By Will Swaim | Special to Wisconsin Reporter
When the Reagan administration barred critical news media from White House press conferences, liberals quite rightly protested. So where is liberal outrage now that gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett has blocked a reporter from his public events?
Four male Barrett campaign staffers escorted Wisconsin Reporter’s Dustin Hurst from a June 2 Chippewa Falls rally for Barrett, the Democrat hoping to oust Republican Gov. Scott Walker in Tuesday’s Wisconsin recall vote.
Hurst is the Wisconsin Reporter journalist who caught on tape the arrest of a pro-Walker protester at a June 1 Barrett rally featuring former President Bill Clinton.
But limiting Hurst’s access to the Barrett campaign was more likely a reprisal for Hurst’s reports (here and here), earlier that day, revealing that Barrett, Milwaukee’s mayor, hired a convicted felon to work in his administration. That poor hiring decision wouldn’t be newsworthy except for the fact that Barrett has accused his Republican rival of employing a staffer charged — not yet convicted, mind you — of committing a felony.
Barrett’s ties to felons doesn’t end there, as Hurst points out in a June 2 story. Politifact, an online political fact-checking titan franchise of the Tampa Bay Times in St. Petersburg, Fla., found that a former Barrett secretary, Joseph N. Cantu, was charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor in connection with a 2010 assault. Reports say Cantu was accused of suffocating his girlfriend.
Clearly, such revelations undermine the Barrett campaign’s central narrative. Barrett has attempted to replaced discussion of public-sector workers in Wisconsin politics with feckless accusations about Walker’s ex-staffer. When Hurst asked the mayor about felons in his own administration, Barrett answered them. Later that day, however, it was clear that Hurst has become an inconvenience to the campaign.
This is part of a pattern of the recall movement’s attempt to control not just the party’s message but debate itself. Last summer, following a Wisconsin Reporter story critical of the Democratic Party, state party spokesman Graeme Zielinski threatened to launch an attack on the news organization’s subscriber newspapers.
“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,” Zielinski stated in an email to Wisconsin Reporter.
Barrett’s decision Saturday to bar Hurst raises additional questions about the Man Who Would be Governor of Wisconsin: If this is how Barrett deals with criticism in the courtship phase of his relationship with Wisconsinites, how would he handle critics if he is given even greater power?