When bloggers battle

The Capital Times’ Jack Craver:

The Wisconsin Free, a site founded by Josiah Cantrall, a conservative activist who worked on Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign and wrote for Breitbart.com, has attracted derision from two players in Wisconsin’s conservative blog space.

The criticism stems from Cantrall’s decision to post a guest column on his site by liberal radio host John “Sly” Sylvester. He also went on Sylvester’s show to promote his new site. The two apparently have a mutual friend, conservative talk radio host James T. Harris, who used to occasionally substitute for Sylvester on WTDY, a now-defunct Madison talk station.

That a former Breitbart writer would pal around with Sylvester is ironic, to say the least. Last year, the veteran talker, who has a penchant for provocation, celebrated the unexpected death of the site’s founder, Andrew Breitbart, saying he wanted to cover the conservative activist’s grave in weed-killer “so there’s no chance he ever comes back to life, and I can kill him like the weed that he was.”

Brian Sikma, the lead writer for Media Trackers, a conservative muckraking site, expressed shock at the cooperation between the two.

“Ex-Breitbart writer @JosiahCantrall recruits Lefty who said glad Breitbart died to write for @WisconsinFree,” reported Sikma on Twitter.

Sikma then highlighted a number of other controversial statements Sylvester has made over the years, including a crude joke about Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and a comment in which he referred to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as “Aunt Jemima.”

Then Milwaukee talk radio host Charlie Sykes, who runs Right Wisconsin, a conservative website operated by Journal Broadcasting Group (which owns the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and WTMJ), joined in bashing the new site.

“’Conservative’ website that gives forum to lefty misogynist “Sly” Sylvester…. Great start,” he tweeted.

Cantrall responded by relaying a message from one of his supporters: “It is a shame to see the jealousy of (Sikma and Sykes) and others for @WisconsinFree and @JosiahCantrall. Shameful & unprofessional”

Reached for comment on the tiff, Sylvester said he found Sykes’ objections to the Wisconsin Free ironic on a few fronts.

First, he noted, Sykes and other writers at Right Wisconsin have been giving him a great deal of attention lately because of the criticism he has had for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke. Second, he said, Sykes regularly highlights commentators, including conservative provocatrice Ann Coulter, who, among other things, called John Edwards a “faggot” and mocked a group of 9/11 widows.

“I suspect that has more to do with Charlie feeling threatened by Wisconsin Free,” he said.

Sykes didn’t have much to say. Replying by email, Sykes said, “I think Sly’s conduct speaks for itself. #vile.”

Sylvester said he didn’t want to cause the young web entrepreneur any problems, so he is unsure whether he will be contributing more content in the future.

Madison conservative radio host Vicki McKenna (1310 WIBA-AM), a perpetual target of Sylvester’s oft-obscene scorn, suggested Cantrall made an honest mistake in posting Sylvester’s column.

“I personally know how horrid that cretin is & I believe Josiah erred honestly,” she tweeted, urging peace in the conservative blogosphere.

Cantrall has apparently gotten the message that ‘Sly’ is not a brand he wants attached to his website if he wants a future in the righty mediasphere. Although he declined to discuss his reasoning, he confirmed he would no longer include commentary from the liberal radio personality.

I think there is a lot wrong in what you have just read. (Not Craver’s reporting, though I wonder why he considers this news other than to make conservatives look bad, at the command of his employer, which can never be said to  print a discouraging word about Democrats. If you believe that part of the problem with political reporting is that it lacks substance, well, that can be your most recent example.)

First, an excerpt from Sly:

Recently, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Christian Schneider referenced my comments calling Democratic candidate for governor and Trek Bicycle shareholder Mary Burke “Mitt Romney in a red dress.” He urged like-minded conservatives to resist attacking Burke and Trek for making 99.5% of its bicycles overseas.  Schneider went on to say that we need have an adult conversation about outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries like China.

 I have some adult questions for all the so-called grown ups that are promising to create jobs in Wisconsin.

1) Ms. Burke— As a major shareholder of Trek, have you directly benefited from your company making almost all of its bikes in slave-wage countries?

