How to handle insults with grace

This first appeared on NBC-TV’s “Saturday Night Live”:

Rather than dwell on the social media storm of reaction, this ran one week later:

Crenshaw then wrote in the Washington Post:

The past couple of weeks have been unusual for me, to say the least. After a year of hard campaigning for Congress in Texas and gradually entering the public sphere, I was hit by a sudden, blinding spotlight. But I have no complaints — it wasn’t as bad as some other challenges I’ve faced, like a sudden, blinding IED explosion. (See what I did there? “Saturday Night Live” has created a comedic monster.)

On the Nov. 3 show, SNL’s Pete Davidson mocked my appearance — “he lost his eye in war . . . or whatever,” Davidson said, referring to the eye patch I wear. His line about my looking like a “hit man in a porno movie” was significantly less infuriating, albeit a little strange. I woke up on the Sunday morning after the show to hundreds of texts about what Davidson had said. A lot of America wasn’t happy. People thought some lines still shouldn’t be crossed.

I agreed. But I also could not help but note that this was another chapter in a phenomenon that has taken complete control of the national discourse: outrage culture. It seems like every not-so-carefully-worded public misstep must be punished to the fullest extent, replete with soapbox lectures and demands for apologies. Anyone who doesn’t show the expected level of outrage will be labeled a coward or an apologist for bad behavior. I get the feeling that regular, hard-working, generally unoffended Americans sigh with exhaustion — daily.

Was I really outraged by SNL? Really offended? Or did I just think the comment about losing my eye was offensive? There is a difference, after all. I have been literally shot at before, and I wasn’t outraged. Why start now?

So I didn’t demand an apology and I didn’t call for anyone to be fired. That doesn’t mean the “war . . . or whatever” line was acceptable, but I didn’t have to fan the flames of outrage, either. When SNL reached out with an apology and an offer to be on the show, I wasn’t fully sold on the idea. It was going to be Veterans Day weekend, after all, and I had events with veterans planned. I asked if another weekend might work. No, they said, precisely because it was Veterans Day, it would be the right time to send the right message. They assured me that we could use the opportunity to send a message of unity, forgiveness and appreciation for veterans. And to make fun of Pete Davidson, of course.

And that’s what we did. I was happy with how it worked out. But now what? Does it suddenly mean that the left and right will get along and live in utopian harmony? Maybe Saturday’s show made a tiny step in that direction, but I’m not naive. As a country, we still have a lot of work to do. We need to agree on some basic rules for civil discourse.

There are many ideas that we will never agree on. The left and the right have different ways of approaching governance, based on contrasting philosophies. But many of the ultimate goals — economic prosperity, better health care and education, etc. — are the same. We just don’t share the same vision of how to achieve them.

How, then, do we live together in this world of differing ideas? For starters, let’s agree that the ideas are fair game. If you think my idea is awful, you should say as much. But there is a difference between attacking an idea and attacking the person behind that idea. Labeling someone as an “-ist” who believes in an “-ism” because of the person’s policy preference is just a shortcut to playground-style name-calling, cloaked in political terminology. It’s also generally a good indication that the attacker doesn’t have a solid argument and needs a way to end debate before it has even begun.

Similarly, people too often attack not just an idea but also the supposed intent behind an idea. That raises the emotional level of the debate and might seem like it strengthens the attacker’s side, but it’s a terrible way to make a point. Assuming the worst about your opponents’ intentions has the effect of demonizing their ideas, removing the need for sound counter-reasoning and fact-based argument. That’s not a good environment for the exchange of ideas.

When all else fails, try asking for forgiveness, or granting it. On Saturday, Pete Davidson and SNL made amends. I had some fun. Everyone generally agreed that a veteran’s wounds aren’t fair game for comedy. Maybe now we should all try to work toward restoring civility to public debate.

The Post adds:

Dan Crenshaw’s good eye is good enough, but it’s not great. The iris is broken. The retina is scarred. He needs a special oversized contact lens, and bifocals sometimes, to correct his vision. Six years after getting blown up, he can still see a bit of debris floating in his cornea. His bad eye? Well, his bad eye is gone. Under his eye patch is a false eye that is deep blue. At the center of it, where a pupil should be, is the gold trident symbol of the Navy SEALs. It makes Dan Crenshaw look like a Guardian of the Galaxy.

But he can’t catch a baseball very well anymore. He misses plenty of handshakes; his arm shortchanges the reach, his palm fumbles the grip. He has trouble with dumb little tasks — he needs to touch a pitcher to a cup to properly pour a glass of water, for example. But nothing major. Nothing that would prevent him from coming out of nowhere, unknown and underfunded, to vanquish seven opponents in a Republican primary, then squash a state legislator in a runoff, and then on Tuesday, at age 34, win his first-ever general election to represent his native Houston area in Congress.

He’ll join a freshman class with two dozen other newly elected House members who are under 40 and, at least, 15 who are veterans. Yet, Crenshaw seems poised to stand out. His potent life story, his striking presence and his military and Ivy League credentials have set him up as a rising star for a Republican Party in bad need of one, after losing what could turn out to be three dozen seats once the dust settles.

Thirty-six hours after his election-night triumph, Crenshaw still hadn’t caught up on sleep. There was some stale cake sitting in his campaign office, and he was juggling phone calls and a haircut he was going to be late for. He just left a luncheon with business leaders and was due early the next morning for a veterans ceremony. In two days, he would make a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” before heading to Capitol Hill for a two-week orientation.

A whirlwind to everyone else, it seemed, but not him.

“It’s life,” Crenshaw said, sitting at a conference table in his Houston office last week. “It’s not a challenge.” He was the picture of calm. The eye patch was off. The gold trident sparkled. Behind him was a large framed photo of Ronald Reagan. Ahead of him was the next mission. ..

Crenshaw’s father’s career in the oil and gas industry took the family to Ecuador and Colombia, where Crenshaw went to high school and learned Spanish. Captivated as a child by the SEAL memoir “Rogue Warrior,” he was commissioned as a naval officer in 2006 and underwent SEAL training, fracturing his tibia during its infamous “hell week” but completing the challenge on his second go-round. He deployed twice to Iraq and then, in 2012, to Afghanistan.

On June 15, 2012, when Crenshaw was 28, he and his platoon helicoptered into Helmand province on a last-minute mission to support a Marine Special Operations unit. At the time, Helmand was littered with improvised explosive devices. Bombs were so present in some areas that it was safer to crouch in place during oncoming fire — and wager on a sniper’s uncertain aim — than to dive for cover onto uncertain ground.

While Crenshaw’s platoon moved to secure a compound, an Afghan interpreter named Raqman, who wanted to become a Navy SEAL himself, responded to a call and crossed in front of Crenshaw. Raqman stepped on a pressure plate, triggering 15 pounds of explosives and suffering fatal injuries. Crenshaw, who was a couple of paces back, said he felt like he was hit by a truck while a firing squad shot at him. He was on the ground and his eyes were numb. The rest of his body screamed like it had been scratched open and doused in Tabasco. He reached down and felt his legs. Good sign. He had no vision, but assumed his eyes were just filled with dirt.

A medic friend began assessing the damage.

“Dude, don’t ever get blown up,” Crenshaw said to him. “It really sucks.”

He refused to be carried on a stretcher, because he didn’t want to expose comrades to enemy fire for no good reason. He walked to a medical evacuation, where he was put into a coma. He woke up in Germany a few days later, blind and swollen. The remains of his right eye had been surgically removed; eventually a copper wire would be pulled out of his left. Doctors said there was a chance he might see again, but, for Crenshaw, it was a certainty. Seeing again became his mission, and that sense of mission helped him endure the hallucinations, the surgeries, the weeks he had to spend — face down and sightless — while his eye healed, and the two years it took for a medical bureaucracy to get him to a place of relative comfort. He remembered how his mother, who died of cancer when he was 10, never complained during her five-year struggle with the illness. He held fast to his sense that life is about mission: You need one to live and to live productively.

Just over a year after his injury, he married his longtime girlfriend, Tara.

He deployed twice more, to Bahrain and South Korea, as troop commander of an intelligence team.

In various commendations, the Navy cited him for his “zealous initiative,” “wise judgment” and “unswerving determination.” Medically retired in 2016, Crenshaw then earned a master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.

In 2017, he returned to Houston — for the first significant chunk of time since he was a child — to help with recovery after Hurricane Harvey.

While Crenshaw was looking for a policy job on Capitol Hill, an adviser to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) took one look at him and, before they even sat down to talk, told him to run for office. The day before, Rep. Ted Poe (R) had announced his retirement from Texas’s second district, which starts in Houston and curves around the city like a tadpole. It was kismet.

“He said he wanted to run for office one day, but wanted to get policy experience first,” said a Capitol Hill aide who ended up advising the campaign (and requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly). “I was like, ‘Have you paid attention to some of the people we have up here? You don’t need that.’ . . . And he went all in. It’s the SEAL ethos. It was amazing to watch.”

The campaign started in November 2017, four months before the Republican primary.

“I had never heard of him before he arrived. I would venture to say most people had never heard of him,” said Vlad Davidiuk, communications director for the Harris County Republican Party. “The district has changed demographically, and is no longer as solid red as it used to be. It required a candidate who was willing to campaign hard . . . What distinguished Dan Crenshaw most is his ability to engage with voters.”

Over five days in February, Crenshaw laced up his sneakers and ran 100 miles through the district, campaigning along the way. Thanks to a surge in day-of voting for the crowded primary, he sneaked into second place by 155 votes, besting an opponent who had spent millions of her personal fortune. By then, his personal story was resonating. His face was recognizable and symbolic.

Most Texas Republicans aren’t very exciting, said Mark P. Jones, a political-science professor at Rice University in Crenshaw’s district. “None of them are very compelling or appealing. They’re just sort of random old white dudes, and Dan Crenshaw was something new and different.”

He had schooled himself on border security, health care and flood-control issues — a big concern for a region still smarting from Harvey. He met with engineers to discuss infrastructure and with young Republicans to energize new voters. More than one yard in the district was adorned with both a Crenshaw sign and a “BETO” sign, in allegiance to Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat challenging Sen. Ted Cruz (whom Crenshaw outperformed by 12 percentage points in Harris County).

“He’s just tenacious,” Poe said of the man who will be his successor. “I don’t think folks are going to know what to do when he gets [to Washington], and I mean that in a good way.”

In a 2015 Facebook post flagged by one of his opponents, Crenshaw called candidate Donald Trump an idiot and referred to his rhetoric on Muslims as “insane,” according to the Texas Tribune. Three years later, Crenshaw says he supports the president’s policies, save for the trade warfare, but prefers to comport himself in a manner that is the total opposite of the commander in chief’s.

