Giving journalists a bad name

I was shocked when I heard Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton had decided to drop out of the running for the open governor’s seat in 2010. She cited “deep personal reasons” as to why she was leaving a race she had only entered in August. Bloggers, new junkies and yes, the Govfreak, wondered if she was pushed out, considering that the same day she made her announcement, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ran a front page story about Mayor Tom Barrett receiving “encouragement” to run from the Obama administration. 

I was looking forward to watching Babs mount an ineffective and decidedly leftist campaign in moderate Wisconsin, but having interviewed Lawton a few times, I know firsthand that she is not up for a debate with either Scott Walker, Mark Neumann or the average fifth-grader.

However, that belief doesn’t mean I encourage sloppy, sensational journalism in the name of “conservatism.” I am referring to Jerry Bader, a conservative talker on Green Bay’s AM1360 WTAQ. In a blog posted Oct. 26, Bader “reported” that Lawton was dropping out of the governor’s race because information tying her to a lesbian affair was about to become public. Bader repeatedly assured his blog readers that his information was credible and factual, and that he had complete confidence in his source.

AM1360 WTAQ claimed that the information in Bader’s blog had not been reported by their news staff, so they were not officially putting the rumors into play, but when you go to the station’s website and it has a prominent link to the blog, it is at least tacitly giving its okay to the content.

Lawton, for her part, was upset by the blog. When a reporter for a local La Crosse television station asked her about the allegation, Lawton called the rumor, “an outrageous lie.” 

“It becomes clear the vulnerability one invites just by running for office and serving in government, doesn’t it? I am about to celebrate… 36 years,” Lawton said, before beginning to cry. She asked for the cameras to be turned off and left the interview.

By 10 a.m. Tuesday morning Bader was changing his tune. He released a statement saying he had “lost confidence in the sources” who had provided him with the information on Lawton. He called Lawton’s campaign manager to apologize and took the original story off his blog site.

I find Bader’s behavior to have given journalists a bad name. He was told a sensational personal story about a political enemy  and he ran with it. He claims to have used a reliable source, but having been on the receiving end from a source, I often received material that the provider felt would appeal to my political bent.  I didn’t have a highly rated talk show to support, so I could easily toss aside the outrageous, or at least take the time to find credible sources I wouldn’t have to recant within a day.

Lawton has said the information isn’t true, and after watching her reaction, I believe her. But even if it were true, don’t we live in a nation where a person’s sexual orientation shouldn’t matter? In fact, it doesn’t seem to matter to Wisconsin voters who have already placed an openly gay woman, Tammy Baldwin, in Congress. The only people this type of slanderous accusation appeals to are the ultra-conservatives who feel as much contempt for the person as they do for the sin.

Unfortunately, those are the same people who find Bader appealing and make it difficult for hard-working, honest and ethical journalists to thrive.


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