Monday, February 27, 2012

Editorial Conflates Both Parties On Redistricting, But Without Evidence

[Originally posted 2:51 p.m., Sunday, 2/26]

 This line in Sunday's Journal Sentinel editorial on the GOP redistricting now before a three-judge panel should have been backed up with facts, edited or deleted:

For all the sanctimonious whining about the way the Republicans have operated, Democrats would have done everything in their power to ensure their success at the ballot box - just like the GOP did.
"Everything in their [Democrats'] power...just like the GOP did."

The line follows this unsubstantiated remark to the judges by assistant attorney general Maria Lazar, as the editorial recounts it after saying "poor Lazar" had to defend her GOP clients with a straight face:
Noting that the last time legislators and the governor approved maps, Democrats controlled the Capitol, she said: "Had the Democratic Party held the majority and the governor's office (last year), a similar legislative process would have been implemented, as it was in 1983."
C'mon - - toss Lazar or the GOP legislators a bone, but don't go so far overboard.

I got to the newspaper in 1983, and I'll acknowledge it if I am wrong, but I don't recall reporting or disclosures then about Democratic legislators who were made to sign confidentiality oaths at private attorney offices in order to see their district maps, or about records forced into public view by judges and court orders, etc., because so much of the GOP's recent effort was not just carried out in secret - - it was meant to stay that way.

One of the GOP legislators' attorneys last week was even required by the court to give a deposition about the redistricting process: what does that tell you about how far from business-as-usual this redistricting procedure had strayed?

The editorial correctly slaps the GOP for its scuzzy process - - as did the judges (see the chief judge's strong statement, here) - - so the point stands on its own.
In ordering GOP legislators to turn over documents to a group of Democrats, the judges (two of whom were appointed by Republican presidents) wrote:

"Without a doubt, the Legislature made a conscious choice to involve private lawyers in what gives every appearance of an attempt - albeit poorly disguised - to cloak the private machinations of Wisconsin's Republican legislators in the shroud of attorney-client privilege. What could have - indeed, should have - been accomplished publicly instead took place in private, in an all but shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny."
And I'm not taking issue with the word "sanctimonious" aimed at the Dems: that's a fair perspective if you want to make that subjective judgement - - but there was no need to try and balance the editorial's criticism with a hypothetical, unsubstantiated assumption aimed the other way - - even if you want to argue, as does the editorial, that a neutral process is needed to replace the current partisan process.

A process to which the GOP objectively added unique debasement - - and again, look no further than what Judge J. P. Stadtmueller had to say in just one of his public remarks about what the GOP had done and was continuing in pre-trial activities:
...we have had enough of the charade and mischaracterization. I don't mean to impugn either you or anyone associated with this case, but as they say, the facts are the facts. What has occurred here is beyond the pale in terms of lack of transparency, secrecy, and at the end of the day, as the court has commented earlier, it may not have anything to do with the price of tea in China, but appearances are everything, and Wisconsin has prided itself for one generation after another on openness and fairness and doing the right thing. 
I appreciate the need for fairness and balance in reporting, and editorial writers are free to pile on all the adjectives they want - - after all, they are writing an opinion piece - - but editorials don't need to artificially create middle ground without facts to fill it in.


Jake formerly of the LP said...

The "both sides do it/ both sides would have done it" argument is one of our biggest failings in media. It's a trick that generally helps Republicans because they throw the "Well, the Dems would have done this" card out there without any proof that the Dems really did do it or would have done it, and the compliant media stupidly nods their heads and enables the cynicism and low voter turnout that the GOP wants and needs.

No, the Dems did not cheat and draw their maps in secret after 1990 and 2000, (the courts decided the maps) and you cannot say they would have acted in the sickening way the Republicans have.

It's a copout by the MMAC-suckups at Journal Communications to do the false equivalency BS, and we need to call them out any time they do it. Well done James.

James Rowen said...

Thanks. Every blogger and editorial writer could play the conflation game any old day. It just doesn't add much to the discussion.

The judges' consternation about the process has been well documented. Stadtmueller said the secrecy was out of the Wisconsin tradition.

There's no need to water that down.

Man MKE said...

The '83 legislature was Democratic controlled in both houses, and the governor was Democrat Tony Earl. So, yeah, they wrote a reapportionment plan, and pretty quickly, and passed it fairly quickly. And, as I recall, that plan moved about 175,000 voters such that they would miss a voting cycle. That was what, I believe, Lazar was referring to. Thing is, the current case notes that the figure was about half what the GOP must moved, and people and courts and politicians back then were certain that was too many to move. I think the federal panel is going to undo that "feature" of the current scheme, based on the even bigger number of voter castaways.

Anonymous said...

Classic characteristic of the current JS editorial board. They can't write a straight criticism of the GOP. They have to pander and equivocate saying the Dems would have done the same. Bullshit. Nothing like this has ever been done in the history of Wisconsin politics and I am pretty sure you can't find another case like this anywhere else in the country. Dems would have gone for political advantage, yes, but that's a far cry from the straight up illegal, unethical, hidden process the GOP has employed throughout this process. A process their highest leaders agreed upon and blessed going forward. Wisconsin should weep at this chapter in its political history.

Paul Trotter said...

Sanctimonious whining,indefensible clients, democrats would have done the same thing,weren't so eager to share with the public, private lawyers, shameful attempt to hide ..

I would venture to say that although the JS took some unnecessary jabs at the Dems, they provided plenty of criticisms directed towards the Republicons.

Yet- nothing compares to HOW the FitzWalkerstans conducted themselves in this redistricting process. That is what the JS failed to acknowledge in their OWN words.When will they just come out and condemn the Fitzwalkerstans without calling the Dems whiners?

enoughalready said...

I caught that lack of evidence, too. Disgusting pandering and dishonesty.

Anonymous said...

False equivalence is a cancer on American journalism. I long for a return to the days when journalists didn't have journalism degrees and hadn't been trained in the art of tunnel-vision.

Anonymous said...

If my son said to me, "my brother would have done it, too, if he'd had the chance," he would have been punished more, not less. The argument that everyone, drives drunk, fails to pay child support, embezzles, does insider trading, commits adultery, or whatever the particular transgression may be is an incredibly weak defense for indefensible behavior.

Paul Trotter said...

The JS will never flat out condemn Fitzwalkerstan! It's just not in their DNA.

Like their endorsement of Walker, any condemnation will be disguised.

And now we have conservative writer Nichols replacing Patrick McNo and beefing up their conservative editorial writers.