“His style is not my style,” Crenshaw says. “I’ll just say that. It’s never how I would conduct myself. But what readers of The Washington Post need to understand is that conservatives can hold multiple ideas in their head at the same time. We can be like, ‘Wow he shouldn’t have tweeted that’ and still support him . . . You can disapprove of what the president says every day, or that day, and still support his broader agenda.”

On Tuesday, he was the only true bright spot for the GOP in Harris County, where O’Rourke’s candidacy brought Democrats to the polls and flushed out Republicans down the ballot. Crenshaw won 53 percent of the vote, but reached out to the other 47 percent during his victory speech in downtown Houston.

“This life, this purpose, this American spirit that we hold dear — we are not alone,” he said, sharing the mission: “We do it together.”

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Trump vs. the media, and vice versa

Politico:

White House correspondents and media outlets widely view the Trump administration’s decision to pull CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press pass as an assault on the free press.

They also agree that it’s a trap.

And it’s one particularly well set by a president seeking to escalate his feud with the media — and fully aware that the reporter he’s sprung it on, Acosta, has a showy, aggressive style that is divisive among his peers.

What’s not clear is what the White House press corps will do in response. Some on Twitter have called for a mass walkout or some other protest at the next media event, while Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote Thursday that CNN should sue the White House. But many reporters fear that such bold action would only give President Donald Trump the fight with the press that he and his base crave.

“There’s been a lot of email traffic and conversation among reporters and news media executives as far as New York and California,” one reporter said, adding that no clear answer has yet been reached. The only agreement so far, the reporter said, is that “this is unacceptable.”

“I don’t know what the next steps are or should be,” NBC News chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson said in a tweet Wednesday night that captured the dilemma. “But I do know that the @whca and White House press corps — of which I’m a proud member — should stand up against this.”

There has been some action, albeit behind the scenes: White House Correspondents’ Association officials met with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday. And New York Times Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller circulated an email earlier in the day to several top D.C. media figures, gauging interest in arranging a meeting with the White House to discuss the issue. That type of discreet background lobbying currently seems like the most likely response from a press corps that wants to avoid a public brawl but also feels it cannot let a true offense slide.

“We don’t want to give him ammunition,” one White House reporter said of the president. “At the same time, we don’t want to be a doormat and just lie down … Part of it is doing it in a way that doesn’t feed into the narrative that the media is the enemy, and that’s real hard to do.”

The reporter said the issue had been discussed at his outlet, but people were wary of taking Trump’s bait. “That’s one reason we’ve decided to keep a low profile,” the reporter said. “I think we would prefer to litigate this quietly behind the scenes with Sarah.”

Tensions between the White House and its press corps, always high in this administration, spiked Wednesday night when Sanders accused Acosta of “placing his hands on” a White House intern when she reached for his microphone at a presidential press conference earlier in the day. Video of the incident showed the contact between the two was much less dramatic. Sanders later posted a video that appeared to many to have been doctored to make Acosta appear more aggressive.

The “hard pass” Acosta held makes it easier for reporters to quickly enter and exit the White House complex. Those who don’t have the permanent badge can still get permission to enter, but the process can be cumbersome. It was not clear how long the White House planned to withhold Acosta’s pass or whether it would issue him daily passes.

The WHCA and CNN issued statements Tuesday night decrying the White House’s decision, as did numerous reporters and editors. But some reporters said the White House likely felt more emboldened to go after Acosta because his style turns off many of his press corps colleagues. Acosta’s profile has risen as he’s beefed frequently with Trump and Sanders and become, in return, their favorite target.

“They are going after him because they know he’s a divisive figure among White House reporters,” one member of the press corps said, adding, “Sarah and POTUS want this fight more than anything.”

One administration official said the White House was unified against Acosta and not worried about whether the video Sanders posted was doctored. The official described Acosta as a lightning-rod figure with the public, saying, “Defend his conduct at your own peril.”

Multiple reporters said the press corps needed to defend Acosta on principle — as one said, “You have to defend him because they could do it to anyone.” But they also agreed that it would have been easier to unite behind a less combative reporter.

“He has a way of getting under Trump’s skin, and he knows how to exploit that,” said one reporter who is against any sort of walkout or protest. “It’s important, I think, for all White House reporters to be at their most professional in this administration.”

The reporter made clear, however, that nothing Acosta did Wednesday justifies pulling his pass. Some other reporters expressed additional outrage because the hard pass is a security tool used by the Secret Service to regulate access to the White House compound and is not supposed to be used as some sort of bartering chip.

‘We don’t want to give him ammunition,’ one White House reporter said of the president. ‘At the same time, we don’t want to be a doormat and just lie down.’

ed that it would have been easier to unite behind a less combative reporter.

“He has a way of getting under Trump’s skin, and he knows how to exploit that,” said one reporter who is against any sort of walkout or protest. “It’s important, I think, for all White House reporters to be at their most professional in this administration.”

The reporter made clear, however, that nothing Acosta did Wednesday justifies pulling his pass. Some other reporters expressed additional outrage because the hard pass is a security tool used by the Secret Service to regulate access to the White House compound and is not supposed to be used as some sort of bartering chip.

As Times White House reporter Julie Davis tweeted on Thursday, “@Acosta’s behavior here, like it or not, does not disqualify him from the First Amendment-protected freedom to ask questions. Otherwise, how are we different from a place that has no freedom of the press at all?”

Davis‘ Times colleague Maggie Haberman added, “As Julie says, people can disagree with how he handled himself, and many do, but the White House has now unilaterally decided a reporter they don’t like can’t come into a government building, while sending around a misleading video about him, because it will please Trump.”

To date, press corps shows of solidarity have mostly consisted of reporters pitching questions back to each other if Sanders or another administration official cuts off a correspondent. In Tuesday’s press conference, NBC News’ Peter Alexander defended Acosta’s character after Trump insulted him.

In February 2017, some news outlets skipped a briefing in then-press secretary Sean Spicer’s office after others were barred. And there was widespread outrage in July when the White House barred CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins from covering an event after it took issue with questions she asked during an Oval Office photo op, but her credentials were not revoked and the incident passed.

During his presidential campaign, Trump also pulled reporters’ press access, including those from The New York Times, Washington Post, BuzzFeed and POLITICO. He could do the same on his next campaign — and, more gravely, continue the practice in the White House.

“Regardless of how we feel about Jim,” another reporter said, “White House reporters should be alarmed that the White House is lying about what he did and using what looks like doctored video.”

The reporter added, “It’s hard to encourage solidarity inside this group — and our competitiveness is something the White House exploits on a daily basis — but I think it’s going to be necessary.”

Two people from the Poynter Institute are not as impressed with Acosta as Acosta is impressed with himself:

We want journalists to ask questions and seek truth. But Jim Acosta’s encounter Wednesday at a White House press conference was less about asking questions and more about making statements. In doing so, the CNN White House reporter gave President Donald Trump room to critique Acosta’s professionalism.

In this time of difficult relations between the press and the White House, reporters who operate above reproach, while still challenging the power of the office, will build credibility.

This is in no way a defense of Trump’s suspension of Acosta’s White House press credentials. Rather, it’s a caution to not hand your critic the stick to beat you with. There’s no doubt that Trump will continue sowing doubt among his followers about the press’ ability to accurately document the administration. Had Acosta phrased his question in a more neutral tone, he likely would have had more information for his audience to digest.

Acosta asked the president if Trump had demonized the caravan of Central Americans trekking toward the United States, ending his exchange by stating, “It is not an invasion.”

If Acosta had asked “What about that seems like an invasion?” he could have both sought an answer and avoided becoming bigger than the event he was covering.

Good questions are powerful tools for reporters. When addressed to a public official, good questions force the subject to explain and explore, giving the public more insight into the official’s reasoning process.

If you look closely at the video, when Acosta was asking questions, his exchange with the president was on track and normal. Acosta asked. “Do you think that you demonize immigrants?” To which the president answered, “No.” A better question might have been, “How do you respond to the criticism that you are demonizing certain types of immigrants, namely poor immigrants?”

But then Acosta’s questions ended and his statements began.

“Your campaign had an ad showing migrants climbing over walls,” he said. And then, “They are hundreds of miles away, that’s not an invasion.” The heated exchange grew from there.

Press conferences can be high stakes because they are frequently an attempt to control the message. Reporters who prepare with neutral questions avoid revealing bias or creating unnecessary conflict.

Things got uncomfortable when Acosta refused to turn over the microphone to an intern who reached out to remove it from him, and then stood up to continue his banter without the microphone.

This was a White House event and he was talking to the president of the United States. A briefing is not the same as a cable news wrestling match, where sides shout at each other.

Acosta should have handed over the microphone.

That said, The White House accusation that Acosta manhandled the intern trying to retrieve the microphone is nonsense. It makes us wonder if the White House was looking for an opportunity to pick a fight.

Acosta’s “hard pass” that allows him easy access to the White House as a working journalist was revoked that same night.

The White House Correspondents Association said Wednesday night, “Journalists may use a range of approaches to carry out their jobs and the WHCA does not police the tone or frequency of the questions its members ask of powerful senior government officials, including the President. Such interactions, however uncomfortable they may appear to be, help define the strength of our national institutions. We urge the White House to immediately reverse this weak and misguided action.”

President Trump deftly used the Acosta incident to play the victim of unfair press treatment. Journalists should not give more fuel to such accusations. Ask tough questions, avoid making statements or arguing during a press event and report the news, don’t become the news.

Those who favor Acosta’s actions should ask themselves if they would also favor them against a president they supported — say, Barack Obama or a Republican not named Trump. Everyone should ask what Acosta is trying to do, report or promote his own career.

 

 

35 years ago

Today in 1983, I was a freshman at UW–Madison. My first-semester schedule — a horrid screwed-up mess because, in the troglodyte days of assignment committees to register for classes — I had just one comparative-literature class and marching band practice on Wednesdays. That’s what I remember, anyway.

A lot of people on the politically overstimulated UW–Madison campus were discussing ABC-TV’s upcoming movie “The Day After,” which depicted the U.S. following a nuclear war.

Unknown to us this day, the day of the movie (which I missed because that was also the night of the UW Marching Band banquet, a far more important event) or for years afterward was that apparently the U.S. and the Soviet Union came close to preempting “The Day After” for the real thing.

The Economist reviews 1983: Reagan, Andropov and a World on the Brink:

The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was terrifying, but at least both sides knew the world was on the brink of catastrophe. As Taylor Downing’s snappily told account lays bare, what arguably made the near-miss of November 9th 1983 worse was that the West had almost no idea the Soviet leadership believed war was imminent.

