Parsing that New York Times article on Scott Walker and the recalls

Writing a partisan hit piece disguised as even-handed journalism is a skill. New York Times Sunday magazine contributor Dan Kaufman is a skilled writer.

You, too, can write tendentious articles. I’ll walk you through how Dan did his for the May 27 issue. First, slap an ostensibly neutral headline over your piece. In this case: "How did Wisconsin become the most politically divisive place in America?"

You see, this isn’t about conservatives versus progressives/liberals, it’s about “civility.” Can’t we all just get along? We need to get ourselves some healin’.

Long articles need pictures. Let’s show recall candidate Lori Compas campaigning door to door. There she is smiling, her hand extended to a young mother who is holding her infant child. Contrast that with the next photograph. A stern-looking white man glowers against a backdrop of the hard marble and granite of the Capitol, the seat of power. Emerging from the darkness in the background is the evil incumbent, Scott Fitzgerald.

Dr. Pavlov will see you now.

All right, it is an interpretive magazine article, written from a point of view. The form is a journalistic tradition. But in The New York Times, it means only one thing: liberal Democrats = good; conservative Republicans = bad. Just for once, couldn’t they surprise their readers?

No, for there is a conservative Republican who needs to be recalled. So the piece is populated with the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove, and a mysterious guy named ALEC, as conjured by (who else?) that dispassionate source, State Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison.

Justice Prosser gets cited for choking a female colleague; no mention of said colleague running at him with flying fists of fury.

Nor do 14 Senate Democrats flee to Illinois in an attempt to impose minority rule. Instead, they “decamp.” Sounds much more benign, don’t you think?

Bill Kraus Republicans

Here’s another useful trick for writers intent on proving that Republicans have mutated into necrophilic zombies: Trot out an apostate Republican, sometimes known as a Bill Kraus Republican, aka a “moderate.” The 51% Republican, eager for the attention, will lament how, back in the day, s/he could debate during the day, then get bleary-eyed drunk together at the old Congress Bar.

Of course, these lapsed Republicans got along famously with Democrats because they weren’t all that different to begin with. They wanted the same things, really, just a little bit less of it and a little bit later, and were very gracious about losing – perhaps because they had so much practice. Today’s turncoat is Barbara Lorman, thrown out of office by said Fitzgerald in a Republican primary long ago.

The other reliable stock player in this kind of journalism is the Republican of Courage, always an endangered species. He is courageous, not because he withstands the slings and arrows of a predominantly liberal news media or a chanting mob (someone like, oh, say, Scott Walker) but because he is willing to buck his own party. Dale Schultz, we’re ready for your close-up.

As important as what goes in these advocacy pieces is what gets left out. Facts are much more convenient when they are carefully selected by trained journalists. One billion dollars in savings due to Walker’s collective bargaining reforms, as codified in Act 10, is not recorded here. The first reduction in property taxes in 12 years? Search all you want, you won’t find it. Elected school district leaders innovating on curriculum instead of tied down by grievances? Not a jot or a tittle. No layoffs, no government shutdown as in other states? No mention.

The unions are said to have offered to concede everything to the governor except their “bargaining rights.” Then why did Milwaukee’s unionized teachers refuse to reopen their contract (ratified pre-Act 10)? Why did they choose layoffs rather than give up their legal fight for taxpayer-financed Viagra?

Where, for that matter, is the recognition that the private sector would be only too happy to pay 12.8% of their salary toward their health insurance – about half what they currently pay?

President Obama, and his broken promise to march shoulder to shoulder with Wisconsin’s downtrodden government workers, rates not a mention. (Might bring up federal workers’ lack of collective bargaining.) Jesse Jackson and Michael Moore are absent from Kaufman’s roll call, as are Segway Jeremy, Anarchy Man, and Pink Dress Guy. No need to worry the reader by recounting the overnight camping in the Capitol, marijuana tents, incessant chanting, boycotts, and death threats. Glenn Grothman needs no rescue from a threatening mob in this story.

AWOL from the Times’ narrative is Tom Barrett. The recall challenger is mentioned a total of once. Scott Walker, 55 times. Walker, very suspiciously, “declined to comment.” Barrett? Doesn’t appear he was ever asked to comment, much less explain how he would have addressed a $3.6 billion budget deficit.

But here is the absolute money shot. The article opens with the chairman of the Bad River Indian Tribe, who alleges (falsely) that the once-proposed Iron County iron mine would spew sulfuric acid into their rice beds. (The mine would have used magnets, not chemicals, to separate the ore from the rock.)

The Times Magazine article closes with the same fellow, and he is crying. Yes, a crying Indian conservationist! How 1970s!

Platinum subscriber detritus

• Stephen Hayes and his magazine, the Weekly Standard, are up-front about their conservative worldview. Hayes writes: “The Wisconsin recall is a farce – a childish, union-sponsored tantrum that will cost the state’s taxpayers an estimated $18 million.”

• The organization We the People of the Republic (that’s Ross Brown’s outfit) has launched a new interactive website, Find out how much tax money Act 10 saved you!

• Amazes me how cool Scott Walker is under fire. Never once showed a flash of temper during Friday night’s televised debate. Great panel of journalists. It’s still worth reading Ann of Althouse’s live blog of the debate and the comments from her readers, one of whom urged, "Attaboy, Scott. Make the unions spend it all!"

• The Associated Press reports the president has chosen one John Brennan to decide who will be targeted for drone attacks and raids under the United States’ top-secret assassination program. Damn, I knew I should have been nicer to the guy. Wait a minute. What’s that noise outside my …

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