Message control: Dems decide who’s a reporter and who isn’t


By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — Adam Tobias, you may have been left out, but you are not alone.

The Democratic Party and its candidates have locked out Wisconsin Reporter — and plenty of other conservative news organizations — from staged political events in recent years.

Wisconsin Reporter’s Tobias reported Tuesday he was barred from a Madison campaign rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, with guest stumper first lady Michelle Obama.

Melissa Baldauff, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, told Tobias on Monday that Wisconsin Reporter wouldn’t be allowed to attend the event at the Overture Center because the online publication isn’t a legitimate news source.

NEED NOT APPLY: First lady Michelle Obama rallies the Democratic Party troops for Mary Burke’s campaign for governor Tuesday in Madison. Wisconsin Reporter was denied access to the event by a Democratic Party official. The party more and more is picking and choosing who covers its events.

Baldauff, who agreed to speak to Wisconsin Reporter on Monday outside the offices of the Democratic Party and Burke for Wisconsin, initially attributed the denial to a lack of space — even though Tobias’ request for media credentials was submitted Saturday, shortly after the Burke campaign sent a news release outlining the logistics.

That answer changed when Baldauff, who repeatedly declined to explain the process for selecting which media outlets can participate, was told Wisconsin Reporter would be doing a story on press being turned away from the political fundraiser.

“Well, you’re not the press though, so, thanks,” Baldauff said as she left the hallway and closed an office door.

Gee, there sure is a lot of that kind of journalism parochialism going around in the Democratic Party these days.

Remember last year when U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin called for a litmus test to decide who is a journalist? The Illinois Democrat, in an op-ed in the Chicago Sun Times, graciously allowed that, “Everyone, regardless of the mode of expression has a constitutionally protected right to free speech.”

Well, not everyone. Not those “dark money” Koch Brothers and their conservative allies, Dick and his Dem pals said in their failed drive to rewrite the First Amendment. But certainly friends of the left have every right.

Ah, but Dick has a but…

“But when it comes to freedom of the press, I believe we must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive,” the senator wrote.

When it comes to closing the curtain on the First Amendment, President Barack Obama, aka the “transparency president,” is a bipartisan offender.

The president has been repeatedly blasted for locking out media, particularly from his closed-door fundraisers with big left donors and Super PACs.

“Tuesday, the reporters and photographers traveling with the president on Air Force One and in his motorcade were left on the gravel path not even within sight of former Costco CEO Jim Sinegal’s house in the Seattle suburbs where Obama sat for a Senate Majority PAC fundraiser with a $25,000 entrance fee,” Politico reported in July.

Partisans on both sides of the aisle like to control their political dog-and-pony shows. No party has a corner on message manipulation.

But Wisconsin Dems have been particularly cloistered about who they allow into their campaign jamborees, and who they don’t.

You might recall it was just a little over a week ago when the Burke camp tried to block reporters from talking to crowd members at a previous get-together with the first lady. That decision was widely panned by journalists and journalism organizations everywhere.

While groups like the Wisconsin Newspaper Association came to Wisconsin Reporter’s defense, it was hard to find a friend among the mainstream media.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel clinched its teeth and noted that “staff of the conservative Website were barred from Obama’s speech, as they have been at other Democratic events in recent years.”

Just for clarification sake, MJS: Wisconsin Reporter is a bit more than a “website.” We’re part of, a national investigative reporting news outlet, and our stories run in publications across the country.

Perhaps the Journal Sentinel, like Dick Durbin and friends, sees itself in the business of deciding who is and isn’t a journalist.

The only other paragraph in the newspaper’s story concerning the DPW’s reporter block is that Wisconsin Reporter’s parent company, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, received $240,000 in 2012 from the Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, “headed by chief executive officer Michael Grebe, who also serves as (Gov. Scott) Walker’s campaign chair.”

Franklin Center is a nonprofit news organization funded through donations from people from all walks of life, many who are disturbed by the lack of real investigative reporting from traditional news outlets.

It is interesting to note how quickly the Journal Sentinel and plenty of other mainstream outlets rallied around the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism when Republican leaders in the Legislature attempted to kick the news outlet out of its free-rent accommodations on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

Wisconsin Reporter, too, joined the chorus of journalism organizations critical of the budget provision, which eventually was vetoed by Walker. This, despite the fact the nonprofit center has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from left-leaning groups.

Yes, Wisconsin Reporter has been booted from Democratic Party-controlled events on at least three occasions.

* The party’s animus for Wisconsin Reporter started in August 2011, in the heat of the first wave of Senate recall elections. The Dems’ mouthpiece, the ever cuddly Graeme Zielinski, who also got the boot from the party after a stream of incendiary comments, threatened that he and his ilk would launch a campaign to discredit Wisconsin Reporter with its news partners. Those outlets weren’t much for standing up against the DPW then, either.

* Later in 2011, Wisconsin Reporter’s Kirsten Adshead was brusquely dispatched from a Dem organizational meeting for the recall campaign against Walker.

* In 2012, Wisconsin Reporter’s Ryan Ekvall got the heave-ho from the party’s state convention in Appleton.

We have always followed the rules. We have always identified who we are, and what organization we are from. We are proud to do so, because we are proud of the journalism we do and the critical light we shine on policy and policymakers. Of course, that’s something that isn’t always welcome from politicians — particularly the dog-and-pony show set.