East-West relations had been in dire straits for years. Ronald Reagan’s soaring anti-communist rhetoric, terming the Soviet bloc an “evil empire”, inspired freedom-lovers on both sides of the Iron Curtain, but panicked the Politburo gerontocracy. So too did his idealistic belief that missile-defence (“Star Wars”) might keep the peace better than MAD (mutually assured destruction). A hi-tech arms race spelled doom for the Soviet Union.

As communication had shrivelled, misunderstandings mushroomed. When the Soviets shot down a Korean airliner that had veered drastically off course into their airspace, nobody in the American administration could countenance the idea that the tragedy might be (as it was) a blunder, not an atrocity. The Soviets were certain the plane was on a spying mission.

NATO’s “Able Archer” exercise was also wildly misinterpreted. The Kremlin was convinced it masked war preparations. A routine change of NATO codes made the Soviets assume a nuclear first strike was imminent. In fact the KGB had an agent in the heart of NATO, Rainer Rupp. In response to an emergency request, he assured Moscow, with some bemusement, that everything in the alliance’s civilian bureaucracy was ticking along as normal. But the spymasters discounted the information, while “toadying KGB officers on the ground…sent back alarmist reports.” If the Soviet misreading of NATO intentions was a colossal intelligence failure, so was the inability of Western intelligence to realise just how jittery and ill-informed the Communist leadership had become.

As the Soviet Union put its nuclear forces on high alert, Lieutenant-General Leonard Perroots, the American air-force intelligence chief in Europe, reacted with puzzlement. A quid pro quo might have triggered an all-out nuclear war, which would, as Mr Downing puts it, leave only “cockroaches and scorpions” alive. Luckily, Perroots did nothing. After a sleepless night, the Kremlin leadership, huddled in a clinic outside Moscow with the ailing general secretary, Yuri Andropov, realised nothing was going to happen.

Mr Downing’s book gives abundant historical background, perhaps too much for readers familiar with the period. A useful later chapter depicts how realisation of the Soviet panic unfolded in the West, first in classified assessments and eventually, long after the event, in the public domain—not least thanks to Mr Downing’s television documentary, screened in 2008. He wisely avoids questions of the morality of nukes. Instead he focuses on the shortcomings that made accidental nuclear war far too plausible.

Journalism, Wisconsin style

The Badger Institute has two observations about Wisconsin print media.

First, Mike Nichols:

In 1997, back in another life, I was a reporter covering City Hall for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Like many of my colleagues, I prided myself on keeping my political opinions out of my stories and tried my best to keep them out of the newsroom.

The truth was, though, that covering local government in Milwaukee had solidified my conservative leanings. I’ve never understood why most reporters — front-row witnesses to the fallibility of government officials and big government programs — remain stalwart liberals.

But they do.

Which is why the then-editor of the paper about fell off her chair when I told her, in the course of an interview for a job as a columnist in conservative Waukesha County, that I had voted for Bob Dole.

The confession, which I didn’t make lightly, didn’t work. I didn’t get the job, although later, her successor, a very even-handed and wise editor by the name of Marty Kaiser, let me write a different column. Marty has left the Journal Sentinel and so, it seems, has any real effort for the paper, now owned by Gannett, to remain objective, focus on anything much of real interest to readers in the center or on the right or even be transparent about the source of the money for many of its stories.

Dan Benson’s article about Gannett’s reliance on stories from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism proves that. The University of Wisconsin-Madison should not be donating space in its journalism program to this group, and “mainstream” papers should disclose the group’s major funders and left-leaning bias every time they publish a WCIJ story.

As an old newspaper hack who worked in a newsroom where we never would have considered handing over news space to an outside group — especially one with a history of questionable funding sources — I find the lack of transparency surprising to say the least.

Though, I concede, probably not to everyone.

It’s clear that the Gannett newspapers, at least the one in Milwaukee, have a progressive mindset. Story choices seem largely driven by identity politics and racial and gender score-keeping.

I happen to be writing this on a Friday morning and have the Journal Sentinel on my desk. In addition to an even-handed treatment of the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing the day before and a column by Jim Stingl, the front page was burdened by a story on “greater gender equity” in films at the 2018 Milwaukee Film Festival.

Page 2 was taken up with a PolitiFact story pointing out that U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, the former Democratic nominee for vice president who said that Donald Trump “would be a disaster for the economy,” was “no doubt” right when he also said that the “national economy was strong in its largest expansion of private-sector jobs before President Trump came into office.”

Page 3 included a story about “implicit bias” that causes people to categorize by race and gender.

That’s just one day.

None of this will change. Papers no longer have the revenue to pay veteran staff to produce an array of stories that editors can choose from or bury, kill or play up. Journalism mostly attracts young, underpaid liberals who likely get little direction from overworked editors. When they come in at the end of the day with stories that don’t break any real news but do fill a hole, the hole must be filled.

But here I am complaining about old news and writing about it at the same time. The question is how to move forward in a world where the old, basically objective platforms have moved left while social media is too disjointed and cluttered and unreliable to fill much of the void.

At the national level, The Wall Street Journal asks the questions and tells the stories that The New York Times can’t see or get.

We badly need something like that, something sustainable in digital form, here in Wisconsin. We’re proud of what we’re doing here with Diggings. But it’s just a start.

Now, Dan Benson:

On Aug. 20, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the 10 other Gannett-owned newspapers in Wisconsin published an article from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism charging that the Republican-led Legislature, in an effort to limit input from the public and Democrats, took significantly less time than in the past to approve laws such as Act 10.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) calls the study on which the story was based “politically motivated and superficial.”

Walker administration spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg questions the newsworthiness of the study.

“Normally, people criticize the government for moving too slowly. … This must be the first piece I’ve seen criticizing one for getting too much done for the people it serves,” Hasenberg says.

The authors of the article, who are not employed by Gannett but regularly feed stories to the Gannett newspapers, defend their motives not by answering the criticisms directly but with the simple bromide that the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ) is “independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit.”

But is it? And do those descriptions mean it’s unbiased?

The newspaper industry’s decline is well-documented. For more than a decade, it has been hemorrhaging readers and revenue. There are far fewer print journalists than there were just a few years ago. Newspaper downsizings and closings are frequent occurrences.

Once-grand newspaper office buildings and their newsrooms are now veritable ghost towns — filled more with memories of clacking typewriters, ringing telephones and bellowing editors than with working journalists.

In 1990, nearly 458,000 people were employed nationally in the newspaper industry. By March 2016, there were about 183,000, a plunge of almost 60 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While some national papers such as The New York Times tout increased subscriptions, most large metro dailies are not so fortunate.

The Journal Sentinel and the 10 other newspapers in the Gannett Wisconsin group — which include the Appleton Post-Crescent, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Oshkosh Northwestern and Sheboygan Press — are no exception.

According to Gannett’s statement of ownership, management and circulation published on Oct. 3, the Journal Sentinel’s Sunday circulation has fallen under 143,000. The Milwaukee Journal’s Sunday peak was 600,000 in 1985; the Journal Sentinel’s Sunday circulation after the 1995 merger of The Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel was 466,000. The Journal Sentinel’s daily circulation is now about 99,000, down from a 1985 peak of 375,000 for The Journal and 328,000 for the Journal Sentinel in 1995.

Unofficial totals are even worse, with 134,000 subscribers on Sunday and 82,000 daily, according to newsroom sources.

The drop among the 10 other Gannett Wisconsin newspapers has been precipitous as well, with more than a fifth of their Sunday readers lost since 2015.

The attempt to shift readers to Gannett’s digital platforms also has been slow going. While hundreds of thousands of print subscribers have been lost, the Journal Sentinel has only 28,000 digital subscribers, newsroom sources say.

Nationwide, only 18 percent of Americans say newspapers are their primary source of news, while 78 percent of those younger than 50 say they get most of their news through social media.

Fewer journalists and news outlets with dwindling resources mean less coverage and fewer investigations.

Nonprofit news operations supported by individuals and foundations, many of which have pet causes or political agendas, have helped fill those gaps. They often offer content to news outlets at no cost.

Those stories might not be fully vetted by understaffed and harried editors, who also may be sympathetic to the cause or issue raised in the story, be it gun control, environmentalism or women’s rights. And because of their supposed depth, the stories often run on the front pages, not in opinion sections, and sometimes even in the Sunday editions, where newspapers usually publish staff-produced investigations.

WCIJ’s website touts that from July 2013 through January 2018, its stories were printed, published online or aired 742 times by Wisconsin newspapers, television stations and radio stations. The site also states that more than 300 WCIJ stories have been published by 600 separate news organizations nationwide with a combined reach of 56 million people since 2009.

A search of the Journal Sentinel website shows that the paper has published or reported on WCIJ articles, either in print or online, at least 10 additional times from January through August 2018.

Not revealed by the Journal Sentinel, however, is that WCIJ is primarily funded by organizations that closely align themselves with political philosophies or issues typically seen as progressive or left of center.

One, for instance, is the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, a leading gun control advocate in the country. Since 2013, the foundation has contributed $250,000 to WCIJ.

The primary funding source for WCIJ for years, however, was George Soros.

Soros has been the prime financial engine behind nonprofit journalism around the world.

In 2017, the 88-year-old Hungarian-American investor and philanthropist donated $18 billion to his Open Society Foundations. The donation depleted his $23 billion fortune at the time, knocking him down from No. 20 to 59 on the Forbes list of the richest people in America.

Soros is a well-known backer of liberal causes and candidates, having given millions to Moveon.org and the Center for American Progress. He spent $27 million in 2004 in an unsuccessful effort to defeat President George W. Bush’s re-election and another $15 million in an attempt to mobilize Latino voters to support Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Journalism outlets funded by Soros include ProPublicaNational Public RadioColumbia Journalism Review and scores of nonprofit journalism schools and programs worldwide, including the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Acceptance of Soros money by journalists who contend they are neutral has been roundly criticized.

In 2010, Soros, via Open Society, donated $1.8 million to National Public Radio. The Columbia Journalism Review said NPR’s credibility was damaged by taking money from “lefty moneybags George Soros,” while admitting that Soros also contributes to CJR.

Former Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, now with Fox News, criticized the donation to NPR in a Daily Beast article: “No news organization should accept that kind of check from a committed ideologue of any stripe. … the perception is terrible.”

Other journalism operations or groups to which Soros has donated include the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Committee to Protect JournalistsCenter for Public Integrity and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

One analysis estimates that at one point, Soros had spent about $48 million on journalism schools, nonprofits such as WCIJ and like-minded foundations that in turn also fund news projects. Another analysis identifies more than 30 news operations whose boards are populated with editors and higher-ups of Soros-funded organizations. These include The New York Times, Washington Post, The Associated Press, NBC and ABC.

