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Mar 11, 201308:15 AMBlaska's Bring It!

with David Blaska

John Nichols comes clean on Sarah and Ben Manski (almost)

John Nichols comes clean on Sarah and Ben Manski (almost)

(page 1 of 2)

Part 1 of 4. I have made an honest man of John Nichols. Well, almost.

The prolific columnist has finally fessed up to his close partnership with Sarah and Ben Manski. Well, almost.

He did so only after Blaska’s Bring It! submitted a strongly worded series of blunt questions about John’s role in Sarah’s abortive school board candidacy. And after a firestorm of criticism came from his fellow progressives.

Nichols continues to protect the Manskis even after the lady pulled out 48 hours after winning a primary election in which she eliminated a Latina immigrant and charter school proponent.

Wednesday last week, Blaska addressed an email to Mr. Nichols, his editor Paul Fanlund, Capital Times publisher Clayton Frink, and emeritus editor Dave Zweifel.

My old boss Zweifel responded, accusing your Squire of making a “conspiratorial inquiry” for asking the tough questions that many throughout the community are asking. Tough questions that The Capital Times expects others to answer but resents being asked itself.

I asked:

• What is The Capital Times’ ethics policy about staff members writing about persons they employ? Are they required to make full disclosure about any fiduciary, employment, or other arrangement or relationship?

• What role did Mr. Nichols play in either condoning, encouraging, or precipitating the candidacy of Sarah Manski for Madison school board?

The questions arise from these indisputable facts:

• Nichols has long promoted the Manskis for their various political enterprises; they can rightly be considered his protégés. The three take the same pro-union, socialist position on issues.

• They employ the same tactics, preferring to trade in boogeymen (“Bradley Foundation, ALEC, WMC, Koch Brothers”) and conspiracy theories rather than debate policy substance.

The Capital Times has yet to criticize the Manskis for using the Madison School Board race as (in the words of one observer) a backup plan. Nor has it yet denounced their campaign of information against Ananda Mirilli. To the contrary – alone in Madison, and conspicuously so – Nichols and The Capital Times continue to praise the Manskis.

• CT associate editor John Nichols acts in an administrative capacity at a privately funded organization that employs both Manskis, yet he did not divulge that information to readers following this school board race until he was smoked out on Thursday.

Aren’t news sources supposed to fight for transparency? Don’t generally accepted ethics standard within the industry demand full disclosure?

Forget the Great Right Wing Conspiracy. Can anyone doubt the liberal outrage over the Manskis’ precipitous candidacy and the continuing whitewash from John Nichols and The Capital Times, alone in the community? Consider this online forum at Isthmus’ TheDailyPage, dominated by liberals:

Where is the Cap. Times? Re: Manski

by Westsidegal » Sun Feb 24, 2013 5:52 pm

The Manski affair, which is probably the biggest local political event of the year so far, broke four days ago but there has been nothing from the Cap Times.

Re: Where is the Cap. Times? Re: Manski

by Stu Levitan » Tue Feb 26, 2013 10:23 pm

I can't believe I have to ask this, but here goes: What did John Nichols know, and when did he know it?

The Nichols-Manski connection

John Nichols himself responded Thursday in an online column at The Capital Times’ website headlined, “Sorting out Madison’s school board races.” It is what the Watergate conspirators would have called a modified, limited hangout. For you youngsters, that means that he confessed to some but not all of the story.

Nichols, for his part, says he did not know that the Manskis might leave Madison. He says Sarah Manski did not consult him about joining the school board race. I was brought up to take a man at his word unless I have evidence otherwise, so I have to take his word for it.

But not until Thursday did Nichols finally acknowledge that he was president of the Liberty Tree Foundation and that, as such, he is the organizational superior of both Ben Manski, until recently its executive director (see the org chart), and Sarah Manski, a paid “fellow.” (That org chart.)

This is a fact not hitherto disclosed by The Capital Times or Nichols during this school board race. After a diligent search, I could find only one instance (that was two and a half years ago) where John acknowledged to local readers his close ties to Ben Manski (although he claims there were other, prior mentions). Apparently, that one mention was meant to stand for all time. If you blinked, you missed it. He did not mention Sarah Manski until Thursday.

Yet common journalistic practice is to divulge such relationships at every mention. Zweifel, in his email to the Stately Manor, suggests that the rules that The Capital Times applies to others does not apply to it.

Many of us in management serve or have served on boards ranging from the Simpson Street Free Press and the Kids Fund to the United Way and Chamber of Commerce. Service on a board doesn't empower one to hire or fire employees. [Blaska – actually, yes it does.] I am well aware of John's involvement with Liberty Tree, just as we both serve on the board of We don't presume to have the power, however, to fire Ed Garvey.

Apr 6, 2013 07:58 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Oh my! What a storm (in a teacup)!
Thanks for letting us know!

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About This Blog

Raised on a farm near Sun Prairie, David Blaska is a recovering liberal who spent 18 years in daily newspapers, including 12 at The Capital Times in Madison as a reporter and editor. He served Gov. Tommy Thompson as acting press secretary in 1998 and is a veteran and survivor of 19 years in state government. He served 12 years on the Dane County Board of Supervisors. From December 2007 to November 2011 he wrote the consistently popular "Blaska's Blog" for Isthmus online's "The Daily Page" until, he says, the intolerant liberals ran him off. He blogs from Madison.

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