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State budget committee action not unique; infringements on media increasing

By   /   June 11, 2013  /   3 Comments

By Mark Pitsch

MADISON — The state’s Republican-led budget committee may have done no greater favor for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism than voting to evict it from two tiny offices in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Vilas Hall.

Since the early morning, back-room decision surfaced last week, the center has received the kind of national attention — from media and political sources of all ideological stripes — only winning a Pulitzer Prize might have generated.

Mark Pitsch, president of the Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists

Mark Pitsch, president of the Madison pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists

But that’s the good news. The bad news is that the decision, labeled petty and vindictive by conservative talker Charlie Sykes and yet to be fully explained to the public, is just the latest in a series of high-profile attempts by public officials to stifle a free and open media:

  • The Obama administration targeted the Associated Press and a Fox News reporter for doing their jobs — seeking information from government sources that could be important for the public to know.
  • Gearing up to convince voters to let him lead the state’s public school system, Rep. Don Pridemore identified reporters he perceived as liberal and told his staff in a grammatically challenged memo to demand their questions in writing.
  • Last fall, the Senate campaigns of Republican Tommy Thompson and Democrat Tammy Baldwin corralled the media in roped off pens that made conducting interviews and taking photos and video more difficult.

And just last week, prior to its annual convention, the state Democratic Party refused to allow Capital Times reporter Jack Craver to cover the event because of alleged journalistic misdeeds. Maybe he failed to treat the party and its leaders with the kind of kid gloves and deference expected of a political reporter from a self-proclaimed “progressive” newspaper. Recall, this is the same political party that forcibly kicked out another reporter last year, this one from Wisconsin Reporter, a conservative media outfit that writes from a “free-market” perspective. Ironically, Craver first caught the DPW’s attention by writing about, yes, the party’s dismissal of Wisconsin Reporter reporter Ryan Ekvall.

One of the more popular parlor games among journalists these days is debating which gubernatorial administration, that of Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, or Gov. Jim Doyle, his Democratic predecessor, has better deflected and delayed routine media inquiries. Walker’s government seems to have one-upped Doyle’s. But to his credit, Walker has been downright magnanimous in answering questions from the media after various events in Madison and around the state. Something tells me he and his advisers find value in allowing him to tell the public why he does what he does. Were it so among state agencies.

Do you sense a pattern here? Perhaps Democrats and Republicans have found something on which they agree.

It bears repeating that the city of Madison was named for the Father of the Constitution and the author of the Bill of Rights. James Madison believed that a truly democratic society relied on the free flow of information. His colleague Thomas Jefferson believed a free press was vital to the sharing of information.

There’s still a chance the Legislature will reverse the decision to remove the WCIJ from UW-Madison. The backlash has been that swift and nearly universal. And if it doesn’t, Walker could always veto the provision.

Whatever happens in the short term, however, the investigative center will continue to thrive. Nothing spells success in journalism like doing good work, and making a few enemies.

Mark Pitsch is president of the Madison professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He is an assistant city editor at the Wisconsin State Journal.

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M.D. Kittle is national First Amendment reporter at Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.

  • Cincinnatus

    A free press is not free if tethered to the state. WCIJ should not seek UW subsidized “housing”.

  • Rutabitsky

    When “professional journalists” start acting professionally, they should be treated as such. We’re waiting….

  • Whistler

    “the party’s dismissal of Wisconsin Reporter reporter Ryan Ekvall” was due to a whistleblower supplying him information that would make “the citizens” of Wisconsin very upset at Democratic and Republican legislative corruption.

    A scandal larger than Enron has been perpetrated against workers, stock holders, and Government by a Hedge Fund crook and a Corporation in Wisconsin. Soros’s involvement in funding WCIJ apparently allows him to influence weak legislature to NOT do the right thing. Rather than expose the extensive corruption, gag em’ threaten them, pay em’ off to keep quiet. How many threats, abuses of power and political influence does it take to attempt a cover up? Wheels are spinning and damage control is being done but at what cost to the Wisconsin tax payers and the U.S. as a whole? DOJ whistleblower ombudsman was appointed to help the “Government” agents retaliated against for wanting to do the right thing, but of course the “impact” on the Corporation and knowledge of Government failure to prevent scheme and hold accountable the tortfeasors is more important than exposing another scandal. How can Americans trust politicians that only provide “lip service” with no ethical action on behalf of the “Citizens” that pay their salaries.

    Ephesians 5:11 Have nothing to do with the useless works that darkness produces. Instead, expose them for what they are.
    Matthew 7:15 ESV “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves”
    2 Peter 2:3 ESV “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
    2 Thessalonians 2:8 ESV And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.
    John 3:19-20 ESV And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
    Jeremiah 23:1-2 ESV “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord.

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