An analysis by the conservative Media Research Center says that Soros has helped fund 180 separate journalism-related foundations, publications, nonprofits and other outlets worldwide with a combined reach of more than 330 million people every month.

Soros has been a major funder of WCIJ — a fact the average readers picking up a newspaper over the many years that Gannett has been publishing WCIJ articles would not know. Readers would have to go to the WCIJ website to get that information.

According to the WCIJ site, Soros’ Open Society Foundations gave WCIJ $185,000 from 2009 through 2011 and upped it to $900,000 from 2012 to 2016, accounting for more than 40 percent of the center’s $2.05 million funding over that five-year period, according to its 2016 tax return. Total contributions to WCIJ in 2017 were $320,857, down from $522,995 in 2016. Donors were not detailed in the 2017 tax return.

Current WCIJ funding sources are not listed on its website, but Executive Director Andy Hall says in an email that Open Society Foundations has provided no funding since 2016.

Asked why, Hall replies:

“WCIJ hasn’t sought OSF funding since 2016. We are not aware of current grant opportunities there.

“WCIJ would consider seeking revenue from any source if the terms comply with WCIJ’s Policy on Financial Support, which requires, among other things, that WCIJ exercise full journalistic independence and that all donors be publicly identified.”

Hall did not respond to follow-up questions.

A list on its website of other WCIJ supporters include the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Appleton Post-Crescent, Wisconsin State Journal, Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation and Madison television station WISC-TV.

An in-kind contributor is the State of Wisconsin, which donates space for WCIJ offices on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus at 821 University Ave., 5006 Vilas Communication Hall, home of the university’s journalism program. The offices are offered in exchange for the center’s involvement in training journalism students.

In June 2013, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee proposed kicking the center off campus. Gov. Scott Walker vetoed the decision.

Despite its association with UW-Madison and support from Wisconsin news outlets, the vast majority of the center’s money comes from outside Wisconsin.

Its largest in-state contributor is the Evjue Foundation, the charitable arm of the self-described progressive Capital Times, according to the WCIJ website. Evjue donated just $20,000 to the center in 2014 and 2015 and increased it to $30,000 in each of the next three years, accounting for less than 10 percent of the center’s funding.

Despite receiving much of their funding from left-leaning individuals and organizations, most nonprofit journalism operations, such as WCIJ and ProPublica, say they are independent and not influenced by donors.

Yet over and over, their articles are closely aligned with causes and political viewpoints of its donors, including those of Soros.

For instance, beginning in November 2014, WCIJ produced more than two dozen stories under a project titled “Scott Walker’s Wisconsin,” which it described on its website as “a collection of the Center’s coverage of Walker’s time as governor, from his attack on public sector unions to his record on the environment.”

WCIJ is a 501(c)(3) organization, which means it cannot directly engage in campaigning or electioneering. However, the group is legally allowed to have a perspective, and its stories reflect that.

Coverage has been decidedly critical of Walker’s administration. Stories range from documenting troubles at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to the failed John Doe investigation into Walker’s political campaigns by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.

While journalists should critically examine politicians and their policies, and be lauded for doing so, the series included no stories on how the John Doe probe was thrown out and investigators were disciplined or on any positive accomplishments by the Walker administration, such as huge savings for school districts because of Act 10. The series also failed to include any negative coverage of Democratic Party politics or fundraising. …

Journal Sentinel Editor and Gannett Wisconsin Regional Editor George Stanley says his papers are careful whenever they publish a WCIJ investigation.

“Before using any of the Center’s projects, we evaluate them for importance to readers and journalistic standards,” Stanley wrote in an email. “We wouldn’t use one of their reports if we saw any sign that it was not independent reporting.”

Yet nowhere does the Journal Sentinel include information on who funds WCIJ, absolving itself because the information is available elsewhere, thus leaving it up to readers to do their own research.

For its part, the Badger Institute, which publishes this magazine as well as other journalism and a wide array of policy research, receives funding from many individuals and foundations.

Its major funding source for decades has been the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which, according to its website, supports “the study, defense and practice of the individual initiative and ordered liberty that leads to prosperity, strong families and vibrant communities.” Core Bradley principles include fidelity to the Constitution and commitment to free markets and civil society.

The Journal Sentinel and other outlets have prominently mentioned in news articles the Bradley Foundation as a funder of groups such as the Badger Institute or its predecessor, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. Increasingly — whether due to lack of space, lack of reporters, lack of interest or some other motive — the mainstream press does not seem to publish information from Bradley-funded groups, let alone give Bradley-funded groups space for bylined stories. …

Asked why the Journal Sentinel does not report that fact for readers, Stanley says the newspaper has, offering as evidence a 2011 Daniel Bice column that essentially was a defense of WCIJ after Republicans in the state Legislature complained about its perceived bias.

Fred Brown, in his book, “Journalism Ethics: A Casebook of Professional Conduct for News Media,” argues that journalists need to be transparent about their connections and “be up front” about their relationship to funding sources.

Or as a Columbia Journalism Review article on the 2010 report co-authored by WCIJ stated:

“Nonprofit journalists should turn their investigative instincts on their donors and themselves. By vetting funders and striving to be as transparent as possible about where the money comes from, news organizations can mitigate the sort of accusations of conflicts of interest they would aim to expose in any other arena. As the report says, ‘It is better to reveal one’s funding sources and be criticized, than not to reveal and have the information surface elsewhere.’ ”

National (NBA) Review

While we (We? Who’s we, sucker?) try to avoid politics on Fridays, David French has an amusing look at the National Basketball Association’s upcoming season tied to various politicians:

It’s a common misconception that the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” was written in reference to Christmas. Clearly not. There is no time more wonderful than late October, when the leaves turn in the South, the college football playoff picture starts to come into focus, and the greatest sport in the history of the known universe — NBA basketball — begins its glorious regular season.

And so, it is my solemn duty to serve as the NBA’s ambassador to conservative America. Yes, it’s a progressive league. Yes, its fan base is concentrated in blue cities. But talent is talent, and excellence is excellence. And it’s time for red America to embrace the greatness.

Here is the only preseason guide you need to read. Per tradition, it divides the league by familiar political categories.

The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Division. Cheerfully inept.
The Atlanta Hawks
. I thought hard about putting the Hawks all alone in the division that defines joyful incompetence. After all, what’s crazier than sending your number-three pick to the Dallas Mavericks — effectively trading away Luka Doncic, a possible rookie of the year and potentially the next Dirk Nowitzki — for Trae Young? It’s a silly thing to do, but gosh darn it, the Hawks will play with a smile on their face. They might win 19 games, but Young is going to launch jumpers from every corner of the offensive side of the court. Look for nights when he’ll go 9–20 from deep, followed by a 2–21 nightmare. Either way, it will be entertaining. Either way, the Hawks will lose.

The Sacramento Kings. Okay, maybe this is unfair. The team does have an exciting core. De’Aaron Fox is blazing fast, and they’ve drafted well (for a change). They’re less inept than they used to be, but they’re still going to lose. They’ll miss the playoffs again. But there’s something about the Kings that makes them worth watching. From the front office to the court, this is a cast of characters. There’s always drama around the Kings. Watch and enjoy.

The Brooklyn Nets. In honor of AOC herself, we had to get a New York City team in her division, and the Nets fit the bill. Years after trades that robbed the team of its future while granting it a mediocre past, the Nets are finally ready to . . . Be not terrible. As for the eccentricity, never forget that guard D’Angelo Russell literally Snapchatted his way out of L.A. (No, really, look it up.)

The Hillary Clinton Division. Losing, grimly.
The New York Knicks
. Has any franchise squandered more advantages and disappointed its fans more thoroughly than the Knicks? And yet it starts another season without hope. Kristaps Porzingis, its star of the future — a man that the departed Phil Jackson almost ran out of town — is out with a knee injury, and not even a better coach (David Fizdale) and a good draft pick (Kevin Knox) will make the Garden rock. I would say that the future looks a tiny bit bright, but this is the Knicks we’re talking about. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train.

The Orlando Magic. The less said, the better. Years of top draft picks have yielded . . . this. Unless they’re playing my favorite team, I may not watch a single second of Magic basketball this year.

The Phoenix Suns. I had hope for them last year. I really did. Devin Booker is one of the most exciting young players in the NBA, and he’s the player in the league most likely to drop 60 on any given night. But something about the team just seems off. I don’t mind seeing a bad young team if the bad young team plays with hope and joy. The Suns did not. Will they this year? I say no. I hope I’m wrong.

The Chicago Bulls. Yes, they have some good athletes. Yes, they have some young talent. But Bulls fans have to face facts. It’s a long slog — and some lucky draft picks — before the team’s relevant again.

The Cleveland Cavaliers. I hate to do this. I really do. But recent history shows us that when LeBron leaves, watching the team remains about as entertaining as watching an alcoholic struggle through recovery. LeBron’s teams are about LeBron, and when they have to go cold turkey, the results aren’t pleasant. It was a good run, Cleveland, but your future is not bright.

The Cory Booker Division. Posing as relevant.
The Detroit Pistons
. They’ve got Blake Griffin, a one-time superstar. They’ve got Andre Drummond, a rebounding machine. They’ve got Reggie Jackson, a guard who could well average 20 points and six assists. And they’ve got a good new coach, Dwayne Casey, the man who made Toronto a contender. They look great on paper, right? They’re ready for their heroic stand, right?

Wrong. Griffin and Jackson are too fragile. The mix isn’t quite right. Not every Casey can lead this team to the playoffs.

The Charlotte Hornets. They have actual playoff buzz. But how much of that is based on the roster and how much is based on the irrational exuberance that follows when you survive the “Dwightbola virus”? Dwight Howard is gone, and that’s addition by subtraction, but the subtraction isn’t enough to carry Charlotte into the top 16.

The Denver Nuggets. They almost made the playoffs last year. They’ll almost make the playoffs again.

The Portland Trailblazers. Damian Lillard can and will make an actual Spartacus stand. It won’t be enough. The West is better, again. The Blazers are not.

The Beto O’Rourke Division. Expensive busts.
The Minnesota Timberwolves
. In theory they have a Big Three. In theory. Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins bring an enormous amount of talent to the hardwood. Collectively, however, the results are bad. Very bad. Butler wants out. He had an already-famous meltdown at practice just before the regular season, and it seems like coach Tom Thibodeau has lost a step. Perhaps the NBA is passing him by. Just last year, the ’Wolves were the team of the future. Now it looks like their glory day will never come, and by the end of the season, Thibs may skateboard straight to the unemployment line.

