March 2, 2013 by Hematite
Note: The following is in response to an article that appeared on February 28th on the WKOW web page, “Journalist loses credential after making obscene gesture in Senate chamber.”
In the shadows of the Senate balcony nestled between the stately pillars of the chamber, the professional press is assigned two long tables from which to report on the activities of the legislature. The Wheeler Report, Associated Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin State Journal, The Progressive, and a handful of other media outlets are granted press passes by Scott Fitzgerald to sit in the inner sanctum. There they record the proceedings for the express purpose to educate the public about the comings and goings of those who have the power.
Professional journalists have long enjoyed an access to political power denied to ordinary citizens, an access justified by the journalists’ theoretical role as an accurate and unbiased source of information that the citizens in a democracy need to make informed decisions. In an age when the Internet has destroyed the traditional press’ monopoly on the technology of mass communication, journalists increasingly cite the quality of the information they provide as separating them from mere bloggers, and justifying the continued existence of their profession.
The debate over iron mining reveals that if the profession of journalism is justified by the quality of the information it provides, there is no excuse for the continued existence of Wisconsin’s professional press.
Iron mining has been the subject of heated debate in Wisconsin for two years. During that time, the professional press has failed to produce more than a tiny handful of stories that adequately explain any of the scientific, economic or legal issues that must be understood in order to have a coherent opinion on the subject. Nor has the press pointed out the breathtaking ignorance of those issues that Republican proponents have displayed on every occasion where they have discussed mining. The press has never confronted mining company representatives on the contradictory and often deceitful explanations of their intentions that they have given in various public forums. The open corruption of Republican leaders taking millions in dollars in donations from mine companies has been passed over in silence, as has the crude racism of several of the mining bill’s chief proponents.
The problem is not that the press has been biased in favor of the mine, but that it has been incompetent.
In mining, as with so much else in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, Republicans have operated with obscene contempt for the law and simple human decency, while the press, unwilling to risk its privileged access, has stayed silent. Yet let a member of the press sorority return to one of those Republicans an infinitesimal fraction of the scorn he habitually exudes toward everyone around him, and it is news.
When rules of decorum and “civility” become a shield for crime, they cease to have any legitimacy. Yet this is precisely the point at which such rules are most vigorously enforced by a Wisconsin press, eager as they are for any excuse to ignore the wholesale theft of the state by a criminal gang that is taking place under their noses. If the GOP were serving human flesh at a banquet, the only thing that would provoke criticism by the press is if one of the diners accidentally used a salad fork on the meat.
The State Legislature does not deserve respect.
And neither does the Wisconsin press.