstream news outlet has put out there front and center is this: Except for GOP leadership, most every lawmaker in this matter who was threatened kept mum, presumably upon the sage advice of police and security officials.

Neither the Journal Sentinel nor other mainstream news outlets in Wisconsin have yet pointed out that in complaining loudly about threats they'd received, Walker and the Fitzgeralds actually might have made things worse.

Here's why: Most threats against the president of the United States and other national leaders in line to succeed the president are kept under wraps, because the U.S. Secret Service has learned over the decades that revealing details of such threats only increases the number of copycat attempts.

Although most threats are not credible, each one has to be investigated meticulously. That's the way the Secret Service does it, working hard to keep details of threats under wraps while investigations continue.

That should be the norm at the state level, too. It simply doesn't help when some politicians, like Walker and the Fitzgeralds, disclose details about threats in order to score political points or, as seems evident in their actions to promptly lock down the Capitol, justify anti-democratic (with a small "d") repression. News media certainly should test such claims, but not in a way that arbitrarily tends to support them.

In the case of the Wisconsin threats, only one person has been charged to date with a crime in making a threat against lawmakers, because a bomb scare allegedly was part of that threat. Most of the remaining threats have been investigated and dismissed; law enforcement agencies have determined they were not credible or serious for a variety of reasons.

And despite GOP intimations to the contrary, standing on a public sidewalk or street and protesting in front of a lawmaker's home is hardly the same thing as a threat. Actually, such activity, when carried out in a peaceful manner, is nothing other than the legitimate exercise of free speech.

News media have every right to analyze and report upon actual threats as a matter of public record, but they should also take great care in not reporting particular details. In that regard, the Journal Sentinel didn't restrain itself. Nor did it go out of its way to provide important context. After all, in earlier situations many decades ago where Wisconsin labor unions were under assault, it wasn't politicians who were hurt or just threatened, it was the unionized workers, who in some cases were shot to death by local and state law officers. Now there's a threat!

Also, compare the latest Wisconsin situation with what goes on nationally. Most threats and actual acts of violence are not against conservatives or Republicans; rather, they are aimed at public figures seen as liberal or progressive (JFK, Martin Luther King, and most recently Rep. Gabrielle Giffords). They are against rank and file federal employees (the Oklahoma City bombing). They are against private-sector abortion doctors, gays and, yes to this day, blacks and other other minorities. They are against others deemed dangerous agents of change (the 1970 Kent State and Jackson State shootings of student anti-war demonstrators, by National Guard soldiers and local police, respectively).

In that mix, we must also note the vast increase in death threats against the nation's top Democrat. Since Barack Obama took office, the rate of threats against the president has increased 400 per cent from the 3,000 a year or so under President George W. Bush, according to Ronald Kessler, author of "In the President's Secret Service."

Newsweek reported that the Secret Service warned the Obama family in 2008 that Secret Service agents had seen a dramatic increase in the number of threats against the Democratic presidential candidate, coinciding with Sarah Palin's attacks, including one in which she accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists."

No one should ever take threats of physical harm lightly. But neither should politicians or news media allow such threats to be used as arguments in favor of repressive, law and order policies, of the kind Richard Daley in Chicago and Richard Nixon in D.C. both perfected.

Finally, politicians, news media and citizens should not only condemn threats, but also political speech of the kind that incites threats. You can't yell fire in a crowded theater, and you can't expect any good to come out of suggesting to someone else that they need to try.


May 13, 2011 - 3:53pm