The Los Angeles Clippers. The “expensive” in the phrase “expensive busts” applies less to the Clippers roster than to the Clippers franchise. I may be slightly off in my math, but owner Steve Ballmer dumped about eleventy billion dollars in Microsoft bucks to purchase a team on the decline. It was a nice (though short) run for the Clippers as the premiere Los Angeles NBA team. That run is now over.

The Elizabeth Warren Division. They have a 1/1024 chance to be good.
The Dallas Mavericks
. Mark Cuban does not like to lose. He’s going to. Probably. But I’m going to keep an eye on those Mavs. They committed grand larceny securing Luka Doncic in the draft, and there’s a chance that he’s good, immediately. They’ve got a promising point guard in Dennis Smith, and there’s a chance that he’s much better than last year. I’m not saying “chance” in the Dumb and Dumber one-in-a-millions sense. No, the odds here are better than 1/1024. We’ll go with Warren six generations removed. There’s a solid 1/64 chance that the Mavericks are not terrible at all.

The Washington Wizards. I’m out. I’m out on the Wizards. Mostly. It’s a team with talent — including one of the best backcourts in basketball — but the chemistry is off, and they’ve never quite broken through. Adding Dwight Howard isn’t the solution, and the rest of the conference has gotten better. But it’s premature to write them off entirely. John Wall and Bradley Beal are just too good for that. Let’s go with Warren eight generations removed. There’s a solid 1/256 chance that the Wizards will be a top-four team in the East.

The Miami Heat. They’re here only because coach Erik Spoelstra is one of the best coaches in the league, and there’s always a chance that Pat Riley can import talent. Let’s go with Warren nine generations removed. There’s a solid 1/512 chance that the Miami Heat will make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

The Rocky Balboa Division. Was Rocky conservative? Liberal? Don’t know. Don’t care. He’s the comeback king.
The Memphis Grizzlies
. Last year was a miserable year in Memphis. Mike Conley got hurt early, and a seven-season playoff streak ended with a 22-wing campaign that turned the Grindhouse into a morgue. I didn’t even have the heart to go to a game, and I live, eat, and breathe Grizzlies basketball. But it is a new day, people. I can hear the Rocky music stirring in the background. Mike Conley is back, Marc Gasol is still one of the best centers in the NBA, and Chandler Parsons might be almost healthy. Add a spectacular draft pick in Jaren Jackson Jr. and you have a recipe for a return of the Grit and Grind of Grizzly teams past. I can’t wait.

The Nikki Haley Division. The future’s so bright, they gotta wear shades.
The Utah Jazz. Donovan Mitchell is really, really good. Really good. He’s one of the most Nikki Haley players on the most Nikki Haley team. Watch the Jazz. They may be in the Western Conference finals.

The Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been working on his shot. Giannis has been in the gym, getting strong. Giannis has a new coach who’s going to space the floor, giving him room to roam. The Bucks are the Jazz of the East.

The New Orleans Pelicans. Don’t @ me, haters. Anthony Davis is an extraordinary basketball player, Julius Randle is a perfect, high-energy, bruising complement to Davis inside, and Jrue Holiday had a breakout year. Aside from the lethargic home crowd, the Pelicans are one of the most fun teams to watch in the NBA. No one knows if Davis will stay in New Orleans, but for now he’s there, and so long as he stays, the Pelicans are ready to rise.

The Indiana Pacers. They’re the Lazarus of the NBA — a resurrected franchise led by a resurrected player. The Pacers were left for dead after they traded Paul George. Victor Oladipo was left for dead after a frustrating year in Oklahoma City. Larry Bird, basketball Jesus, wept. But then Oladipo came forth, and now the Pacers are set to be good for a long time to come.

Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC had arguably the best offseason in basketball. They kept Paul George. They added the defensive pieces the team needs. They added Dennis Schröder, a scorer who can sustain the offense when one or both of OKC’s stars are on the bench. And — critically — they subtracted Carmelo Anthony. Oh, and Russell Westbrook is still the most explosive athlete in the NBA. The Thunder are one lucky break from the Western Conference finals.

The Donald Trump Division. Fragile powers. The title beckons, yet misery is possible.
The Philadelphia 76ers
. Can a team be young, talented, and fragile all at the same time? Welcome to the Sixers experience. If this team can stay healthy and together, we may well watch Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, and Joel Embiid dominate the league for a decade. But Simmons has already missed a full season to injury, Fultz has missed most of a season to one of the most bizarre shoulder/shooting problems in recent memory, and Embiid has not only missed two seasons, he’s yet to prove that he can make it through a single regular season without a significant injury. This team could be a dynasty. I’ll believe it when I see it.

The Toronto Raptors. I have one question and one question only. Is Kawhi Leonard still Kawhi Leonard? If he’s healthy and motivated, then the Raptors will contend with the Celtics for the Eastern Conference crown. And with no LeBron to contend with, they just might win. But Kawhi allegedly hates to be cold, and Toronto — rumor has it — is way up north. Will he have one eye on sunny L.A.? If so, look for a year of frustration for one of the best home crowds in the NBA.

The San Antonio Spurs. Because they’re the Spurs, they were able to trade a possible one-year rental of a very disgruntled Kawhi to Toronto for an all-NBA guard. DeMar DeRozan was furious at the trade, and he’s got a chip on his shoulder. That’s a recipe for a great individual season, but the Spurs are weak at point guard, some of their key pieces are old, and the team just might decline.

The Houston Rockets. How can we call a team that was one decent shooting night from dethroning the Warriors a “fragile” power? Easy. Chris Paul is a key piece of their puzzle, and he got hurt at the worst possible time. No one knows if he can stay healthy enough to endure a title run. They added chemistry-killer Carmelo Anthony. It could work. I hope it works (because the Rockets were really fun to watch last year), but they’re just fragile enough that we might look back on the last year’s thrilling Western Conference Finals as the best this team could do.

The LeBron Division. The team with the GOAT.
The Los Angeles Lakers
. LeBron has been to eight straight finals. LeBron is the best player in the history of basketball, and he’s (incredibly) still at his peak or near-peak. I refuse to believe the Lakers won’t be a very, very good basketball team.

The William F. Buckley Jr. Division. Intellectual juggernauts.
The Boston Celtics
. This team was built from the ground up by basketball geniuses to contend for a decade. It could win now. Even without all-NBA stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, it made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Jason Tatum is set to make his own leap to all-NBA greatness. Put this crew all together, keep it healthy, and you have one of the deepest teams in the league. Oh, and they’ve got one of the top three coaches in the NBA. I’m praying for a Lakers–Celtics final, but I’m afraid I won’t get it because of . . .

The Sauron Division. Only Frodo can save us now.
The Golden State Warriors
. They’ve won three titles in four years. They’ve won eight of their last nine finals games. They have Steph, KD, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. They have an outstanding coach. So, what do they do?

They add DeMarcus Cousins, one of the top two or three centers in the NBA. The Eye of Sauron is strong indeed. The forces of darkness are pouring from Minas Morgul, the walls Barad-dur are high and strong, and all hope flees the land.

The Warriors’ starting five could serve as the U.S. Olympic basketball team, and the rest of the world would tremble in terror. There is no logical, practical basketball reason why they won’t win again.

But that’s why we play the game. In the words of Al Michaels, calling the game when the underdog U.S. hockey team beat the omnipotent Soviets, “Do you believe in miracles?”

Ask me next June.

Albert, Costas and Buck

I didn’t watch any TV coverage of the National League Division Series, though I work only in the a.m. and p.m. on days ending in Y.

The online reaction to Fox Sports 1’s choice of Kenny Albert, former New York Mets/yankees pitcher David Cone and A.J. Pierzynski, one of the most unpopular players in Major League Baseball history, wasn’t positive, though I can’t find any reviews of their work.

Game 3 was carried by the MLB Network, which is unavailable to some people. And here’s what they missed, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Many fans were not pleased that Game 3 of the NLDS was broadcast on the MLB Network, a channel not everyone gets in their homes. But hey, at least Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Costas was going to be on the call, right?

Now, let’s get this out there: Bob Costas is a dang legend. Put him in ALL the Halls of Fame. But … uh, he and color commentator Jim Kaat had a rough time with the Brewers names and facts on Sunday.

The Brewers won, 6-0, so it’s all water under the bridge, and no NLCS games will be on MLB Network. But let’s review:

Travis Shaw has not, in fact, committed double-digit errors since picking up playing time at second base around the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. He’s committed one in 39 games. …

It’s not Jesus Aguilera, but all the jokes about Genie in a Bottle (Jesus in a Bottle) are very good.

Craig Counsell was not drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, as the broadcast said a couple times. It’s actually a cooler note that he was drafted by the other team involved in the broadcast, the Rockies.

In fact, Counsell was taken in the 11th round in 1992 — the first year the expansion franchise selected players. Counsell essentially became one of the organization’s first employees.

The broadcast had some trouble with starter Wade Miley’s biography, too. He didn’t actually start the season at Double-A (though he was on a rehab start, so you can perhaps understand the confusion?). And while he’s been on a few teams so far in his career, the Rockies haven’t been one of them.

Also, Orlando Arcia, who has had some pretty good moments in the postseason thus far (counting Game 163), was given the unusual pronunciation of “arr-SAY-uh.” It’s “ARR-see-uh.” As in “That pitch Orlando hit in the ninth over the wall Sunday was a pretty great moment; see ya later.”

I did see highlights. Costas seemed rather uninterested, I thought, which may be because the Rockies were really never in game 3 thanks to the Brewers’ pitching. I’ve always liked Jim Kaat from his days working for CBS and ABC, but highlights don’t really show off an announcer, especially in baseball.

For those who didn’t like Albert or Costas: The National League Championship Series and the World Series will be carried on Fox. Fox’s lead baseball announcer is Joe Buck. Ironically, this year is TBS’ turn to carry the American League Championship Series, which means Brewers’ announcer Brian Anderson will be announcing the other series instead of the series his weekday employer is in.

 

On idiot reporters

Jonah Goldberg:

I’ve spent much of the last couple of years decrying the increasing partisan tribalism of our politics. I’ve earned some strange new respect from liberals (and at times regrettable new enmity from some conservatives) because I’ve been willing to call out my team. A case in point: I don’t like President Trump’s “enemy of the people” rhetoric about the “fake news.” I don’t think it’s true or helpful or presidential. “Enemy of the people” is a totalitarian and authoritarian term of art unfit for our country or our president, and employing it gives license to the press to indulge its worst instincts.

