The consequences of your signature

Whoever came up with the idea to put the Scott Walker recall petitions at might be in line for some kind of journalism award.

If the website accomplished nothing else, it helped demonstrate the lack of knowledge within the state’s news media — or at least those caught signing the petition to recall Walker or one of the Republican state senators  — about the state Open Records Law. (Which during my entire professional  lifetime and at least a decade before that has been the sword journalists use to strike against those in state and local government who don’t want the public to know what they’re doing. The irony level is off the charts.)

It also may have demonstrated that either many people who work for media organizations haven’t read their employer’s code of ethics, or those media organizations haven’t explained their codes of ethics to their employees very well. (Journalism codes of ethics were devised out of the belief that journalism is a public endeavor, and out of the reality that journalism is the only line of work specifically protected by the First Amendment.)

There is also a third option, and I’m surprised no one has mentioned this before. Perhaps the media types who signed the petitions signed thinking they were helping their employer. A gubernatorial recall means months and months of stories, and, even better, millions of dollars of advertising, hopefully with their employer! (Any media company with Wisconsin operations that is not making buckets of money this year needs to replace its entire sales staff.)

I’m not sure into which category Rob Starbuck of WISC-TV in Madison fits, but he is the latest media person whose signature has been discovered by Media Trackers:

After Media Trackers first reported the signings, Colin Benedict, news director for WISC-TV, told Media Trackers that when he learned of the events he immediately “took action” and made sure “additional steps” were implemented in the newsroom process to prevent conflicts of interest in political reporting. “I directed that [Starbuck] not participate in any interviews related to the recall elections,” he said. Benedict also clarified that the signing was in violation of the station’s policy for newsroom employees.

Finding broadcasters on the recall petitions is more of a challenge because many of them don’t use their real names on the air. That’s usually not the case with print, which was how Boots and Sabers (H/T: Wis U.P.  North) is able to pass on this from the Wisconsin State Journal:

Wisconsin State Journal editors learned this week that six staff members signed petitions calling for the recall of Gov. Scott Walker.

Five of the six signed a petition on Nov. 15, 2011, the first day the documents were circulated, and just before an internal memo from State Journal editor John Smalley reminded staff members of the newspaper’s policy against such activity, based on a long-standing code of ethics.

“We were surprised and disappointed,” Smalley said of finding the staff members’ names by searching a database of signatures at “We apologize to our readers for the lapse in judgment by several staff members.” …

Smalley said the newspaper considers signing a petition of any kind a violation of the company’s ethics policy. A portion of the code reads: “Participation in public affairs or events that may leave the impression that news judgment is being influenced by activism is prohibited.”

I don’t know what WISC’s or its parent company’s employee manual states, but for a media person to sign a petition violates the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics:

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.
Journalists should:

— Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

When a journalist puts his or her name on a public document that advocates a partisan or otherwise political activity, the journalist has violated both of those points. That is whether the petition is for or against a Democrat, Republican or nonpartisan candidate, or a referendum. WISC is based in Madison, but non-Madisonians and non-Dane County residents watch WISC too. WISC’s viewers have good reason to wonder whether WISC has been fairly covering the Recall _____ movement.

Those claiming that journalists’ political activities are protected by the First Amendment are the same people who would be screaming bloody murder had Starbuck signed a petition advocating the recall of Walker’s predecessor, Democrat James Doyle. (Particularly in the People’s Republic of Madison.) And anyone who claims they signed petitions only so people got a chance to vote is telling a tall tale. Anyone who signed the Walker recall petition opposes Walker and wants him out of office.

That certainly applies to elected officials who signed the Walker petitions, particularly those who do not have a D after their name. The list of signers include Madison Mayor Paul Soglin. (And apparently nearly every other Madison elected official.) Let’s say you’re a Madison resident who is known to be a conservative, and you have a problem with the city. Think you’re going to get a fair shake from Comrade Soglin and his apparatchiks? (The answer to which could be: You mean now, or since 1973?)

