WI Democrats Threaten to Unleash Activists on Local News Service

Lachlan Markay /

A spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin lashed out at a reporter on Friday, threatening to enlist party activists in a mass letter-writing campaign complaining about the reporter’s coverage of a recent Heritage Foundation interview with Gov. Scott Walker (R). The spokesperson also threatened to express “deep concerns about your credentialing” with the state’s Capitol press pool.

Wisconsin Democratic Party communications director Graeme Zielinski aimed the threats at the Wisconsin Reporter’s Matt Kittle in a letter on Friday.

During his interview with Scribe, Gov. Walker touted his state’s recent success in job creation. In June, the Governor noted, the 9,500 jobs created in Wisconsin accounted for more than half of the nation’s total increase in employment (June’s job creation numbers were later revised up from 18,000 to 46,000).

In reporting on the interview, Kittle quoted Zielinski’s retort thusly:

Graeme Zielinski, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, was blunt, countering that the Walker administration’s proclamation of economic victory is a “right-wing fantasy, a total lie.”

“This economic success is predicated on low wages, low benefits and a workforce that’s going to have to slither on its belly, thanks to Scott Walker,” Zielinski said.

He pointed to nearby Illinois as outpacing Wisconsin’s economy, but the Land of Lincoln added 18,900 to its unemployed rolls in June, pushing the state’s total jobless to 603,700 people.

Illinois’s employment troubles are at least partially attributable to a massive tax hike enacted in January. The state has begun to see jobs trickle into neighboring states, including Wisconsin, where a new law exempts from personal and corporate income taxes any business that relocates to the state.

But Zielinski pointed to Kittle’s treatment of his statement as evidence of the Wisconsin Reporter’s “obvious bias.” In his Friday letter to Kittle, he wrote:

What you didn’t print was the deep concerns I relayed about your quote of me the day before. In your Walker water-carrying article, you made all sorts of arguments for Scott Walker, then used a snippet of my quote, and then used apposite information to debate me. IN MY OWN QUOTE. I’ve never seen that before in my life…

What happens next is that I contact the publishers and editors of the papers that publish you as “unbiased,” and let them know our deep concern about the obvious bias that permeates your entire operation. Then, we let our activists know which papers publish you, and they will write the publisher and the editor. Then, we contact the Capitol press pool and let them know about our deep concerns about your credentialing. And we continue on until you actually admit the truth of your operation.

In a follow-up article, the Wisconsin Reporter rebuffed Zielinski’s criticism, reaffirming its nonpartisan status – it is a product of the non-profit Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity’s StateHouse News Online service – and noting the troubling disregard for press freedom that Zielinski’s comments represented.

“[J]ust because you disagree with a story does not mean you should be able to threaten the ability for that news organization to put out credible news content,” Franklin Center president Jason Stverak said.

Wisconsin Newspaper Association executive director Beth Bennett expressed similar concerns.  “To have a party official put something in writing like that is pretty out there… I’ve seen a lot of emotions. Politics are bubbling to the surface in a way we don’t normally see with editorial products, but this is uncharted territory,” Bennett told the Wisconsin Reporter.

Political tensions in Wisconsin remain high months after Gov. Walker passed a budget reform bill that trimmed the ability of the state’s public sector workers to collectively bargain. Recall elections for six State Senators will take place on Tuesday.