Which brings us to the current moment. Democratic senators who announced they would never vote for Kavanaugh under any circumstance keep getting asked if the FBI investigation they demanded will be “enough for them.” Enough for what? To still vote no? I’m not criticizing the Democrats themselves — though I obviously could — I’m criticizing the people who interview these senators. Time and again, these journalists interview the Democrats as if they were open-minded about this investigation when in every breath they insist that the investigation will be illegitimate if it doesn’t prove what they want it to prove.

I listened to an MSNBC host [Tuesday] morning sound almost panicked about how the FBI might not be able to confirm Julie Swetnick’s — absolutely ludicrous — charges against Kavanaugh even as she reported that NBC couldn’t confirm any of it. The urgency wasn’t that the media let Michael Avenatti play them all for suckers, but that it might be just too difficult to prove allegations Swetnick herself walked back almost entirely. In other words the fear, palpable in many quarters, is that the charges might unravel prematurely, and so the press must start raveling them.

Or, in other cases they must spin new ones. Hence the New York Times’ decision — for which they’ve now apologized — of assigning deeply (and openly) partisan reporter Emily Bazelon to go spelunking for the latest bombshell: that Brett Kavenaugh threw some ice at a bar scuffle while in college.

Meanwhile, whole panels of pundits and experts on MSNBC are made up of people who cannot imagine why Kavanaugh might be upset at the unverified, uncorroborated, and literally unbelievable claim that he ran a rape gang when he was 15. Instead, we get hours of hand-wringing every day about his supposedly unjudicial temperament, as if any judge or justice on the bench, now or ever, would be expected to remain calm under such circumstances.

Jeff Flake is celebrated as a hero for wanting the FBI to investigate the more credible charge from Ford and the sketchy tale co-reported by the famously partisan New Yorker writer Jane Mayer. But when the FBI was reportedly limited to what Flake wanted investigated, one senator after another said the investigation was a sham. And nearly all the interviewers simply nod.

Print publications are flooding the zone to get to the bottom of Boofgate and Ice-Throw-Gotterdammerung. As if proving that a yearbook quote meant some other juvenile thing, or that if he threw some ice cubes in a bar tussle, that would prove . . . something. Kavanaugh, fully aware that he will get no benefit of any doubt, offers lawyerly and arguable evasive answers — mostly about trivialities — and, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, these ambiguous answers are taken as proof of perjury and drunken perfidy that the press must get to the bottom of.

Interviewers respond to Republicans who decry the defamation and innuendo being brought to bear on Kavanaugh by asking, essentially, “Didn’t Republicans start this by blocking Merrick Garland?” As a stand-alone question, this is defensible — barely. But while I have heard this question asked over and over again, I’ve yet to hear anyone ask a Democrat, “Isn’t what Mitch McConnell did to Merrick Garland very different from what you have done to Kavanaugh?” Republicans didn’t try to destroy Garland personally and professionally. Denying a nominee a hearing isn’t akin to fomenting a witch-hunt or having Chuck Schumer say that the presumption of innocence was an irrelevant standard (it’s actually entirely within the Senate’s constitutional authority). It might be irrelevant for partisan Democrats, but since when is the burden of proof irrelevant to journalists?

I could go on for pages about all of this, but here’s the point: On nearly every question and issue, the tenor of the press — shockingly — mirrors the tenor of the Democrats who insist that it falls to Kavanaugh to disprove these allegations. That is an understandable (albeit morally grotesque) position for partisan Democrats who’ve made it clear they will do whatever it takes, again, as Chuck Schumer admitted, to block Kavanaugh.

But that’s not your job, you supposedly objective journalists. You should care every bit as much about disproving the allegations of Swetnick, Ramirez, and — yes — Ford as proving them. Your job — as you’ve said countless times, preening in your heroic martyr status in the age of Trump — is to report the facts. If Swetnick is lying, you should want to report that every bit as much as you would if you could prove that Kavanaugh is. Because you’re not supposed to have a team. It’s fine if you support the #MeToo movement in your private time, but you’re not supposed to lend any movement aid and comfort, never mind air cover, in your reporting.

Now, I get that most journalists are liberal, even if they deny it. I understand that most think they’re just seeking the truth. But, dear champions of the Fourth Estate, you might take just a moment to understand that you need to be fair to the other side of the argument even if you disagree with it.

You might also consider why millions of people love it when Trump says you are the enemy of the people: It’s because of how you are behaving right now. You’re letting the mask slip in Nielsen-monitored 15-minute blocks of virtue-signaling partisanship. You’re burning credibility at such a rate, you won’t have enough to get back to base when this is all over.

Yes, Donald Trump has done the country a disservice by how he talks about the press. But so have you, because you have made it so easy for him — and you’re making it worse right now.

 

Adventures in radio: The 2010s

One of the first blog entries when this blog began in 2011 was “Adventures in radio,” chronicling such events as driving four hours to do a game and then driving back the same night, driving 800 miles over two days to cover four games, announcing games from the top of a ravine, losing your partner before the game due to injury, etc.

It just occurred to me that this year is not just the 30th anniversary of my entrance into the full-time work world, but it is also the 30th anniversary of my announcing sports on a part-time basis. The first game I ever announced on the radio was a Friday afternoon football game between Lancaster and Cuba City Sept. 25, 1988. (Cuba City 28, Lancaster 27 in overtime.)

I returned to Southwest Wisconsin, from whence my career and announcing began, six years ago, and as with seemingly everything in my life, I have experienced enough for a second volume.

I’ve written here before that my favorite sports announcer of all time is the late Dick Enberg. I don’t sound like Enberg, but one thing he had, and one thing I hope comes across when I do games, is that Enberg sounded as if there was no place he would have rather been than calling the game he was calling. I am unaccountably lucky to be doing something I wanted to do from around the time I started watching games on TV, and, since I’m part-time, without all the downsides of working in broadcasting.

Adventures in Radio Volume 2 starts with the second game that I wasn’t exactly scheduled to announce. I was asked to go to Highland and do reports of the Black Hawk–Highland game. I was told before the game that the regular game would probably be a blowout, so I might get to call the second half of the game. That turned out to be pessimistic, because the station called me and put me on with two minutes left in the first half, when I was not quite ready to report. There were no commercials for my part of things, which I discovered when I threw it back to the station and the on-air host/engineer immediately threw it back to me.

Complicating matters further (that phrase perhaps should be engraved on my gravestone) was the fact that I ad a cellphone whose battery had seen better days. I was hoping (because apparently I didn’t bring a charger with me) that the charge would be sufficient to announce the second half, so coming on before the half was a complication. And sure enough, a few minutes into the second half, my phone died.

What did I do, you ask? I simply said, loudly in the press box, “Does anyone have a cellphone that I can borrow?” The public address announcer, who I was standing next to, held up his, and so I called the radio station back and announced the rest of the game.

People unfamiliar with radio have no reason to know this, but cellphones generally don’t produce great sound quality. If you’re fortunate, the quality of the game overcomes technical issues, or your lack of ability as an announcer. Fortunately, it was a great game, with the winning quarterback scoring the fourth of his four touchdowns with about three minutes left for the come-from-behind home team win.

The next year I did more games, including the entire football season of an unlikely state finalist, the 2013 Platteville Hillmen. (Alma mater of UW football coach Paul Chryst, by the way.) The second game of that season featured a Super Bowl-length game due to one team’s throwing the ball a lot (the clock stops more often in high school and college games than in pro games), and a lengthened halftime due to the fact that the officials saw the lightning in the southern sky that they had either not seen or ignored the entire second quarter. The game ran so long that we were bonus coverage on the other radio stations doing games that night. The game ended with Dodgeville beating Platteville 51–45 at 10:50 p.m., and we left the stadium at 11:10 p.m., 4½ hours after the broadcast start.

More unusual than that was the conference’s decision to have each team play three teams in their conference twice. (The conference has only six teams, which means just five conference games except for this season.) That was meeting number one; meeting number two ended with the home team, which had scored 51 the first meeting, scoring 51 fewer points and losing their Homecoming game.

Platteville’s problem was that the three teams they played twice turned out to all be playoff teams. Add their season-opening nonconference opponent, and Platteville arguably had the most difficult schedule in the entire state, with seven of nine games against playoff opponents, including three games against teams that would get to state. After their 1–3 start, the Hillmen needed, we figured out, to win four of their last five games to have any chance of all of getting in the playoffs.

That is what ended up happening, including two wins over teams to which Platteville had lost earlier in the season. The coaches in Platteville’s playoff bracket were either impressed or persuaded by Platteville’s regular season to give the Hillmen a third seed, despite barely getting into the playoffs. That meant, believe it or don’t, a third meeting with Dodgeville, which Platteville shut out fo the second time. (That was the first time, and I guarantee you the last, that any team will play another team three times in one Wisconsin high school football season.)

Platteville then went on the road and knocked off the number two seed, setting up a trip to Big Foot High School in Walworth to play the number-one-ranked and number-one-seeded Big Foot Warriors. That turned out to be a grim defensive struggle thanks to 35-mph winds from one end of the stadium. But Platteville scored, sort of, all the points in the game — one touchdown, and then one safety when the long-snapper, snapping into the wind, missed the punter and lined the snap off the goalpost for a safety. Ironically, that turned out better for Platteville than it could have, since on a safety the resulting free kick comes from the 20-yard line. Platteville ended Big Foot’s undefeated season 7–2, and, it turned out, the career of the coach, who left after the season.

(I found out why he left some time later, which explained why the people in the press box were acting as if their last chance to go to state had just ended. It turned out the Big Foot coach had been dealing with parent complaints during the season about their children’s lack of playing time. During their undefeated season. Parents can be, and perhaps are becoming more of, a problem in high school sports.)

One week later, Platteville played Manitowoc Roncalli in Watertown for a trip to state. The end-of-the-game highlight was from one of Platteville’s best players, whose absence due to injury was much of the reason for the Hillmen’s 1–3 start. Roncalli had two quarterbacks, one of which was obviously a better passer than the other. So it might seem odd that the lesser thrower was in on the potential game-tying or game-winning drive, but he was. And the last pass was intercepted by our formerly fallen hero, who figured out what was happening, got out of position and made the end-zone interception to send Platteville to state. I was yelling so much that no one needed a radio to hear me back in Platteville.

After 25 years of announcing that included several state semifinal games but no championship game (and two times where the team I was covering got to go to state, but we couldn’t broadcast state), that also sent me to cover state football for the first time. There is really nothing bad I can say about announcing at Camp Randall (other than parking, but you knew that). Making matters even greater is that four teams from the radio stations’ coverage area got to state, which prompted wall-to-wall football from 9:40 a.m. until 10 p.m. The Division 5 game ended, the announcers went to commercial, and we jumped in like we were the second drivers at Le Mans, in what we called the Cinderella Bowl, because Platteville, having finished the regular season 5–4, faced Winneconne, which ended the regular season 4–5. The Wolves’ win over the Hillmen left both teams with 9–5 records — and I believe they are the only two teams in history of state high school football to finish with those records — but, as I have said numerous times, getting a silver trophy at state beats getting no trophy at state.

