The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice teed up an interesting Facebook exchange following Brian Hagedorn’s apparent victory. Bice provides insight into the newsroom’s mindset regarding Hagedorn’s traditional Christian views. It’s a reminder of how far the paper has drifted away from traditional journalistic standards.
(Disclosure: I am decidedly not a fan of Bice. I argued here that resignation would be the honorable thing to do in light of his John Doe writings.)
Bice began his Facebook string by citing an excellent column by Rick Esenberg of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.
Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty chief Rick Esenberg argues in a column that Judge Hagedorn’s victory is a “vindication for religious tolerance.” Interesting spin on Hagedorn’s less-than-tolerant position on same-sex marriage and gay rights. Intolerance = tolerance.
Got that? Hagedorn is “less-than-tolerant” for adhering to a traditional Christian view, one that also is prominent in Hebrew and Muslim doctrines.
Bice thus passes judgement. Reporters are not supposed to do that. While a “columnist” is afforded leeway in expressing personal views, Bice’s writing in the recent campaign constituted a key part of the Journal Sentinel’s news coverage. It’s crystal clear here what he thought of Hagedorn’s beliefs while reporting on the campaign.
At a later point in the Facebook exchange, Bice adopts the classic Journal Sentinel pose of neutrality and objectivity:
I let people know that Hagedorn had written a number of controversial things on his blog. I also wrote about Neubauer’s family ties to Planned Parenthood. I didn’t ask either candidate to do anything in response. I let voters know about this info. They decided the merit of the info.
But other comments from Bice offer a much different perspective. Amazingly, at one point he includes opposition to same-sex marriage in a litany of bona fide historical American black marks. Check this out:
Religious people in American history have used their faith to argue for slavery, Prohibition, eugenics and against civil rights and same-sex marriage.
As Esenberg separately noted in the exchange, “…as recently as 10 years ago, Barack Obama would have been ineligible to be President” if opposition to same-sex marriage was a litmus test.
In a vintage Journal Sentinel style mastered by the paper’s editor, George Stanley, Bice also knocks down some straw men.
He says, for example, “Because people base their political positions on faith doesn’t mean those opinions are above scrutiny.” I know of no one who said Hagedorn’s political positions are “above scrutiny.” The objection to the Journal Sentinel coverage was that is so obviously reflected a non-neutral assessment Hagedorn, i.e., he is “less-than-tolerant.”
Bice includes me in his straw men targets, to wit, “George Mitchell‘s point about religious tolerance is nothing more than an effort to shut down public debate — an odd position for a free speech advocate.” Yeah, I seek to “shut down public debate.”
Many factors, Craig’s List, for one, explain the precipitous demise in Journal Sentinel circulation. Other issues, notably the newsroom’s blinders when it comes to loss of objectivity, also are prominent. I, for one, thought the early 2019 hits on Hagedorn from Bice and Molly Beck doomed the Hagedorn campaign. Never have I been more encouraged to have been so wrong.