Monday, May 16, 2011

PolitiFarce Part IV: Politi-Make-Up-Your-Own-Facts Wisconsin

In this morning's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, their Politifarce takes on a claim made by the head of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO.  Actually, it's not even a claim, but a phrase taken from a larger sentence:
An April 27 Journal Sentinel story about the association’s warning was picked up by other media outlets, including some that took it another step -- saying unions were behind the sticker threat. A day later, Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO responded with a statement that said in part:

"We have no knowledge beyond un-evidenced assertions made to the media by the Wisconsin Grocers Association of any such campaign, but let's be crystal clear -- there are not, nor have there ever been, any boycotts encouraged by our organizations."

The second part of that statement caught our attention.
Well, now we have our first problem when they are admitting they are cherry-picking and taking Neuenfeldt's comments out of context.

They then start going through example after example, examining each one and explaining away that these weren't boycotts, as the definitions provided in their article would have them.

Then they get to the one they were saving up for what they were hoping was their coup de grace, which would justify their giving Neuenfeldt's partial statement a "barely true" rating. This would be when the Wisconsin's chapter of the AFL-CIO pulled their money out of M&I Bank:
What about the actions of the state AFL-CIO itself?
At a May 5 news conference outside an M&I Bank branch on Milwaukee’s west side, the group said it withdrew $105,000 from the bank and closed its account as part of what it called the "Move Your Money" campaign.

The group withdrew its money to protest M&I executives’ contributions to Walker and to underscore the threat to Wisconsin jobs that could come from the upcoming sale of M&I to the Bank of Montreal. M&I is listed among dozens of businesses on the "Boycott Scott Walker Contributors" page on Facebook.

Sounds like the state AFL-CIO wants you to take your business elsewhere. Isn’t that a boycott?
Whoa! Talk about misleading statements!

First of all, they apparently don't understand Facebook works or are being purposefully misleading.  If one goes to the Facebook page in question, one can see it was not set up or administered by the AFL-CIO, but by community activists who are private citizens.

And about the reason why the AFL-CIO took their money out of M&I.  While it is true that the union is not happy with their contributions to Walker or their selling out to another bank, that is again cherry-picking and taking information out of context.

These crack reporters could have simply cracked open their own newspaper to find out the first thing listed was not the support of Walker or the sale, but the fact the M&I took more than $1.7 billion in TARP funding, but has only paid a comparatively puny $25 million back.  They did, however, find some way to give their exiting top executives more than $71 million in golden parachutes.

In fact, their own reporting doesn't indicate that the move had anything to do with their support of Walker.  Nor do they indicate that there was any kind of order or expectation for others to follow suit.  As a matter of fact, I was at the Labor Council meeting the night before this happened. They announced they were going to do this, but did not encourage anyone else to do the same.

Now, I'm sure the bank's support of Walker had something to do with it, but it can in no honest way be construed as being the only, or even the main, reason the AFL-CIO pulled out their money.  It would be more apt to describe it as the proverbial last straw.

Yet they found a way to rate the cherry-picked partial sentence as "barely true." (Is that anything like being a little bit pregnant?)  That is quite the feat in mental logistics to come to that conclusion despite the findings of their own research and of their own paper's previous reporting.

So why did they go through all of the mental contortions and leaps of illogic to come to such a blatantly biased opinion, er, decision?

Well, there are three obvious reasons that I can immediately think of off the top of my head:

  1. The paper itself endorses Walker. They endorsed him during the campaign and have treated him with kid gloves for nine long years now.  They're just continuing to protect their golden boy.
  2. Journal Communications is anti-union.  Their TV station has been having a long term problem with its union.  The paper has been feuding with its unions for years now, laying people off in droves and generally screwing over their employees while Steve Smith, CEO of Journal Communications, keeps getting richer.
  3. M&I is a big advertiser with Journal Communications. You can't listen to WTMJ and make it through an hour without hearing the "M&I Wealth Management" shtick.  Their ads are all over their web page and in their paper.  With the paper hurting in sales, Sykes sinking in the ratings and people moving away from their news shows, they can't afford to tick off or even lose such a huge money ticket like M&I or their successor.
Given that they would go to such extremes to protect their self-interest or the interest of a favored advertiser or politician, instead of, you know, practicing ethical and responsible journalism, is just one more reason for me not to rely on them as a reliable resource, or at least not as responsible as those that are actually reporting what is going on, especially when it comes to anything political.  


  1. ButSiriuslyFolksMay 16, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    Incidentally, I have contacted Politifact numerous times asking them to investigate Walker's claim that the state insurance plan is "significantly" cheaper than WEAC's plan, and even sent them documents showing the premiums of both. Nothing.

  2. Then send the documents to your favorite blogger. We are the new media.