That fall also saw me announce for the first time a sport I played — if you want to call sitting on the bench for two seasons “playing” — but had never announced before, girls volleyball. Until then, the only announcer I had ever heard do volleyball was Chris Marlowe, who announced Olympic and college volleyball. Marlowe can get very excited, which is not really my style. I had heard very little volleyball on the radio, so I wasn’t really sure how to announce volleyball on the radio, where nothing happens unless you say it happened.

The radio stations had four teams get to the sectional semifinals, and had games on three stations, because that’s all the announcers they had. That is, until I called the news/sports director and said I’d never done volleyball before before volunteering to do the fourth match. And so, on Halloween night, driving throughj several small towns while hoping to not hit little Trick-or-Treaters (because that would have made me late for the broadcast), there I was, stuck on one end on the second floor, with a telephone, not broadcast equipment (because they now had more announcers than available equipment), trying to announce. I say “trying” because it turned out that a technical problem at the station knocked me off the air before the match began. (What did I write about “complicating matters further” again?)

The station managed to find someone to go to the station to put me back on the air, but that meant he had to engineer for me. (The system that failed was supposed to allow me to do everything from the game site.) I didn’t get on until halfway through the second set. After stumbling through set two, I threw it back to the station for commercials, only to hear in my earpiece, “I don’t have any commercials!” So I ended up doing the final two sets of the four-set match by rereading the reader spots I have, and that was it. Fortunately again, they were close sets, and I heard afterward a group of peoiple were listening to me call the final moments of the final set, and apparently they could tell what was going on by what I was saying, which meant that a good game saved not-so-good announcing again.

That moved me into doing volleyball the next season. That was a good season to announce, because two area teams got to state. One of the regular-season matches I did featured Platteville’s volleyball archrival, River Valley, which had beaten Platteville twice in the previous regular season, only to lose to the Hillmen in the regional final. In their second regular-season meeting, River Valley took a 2–0 set lead, only to have Platteville come back and win the last three sets and the match. Match number three was back in the regional final, and it again went to five sets, with the Hillmen winning in a two-hour-long heart attack of a match.

Platteville breezed through the sectional semifinal, taking less time to win than it took to get to the game site. That set up the sectional final the following Saturday night in Whitewater, one night after I had to announce a football playoff game. And then the radio station called and asked me to announce another game, a secodn-round playoff game the afternoon before the vollleyball final, without, it turned out, another announcer or (as I found out when I got to the station) equipment. Fortunately the one thing I did have was my phone charger, and so I announced a football game and the volleyball match on my cellphone. (The lack of equipment was matched by the fact that the high school that hosted the sectional final didn’t apparently know I was coming, so they had no place for me.)

That sent me to the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon for state volleyball in the morning and late afternoon … until another radio station owner called me and wondered if I could do one of his team’s early-afternoon semifinal. As long as I was up there, why not? (And as long as I could get to my broadcast position, which was for someone unfamiliar with the Resch a trip approximating climbing to the top of Camp Randall Stadium.) So three matches Friday, and after the first team chronologically speaking won a state championship match Saturday morning, during which I looked at the lack of radio station for the opponent and I concluded I was the only radio announcer in the entire world announcing that match.

I forgot to mention, though, how that Green Bay trip started. The previous Sunday I got a call from the radio station that when I got it I assumed I was either going to be told I was going to Green Bay or told that I was not. Instead I was asked if I were interested in doing UW–Platteville basketball, starting Thursday. So I started at the former Milwaukee Arena Thursday night, where a few minutes before the broadcast began (after they fed me — really) I thought to myself that I was about to announce a game on the floor where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and other NBA greats played and Al McGuire coached. And then I drove to Waupaca, where my parents lived at the time, that night, got up before sunrise the next day, drove to Green Bay for three volleyball matches, drove back to Waupaca (after doing a pregame interview in the station van for the next day), then went back to Green Bay for the early-morning championsnip match.

The weird part was when I got back home and covered the next Platteville school board meeting, where the announcement had been made that the coach was fired. To quote a popular phrase, it’s … complicated.

I announced both men’s and women’s basketball for UWP for two seasons, and I’ve filled in some (due to a radio station hiring) since then, including one football game, which happened to feature the two highest-ranked teams in Division III playing each other that day. That game went to overtime, with a 28–7 deficit erased thanks to this:

Since they feed you (three hours) before and after the basketball game (I was known as the pasta with marinara and Subway Club Sub guy), and since sports information people do all your stats for you and compile stats for your game prep, I have no cause for complaining about anything about that experience.

I did get to announce the final UWP men’s basketball game at UW–Superior, at least as a conference game. That game started the day before when we bused to Eau Claire for a practice, dinner and night at the hotel. (Where I did halftime segments with the entire team for the rest of the season’s games.) The next day we went up to Superior on U.S. 53 through a part of the state where there are more trees than people. That night, we got to the arena the usual two hours before tipoff, and I chatted with UW–Superior’s radio and cable announcers.

In the lobby of that arena is a photo of UWS’ most famous graduate, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a cheerleader. Since I knew where Ahnuld went to college, I concluded the pregame interview with his most famous line …

I mentioned that to the Superior announcers, and they laughed and said they’d never thought to do that, which I find hard to believe. So of course I mentioned Superior’s upcoming new conference by using Schwarzenegger’s second most famous line …

… to announce their departure from the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Then we left. We stopped in Sparta at 1 a.m., and the bus driver got out, to be replaced a few minutes later by a new bus driver. (You know you’ve gone a long way when the trip requires a second bus driver.) She apparently had not been told we were going to Platteville, because she tried to turn onto U.S. 61/151 to go to Dubuque, at 3:30 a.m., making us about a half-hour late getting home. The players and coaches could wander in whenever they wished, but there was one person on that bus who was expected to go to work at the usual time on two hours sleep.

The bus is the way everyone goes in the WIAC. So in my two years I saw more college-age-demographic movies than I ever needed to, since I cannot sleep on buses. (Well, I did once.) I saw some good movies that the kids won’t be seeing, including “The Wolf of Wall Street” on the Superior trip. There was one movie that I saw part of on two trips, but I have never seen the whole movie …

… not that I probably need to.

The second year I announced UWP was the year that coach Jeff Gard’s father, Glen, died just before the season. Jeff’s brother, of course, is UW–Madison coach Greg Gard. We stopped at a Subway in Madison on the way, and when Jeff paid the bill, the clerk looked at the credit card and said, “Are you related to our coach Gard?” (Who I announced when he was playing in high school, by the way.) That seemed to be a good omen for the evening.

Platteville and Whitewater have been archrivals since the Bo Ryan vs. Dave Vander Meulen days, and probably before that. The year before was a White Out game in Platteville, and so to follow the spirit of the evening I found a white sport coat, shirt and tie and white pants, and wore all of those, making me look, I suppose, like the Good Humor Man at the microphone. That also required bumper music for the occasion:

Unfortunately Platteville lost on White Out Night. A year later in Whitewater, though, Platteville won in overtime, one night after UW beat Indiana in overtime with “their” coach Gard as the interim coach. So during the postgame I brought that up, and Jeff started to get emotional, and I had to avoid doing the same because I still had a broadcast to finish. Having our blue Gatorade mysteriously disappear from the bus and dumping spaghetti on my lap were minor in comparison to the thrill of that win.

I had another highlight last year, when I announced UWP’s women’s game against Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. It was the first time I had ever announced a game with my alma mater, though they were the opponent of the team I was covering. I got to talk about the UW Band (which was there, though Mike Leckrone wasn’t). And I also got, for the third consecutive year, to announce my own last name belonging to a player (though she spells her last name with an additional A). Between my uncommon last name and my lack of athletic ability, the first time I heard her name on the PA was a startling moment.

Remember Enberg’s advice to never say no? One day I got a phone call from the radio station asking if I knew anyone who announced soccer. A radio station in northwest Wisconsin was looking for someone to announce Rice Lake’s state game, or games. I said I didn’t know anyone but would think about it. And then after I hung up I realized I did know someone who had announced soccer — me, on cable TV.

To make a long story slightly shorter, after I got the gig I wondered who I could do the match with, since I really didn’t know soccer that well. And then I realized the soccer player in the house could help, and so …

… we made our soccer debut. We probably didn’t do a great job. For one thing, the scoreboard was not actually visible from the broadcast position, so I had to give the score and he hd he had to lean way to the right to see the scoreboard off to the left. Fortunately, it was a compelling listen only because the game went into overtime and penalty kicks. (With Michael critiquing the goalies rather severely.)

That was part one of the day’s doubleheader, since after driving from Platteville (leaving before sunrise in the fog) to Milwaukee, I drove to Clinton to announce a football playoff game, returning home, of course, in the dark.

Proving yourself reliable has gotten me asked to announce three state girls basketball tournaments (with four state champions) and two boys basketball tournaments (with the teams ending as runners-up), and three state football championship games, in the Resch Center, the Kohl Center and Camp Randall. No football team has won the gold ball yet, but from the announcer’s perspective if you get to state you can’t announce any more games.

This spring I added high school baseball and softball to the list of things to do. One baseball game was not interesting, but what happened to me may have been. The game started late due to a rain delay, and then had another rain delay during the game. The tech we use makes the announcer sound as if he’s sitting next to you, but there is one problem — there is no way to stop the broadcast and then resume it in case of, let’s say, a rain delay. So when the heavens reopened, I had to fill an hour of airtime by myself. (At least I had brought an umbrella.) So I said what else was going on, did play-by-play of efforts to remove water from the field, talked about watching rain delay coverage on cable TV … whatever it took to fill the hour.

That experience got me to Fox Cities Stadium for state baseball. It was just one game, but afterward my partner and I sat in the stands, sun shining, and watched the next game, just like a couple of guys who made up some excuse to get out of work.

For someone who has never done this more than part-time (and has learned to not want to do this full-time), I have been unaccountably lucky to have done as many games, and great games, as I have. Unlike in my day job, where I will complain about something I feel isn’t right (sometimes in a passive/aggressive sense), I am quite laid back at this. Want me to drive to Onalaska on a Tuesday night for basketball? Fine by me. Want me to cover a seven-hour-long wrestling regional? OK, wwhere is it? The game I’m supposed to do is postponed so you want me to do another game tonight? I better find out how long it takes to get there.

Unless I am having technical problems, my blood pressure and pulse probably drop when I’m announcing. It is my favorite thing to do, and unlike most hobbies, I get paid to do it.