2) Governor Walker— According to the U.S. Census Department, Wisconsin has one of the worst trade deficits with China in the country.  It’s only gotten worse since you were sworn in as governor in 2011.  China now has a 4.2 billion dollar trade surplus with the Wisconsin.  The Economic Policy Institute reports that Wisconsin lost 54,000 jobs in the last decade. Given the overwhelming evidence, why did you appear on a Chinese media channel and say, “the best way for us to show that there is a good and fair trading system is to do what we’re doing right here?” Is our trading system fair or good for Wisconsin workers?

3) Assembly Speaker Vos— Why did Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly kill a bill that would have required the state to buy American-made material for public infrastructure projects?  Did you really say the bill picks winners and losers?

If Wisconsin is going to create good jobs in the future, we need more economic patriotism from our elected leaders. They may want to follow the example of entrepreneur John Miller in Milwaukee.

Miller wants to employ veterans coming home from overseas to make a new type of motorcycle windshield that he invented. …

In his adult column, Christian Schneider also extolled the virtues of the TV show Shark Tank where the same type of shortsighted investors urge small business people to offshore manufacturing in order to grow their companies.  What Schneider, Burke, Walker, and Vos lack is a little thing called Wisconsin patriotism.  How can any elected leader create living-wage jobs when they fail to understand that we make things in the Badger State?

Are these conservative points of view? No, but it’s his blog to post the views of whoever Cantrall chooses. Does that mean conservatives shouldn’t discuss those points? No, it doesn’t. Does the fact that Sly (with whom, you’ll recall, I have personal experience) has been known to stomp all over the boundaries of good taste mean those aren’t points of view worth considering? No, it doesn’t. (Liberals love to dump on conservatives when Coulter or Rush Limbaugh offends them. Obviously respect for the right of free expression doesn’t necessarily follow partisan or ideological labels. It does make one wonder how conservatives would react to a Wisconsin talk show host with Sly-like taste, or lack thereof, but a rightward, or probably libertarian, message.)

The thing about Sly that conservatives should applaud is that he does occasionally take on his fellow travelers, such as Burke, which is more than can be said about nearly every lefty blogger in this state. (Sly considers Burke to be a faux liberal, and he’s not alone in that belief.) Sly’s report that Wisconsin lost 54,000 jobs in the past decade would be mostly while Gov. James Doyle occupied the Executive Residence. (During which 190,000 jobs were shed in one year.) There is not enough of that kind of scrutiny of your own side in the blogosphere, about which more momentarily.

I think Sly’s economics are dubious. To borrow an old George Will example, you have a trade deficit with every place you buy groceries, unless you own a grocery store. I’d be interested in knowing, more specifically, why taxpayers should pay more in taxes so that materials or products come from an approved source. (The state did that in the 1970s and 1980s, which got us Renault — I mean, AMC — Alliance cars for state employee use.) I am curious why Sly believes consumers shouldn’t have the choice of whatever they want to buy, regardless of where it was made. (One wonders how Sly would feel about layoffs at Trek because Trek’s bicycles cost too much against their competition because of refusing foreign sourcing.) Given the shots he takes at business, including Burke’s family’s business, I wonder how his advertisers feel about advertising on a show that regularly beats on business and what the business community supports. That, however, is Sly’s employer’s problem, not mine.

Craver’s story illustrates a major problem with political discourse today. Too many people of all political persuasions are interested only in affirmations of their own political worldview, and are unwilling to engage with those who express points of view different from theirs. Political arguments are not won or improved by hiding them from outside scrutiny. (Sometimes I believe I am the only right-wing blogger in Wisconsin who feels this way.

I do not believe in shunning someone because his or her political views differ from mine, as long as (1) that person isn’t obnoxious about sharing his or her views with those who don’t want them shared (put another way, if you don’t like Sly’s point of view, don’t listen to him) and (2) that person supports my right to have different views. If you are a conservative, and certainly if you are a libertarian or conservatarian, you should agree with the sentiment that government and therefore politics occupies far too large a role in our lives.

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