Appearance matters. The judges who signed the petition were wrong because they now appear to be biased. Starbuck and the Gannett 25 were wrong to sign because they now appear to be biased. All of them have damaged their own credibility by signing. In the court of public opinion, they’re now all guilty until they prove otherwise. The First Amendment does not protect you from the consequences of your actions, including exercising your First Amendment rights.


The Rock of Green Bay

WFRV-TV in Green Bay had a surprising announcement Tuesday:

WFRV-TV Sports Director Larry McCarren has decided to part ways with WFRV-TV at the end of this month.

Larry has made a significant contribution over his 24 years at the station.

He is a noted authority on the Green Bay Packers and has been named Wisconsin Sportscaster of the Year four times.

Larry’s final newscast will be on Friday March 30th.  All of us at Local 5 thank Larry for his years of service and extend him best wishes for the future.

I’ve lived in the Green Bay TV market for 18 years. I’m told when McCarren started on WFRV after the Packers cut him in the Forrest Gregg Purge following the 1985 season, he was legendarily bad. He’s still not the most dynamic TV personality, but that’s not why he’s stayed on WFRV for 27 years; it’s because he’s become the name-brand Packers authority on Wisconsin TV. Between his knowledge of the Packers and the NFL and his ability to communicate that knowledge, the man with the dangling left pinky has more TV involvement with the Packers between doing games on radio and WFRV’s “Larry McCarren’s Locker Room” than any other TV sportscaster in the state.

I’m told McCarren is 61, and in some media cases that’s retirement age. But I don’t think he’s retiring. The Green Bay Press–Gazette reports he’ll still be working with Wayne Larrivee on Packers radio anyway.

This is not based on inside information (which I lack anyway as a former Journal Communications employee-owner and employee); it’s merely a prediction, and you know how accurate those can be in my case. (However, I do recall saying during a Marketplace Magazine cover shoot at Lambeau Field in the fall of 1994 that WTMJ radio should hire McCarren to join Jim Irwin and Max McGee on Packer games. A few months later, WTMJ hired McCarren to join Irwin and McGee on Packer games.)

Journal Communications’ WTMJ radio in Milwaukee is the flagship station of the Packers Radio Network. WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee is Your Official Packers Station in the Milwaukee TV market. If you’ve been watching Journal’s WGBA-TV or its digital subchannel long enough, you’ll see a promo that says that WGBA is now Your Official Packers Station in the Green Bay TV market.

WGBA is the only Green Bay TV station without locally based sports anchors. WTMJ-TV’s Lance Allan, Rod Burks and Jessie Garcia do the sports on WGBA from Green Bay. (It’s amusing to flip between channel 4 and channel 26 and watch the same sports anchor simultaneously.) This is not a big deal for Packers, Badgers or Brewers coverage; it is a big deal for local high school or college sports coverage, which is pretty much nonexistent on WGBA, and one big reason WGBA’s news trails badly in the ratings.

There has been speculation that Journal will shut down WGBA’s newsroom and do WGBA’s news from Milwaukee. If that’s what Journal intended to do, they could do that before now; they certainly have the technological capability to do that. (WGBA’s weekend weather segments are also done from Milwaukee.) In some markets, one station produces another station’s newscasts; WKOW-TV, Madison’s ABC affiliate, produces the newscasts for WMSN-TV, the Madison Fox affiliate, and WAOW-TV, Wausau’s ABC affiliate, does the same for WFXS-TV, Wausau’s Fox station.

Whether shutting down the WGBA newsroom was Journal’s plans once upon a time, the new Official Packers Station thing makes me think that that’s not Journal’s intention anymore. WGBA will get significantly more ad revenue by carrying preseason Packers games and other Packer programming, including “The Mike McCarthy Show” and “Inside 1265” at a minimum, in addition to however many Packer games end up on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” WTMJ-TV and WGBA also will be carrying the summer Olympics, which always means a good Journal Broadcast Group revenue year. And this being an election year, you’ve already seen more political ads than you can stand, but not as many as you’re going to see.