I’d write more, but I have a game tonight and a game Saturday afternoon. Click here to listen if you dare.

Action, overreaction and counterreaction

James Wigderson wrote this on the first day of school:

Unfortunately I don’t have any “first day of school” photos from my days in school. We didn’t have phones back then that could take the photo and Matthew Brady was unavailable. I just have cherished memories of walking a mile uphill each way in frigid temperatures that made my daily peregrination resemble the Shackleton expedition.

The destination of these daily walks may surprise some of you. I’m a graduate of Milwaukee Vincent High School. We won’t mention the year, but we’ll point out the school still had that new school smell (as well as urine in the stairwells, etc.). The school is evidence, if anyone needs it, that money and a new building do not add up to academic performance.

Yes, it was possible for me to get a good education there, in part because I sought it out against the odds. I spent my lunch hour my senior year hanging out in the Social Studies study lounge and my other free time in the math department office. I rewrote my school schedule to eliminate gym class starting my sophomore year so I could take extra academic classes and managed to find a guidance counselor to sign the new schedule.

Somebody had to look out for my education.

The school has only gotten worse since my days there. The school “fails to meet expectations” according to the state of Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction and it’s not even close. Yet nothing will be done about Vincent and 999 kids will be trapped in a failing school this year. Some students will succeed but the odds are horribly against them. But at least it’s a union school, right?

So imagine my surprise when, thanks to the Facebook page for an upcoming high school reunion, I learned the school is getting a new $5.7 million stadium. The stadium will have artificial grass and a new track for WIAA events. The report I saw didn’t mention metal detectors, but it would be a good idea.

The new stadium is part of an $11 million improvement in athletic facilities for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), presumably so the little convicts can have the best facilities before being sent to the penitentiary.

So the next time someone tells you that MPS needs more money, remind them that more money does not mean a better academic performance. And if they ask for evidence, ask them if $5.7 million could be better spent than on a new stadium for a failing school. And then ask them if the students would be better off with a new track instead of shutting the school down entirely.

At least the artificial turf matches the artificial concern of Wisconsin’s Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers, for the well-being of MPS students. Perhaps the new scoreboard can flash the number of kids being pushed through the system without learning anything – not that any of the students will be able to read it.

That prompted this reaction reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

A conservative blogger who disparaged Milwaukee Public Schools students as “little convicts” has drawn stinging rebukes from MPS and state lawmakers, who have criticized his remarks as hurtful, racist and dishonest.

The backlash comes in response to a recent column by Right Wisconsin Editor James Wigderson, who made the remark in an essay referencing $11 million in planned upgrades for MPS’ athletic fields, including a new $5.7 million stadium at his alma mater, Vincent High School.

The upgrades were being made, he said, “presumably so the little convicts can have the best facilities before being sent to the penitentiary.”

“The next time someone tells you that MPS needs more money, remind them that more money does not mean a better academic performance,” Wigderson wrote. “And if they ask for evidence, ask them if $5.7 million could be better spent than on a new stadium for a failing school.”

MPS issued a statement Tuesday, touting its students’ achievements and saying it is proud to “provide the same access to state-of-the-art facilities for our students as districts in surrounding areas have for theirs” and accusing Wigderson of cyberbullying.

“MPS is outraged — as every parent in the City of Milwaukee should be — that an adult would feel free to make such a derogatory, hurtful, and dishonest statement about more than 75,000 children,” the statement said.

“We have far too many students who work hard every day and who accomplish great things to let an ill-informed and hateful statement stand without comment,” it went on to say.

Current and former state lawmakers also weighed in.

“This is beyond offensive, pure ignorance and complete ‘BS,'” wrote state Sen. LaTonya Johnson, a Milwaukee Democrat. “MPS is home to 77,000 children. These children, and their families, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”

State Rep. David Crowley, another Milwaukee Democrat, said he must have been one of the “little convicts” for whom tax dollars should not be spent. 

“This kind of racist undertone is how the right communicates,” Crowley tweeted. “This rhetoric is how Trump and the Republican Party continue to rally their white supremacist and base and cannot be met with silence.”

Mandela Barnes, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor and a former state lawmaker, attempted to connect the Wigderson comments to allies of Gov.  Scott Walker.

“They expect their casual racism to be excused,” Barnes tweeted. “The governor’s allies have gone full southern strategy.”

Barnes issued a statement saying, “We have long been ranked the worst state for black Americans, and the governor’s allies continue to drive a wedge and make things even worse with their rhetoric.”

MPS Superintendent Keith Posley declined to comment on the remarks during a visit to Reagan High School where U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Frank Brogan was meeting with students to discuss their anti-bullying efforts.

District spokeswoman Denise Callaway said MPS is not seeking an apology but said the district will use the opportunity to help people understand what it is doing to educate students.

And Callaway made it clear that she deemed Wigderson’s piece “unacceptable.”

Asked if she considered it racist, Callaway said: “That is for other people to judge. It certainly perpetuates stereotypes, which are by definition untrue.”

“How small is it to be a cyberbully against children?” Callaway said.

Wigderson did not return an email from the Journal Sentinel asking to discuss the column but criticized Journal Sentinel columnist Dan Bice, who first raised the issue on social media.

Wigderson tweeted that he was referring specifically to Deontay Long, a standout Milwaukee basketball player who was recently sentenced to five years of probation for his role in an armed robbery last year.

“So the only smear being done here is by @DanielBice because if he was a serious journalist he would know how to click a link and actually share the context of my statement,” Wigderson tweeted.

Wigderson then wrote:

Now, unlike a lot of other MPS graduates, I have actually paid attention to what has happened to my high school since I left. In fact, it’s largely the result of my experience in MPS and what has happened since I graduated that I have remained concerned about education. I have written about school choice and alternative education since I was a blogger, and then as a columnist for the Waukesha Freeman, then as an education reporter for Watchdog.org, and now as editor of RightWisconsin.

Here’s the bad news about my old school: it’s failing. It’s failing big time. It wasn’t a great school when I graduated (as I described in the editorial) and now it’s worse. There are 999 students trapped in that failing school, according to the Department of Public Instruction. Instead of doing something about it, MPS is building them a new stadium for sports. Instead of getting the kids out of that failing school, or doing something to improve the schools, MPS is putting in artificial turf.

As I wrote in the editorial in a line not being re-posted on Twitter, “At least the artificial turf matches the artificial concern of Wisconsin’s Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers, for the well-being of MPS students.”

But what has them really upset is that I wrote:

“The new stadium is part of an $11 million improvement in athletic facilities for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), presumably so the little convicts can have the best facilities before being sent to the penitentiary.”

The line, with the link to a Fox 6 story that my critics neglect to mention, is clearly referring to the Deontay Long case. Long, for those of you that have forgotten, was a Milwaukee Washington basketball star convicted of armed robbery – a felony – but was still allowed to play by MPS in the state basketball tournament while he awaited sentencing. It’s a clear example of MPS’ screwed up priorities that they still haven’t addressed.

If MPS and my critics are upset with me for referencing that as an example of the screwed-up priorities of the school district, they need to be upset with every other media outlet that bothered to report the story, too.

I obviously did not intend the line to reference all students in MPS. I explained earlier in the editorial how I was an MPS graduate and I included the link to the story about Deontay Long. If I intended to “smear” (as a Journal Sentinel reporter wrote without ever contacting me) all MPS students, I wouldn’t have included the link, nor would I have mentioned my own educational background.

What’s been most disappointing about the reaction to my editorial is how my critics, willing to seize on a fake “gotcha” moment for their purposes, are willing to ignore the fact that nearly 25,000 students are trapped in failing MPS schools. When are they going to show real concern for those students, as I have for the last 18 years of writing about public policy, instead of just drumming up fake outrage to try to silence any voice that calls for real educational reform in Milwaukee?

The tragedy here is that this shouldn’t be about me. It’s the MPS to prison pipeline that won’t be rectified by building new football stadiums. As an MPS graduate I find the embrace of the status quo disgusting. The soft bigotry of low expectations is more vile and more insidious than anything my critics have accused me of being.

Real students, mostly minorities, are being held captive in failing schools, including Milwaukee Vincent. Instead of prettifying the Potemkin buildings, we need to do more to improve the lives of the students in those schools. I stand by what I wrote: the African American, Hispanic and other minority children of MPS would be better off if failing schools were shut down rather than upgrading the athletic facilities.

Wigderson isn’t going to accept being called racist any more than I would. And it’s really revealing that all the reaction to what Wigderson originally wrote fails to address the fact that MPS is the worst school district in the state of Wisconsin, and dragging down Milwaukee and the entire state.

That doesn’t mean Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers doesn’t have an answer, though it is as predictable as the sun rising in the east tomorrow, reported by the Journal Sentinel:

State Superintendent Tony Evers is proposing sending millions of dollars more to the state’s largest school districts to help reduce the massive gaps in academic achievement between the districts’ students of color and their white counterparts.

First: The Journal Sentinel writer committed an error. Evers is the superintendent of public instruction, not the “state superintendent,” despite the DPI propaganda the reporter must have read.

Democrat Evers is challenging Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s bid for a third term in a race that has been focused on the two state officials’ records on educational issues — including whether either have done enough to improve the state’s poor rate at which black students keep pace in the classroom.

One target of Evers’ plan is Milwaukee Public Schools, where about 80 percent of the 76,000 students are black and Hispanic and live in low-income households. Few districts in Wisconsin report worse academic performance than Milwaukee, where more than half the district’s schools are rated as meeting few or no expectations on the state report card.

Walker previously said he would by late summer or fall be making recommendations for Milwaukee schools, but on Tuesday his campaign could not say if Walker still planned to do so.

Under a plan released this week, Evers’ Department of Public Instruction would in the next state budget devote $13 million to programs designed to address struggling students’ performance in the classrooms of Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee and Racine, including:

  • $5 million in grants to expand summer school offerings.
  • $1.5 million set aside to provide $15,000 for each National Board Certified teacher who teaches in the five school districts.
  • $500,000 to expand principal training in urban settings for each of the five districts.
  • $5 million in new funding to provide kindergarten for 3-year-olds in the five-school district.
  • $1 million for a two-year project in each school district community to work with health care providers around childhood trauma and with housing agencies to stabilize living situations for children, while improving staff-to-child ratios in child care and educational settings.

DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy said the recommendations were developed with input from the five districts and will be submitted as a budget request for the 2019-’21 state budget. He said the department hasn’t proposed the measures before because Walker had previously rejected other similar proposals.

Think the rural school districts that have complained about money going to private schools are going to complain about this money that could be going to other schools but instead will be sucked up by these five giant school districts?