Given the revenue bump Journal Broadcast Group generally and WGBA specifically will be seeing in 2012, this would seem to be a logical time to increase McCarren’s work with Journal stations. He will still be doing Packer games on WTMJ radio; he could be WGBA’s sports anchor and contribute to WTMJ-TV’s Packer coverage, as well as other Official Packers Station programming. For that matter, “Larry McCarren’s Locker Room,” or its next iteration, could be beamed to the other Official Packers Stations elsewhere in Wisconsin.

About “Locker Room,” the Tuesday afternoon version of the Green Bay Press–Gazette story was cryptic enough to make you think this scenario is not out of  the realm of possibility:

His departure changes the status of “Larry McCarren’s Locker Room,” his Green Bay Packers-related show.

If the show continues, it would be entering its 25th season.

Earlier this month, WFRV management and McCarren said the future of the show was under discussion.

All this may be far-fetched, but Journal Broadcast Group has not been averse to making the big hire in the past. (Or the big purchase, given that Journal is the only in-state media company to own more than one TV station.) When Irwin and McGee announced their plans to retire in 1998, no one would have ever thought that Larrivee, then the voice of the Chicago Bears on radio and Bulls on TV in the nation’s third largest media market, was even a fantasy candidate to replace Irwin. But when the 1999 season began, there sat Larrivee and McCarren in the Lambeau Field press box.

(For that matter, I don’t know that Journal Broadcast Group wants to be this ambitious, but there are NBC stations in Madison, Eau Claire and Rhinelander that probably could be pried away from their current owners for the right price.)

Maybe it’s not far-fetched at all. Tuesday evening, the Press–Gazette added:

“A major factor at the end of the day is I think I belong where most of the Packer stuff is as far as the Packer (TV) network, coach’s show, preseason games and things like that, and that’s moving,” McCarren said. “That’s certainly a factor.” …

“We’re talking, and there’s a mutual interest,” McCarren said.

Steve Wexler, Journal Broadcast Group executive vice president said he couldn’t comment and added “other than he’s obviously one of the great broadcasters in the state, both in TV and in radio.”

It’s also possible the Packers could bring McCarren in house, where he could serve in similar capacity while working for the Packers Media Group, which operates the team’s official website,

Moving between stations seems more common in the Green Bay TV market than in the Milwaukee or Madison TV markets at least. Younger viewers may not recall when Tom Zalaski worked at WBAY-TV, or Tom Milbourn worked at WFRV, or Mark Leland worked at WGBA. But then Zalaski moved from WBAY to WFRV, which pushed Milbourn from WFRV to WLUK and WLUK’s John Vigeland out of TV entirely. (Leland went from WGBA to WLUK in a separate transaction, to use a pro sports metaphor.) For that matter, every commercial station in the Green Bay market has carried more than one network in its history. You have to be, well, my age to remember WBAY as a CBS station, WFRV as an ABC station, WLUK as an NBC station and WGBA as a Fox station. (WFRV and WLUK are both former ABC and NBC stations.)

McCarren’s TV hiring may not happen immediately. The aforementioned switches often came after the anchors’ noncompete clauses, which can be up to one year, expired. But it seems to make logical sense (which, granted, doesn’t always apply on TV) for McCarren’s role to expand on Journal Broadcast Group stations now that he’s leaving WFRV, and, note, by his decision.

Presty the DJ for March 28

Today in 1964, the Beatles were the first pop stars to get memorialized at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum …

… while in the North Sea, the pirate Radio Caroline went on the air:

The number one British single today in 1970:

The number one single today in 1981:

Today in 1982, David Crosby was arrested after he crashed his car on the San Diego Freeway in greater Los Angeles. Police found cocaine and a pistol in his car.

Asked why he carried the pistol, Crosby answered, “John Lennon.”

Today in 1992, Ozzy Osbourne invited the first two rows of the audience at the Meadows Amphitheatre in Irvine, Calif., onstage with him.

Several other rows invited themselves onstage, forcing the end of the concert.

Damage exceeded $100,000.

Birthdays begin with Chuck Portz of the Turtles:

John Evans of Jethro Tull:

Milan Williams played keyboards for the Commodores:

Geo Grimes of Danny Wilson:

James Atkin of EMF:

One death of note today in 1974: Arthur Crudup, who wrote …