Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Another Fortis Feud

By - Jun 19th, 2006 12:28 pm
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The Shepherd Express has lost yet another regular contributor, again due to the editorial meddling of its ethically challenged publisher, Louis Fortis. This week, it is Media Musings columnist Dave Berkman, a retired UWM professor, who has parted ways with the Milwaukee alternative weekly in an editorial dispute.

These defections have become commonplace at Alternative Publications, Inc., which at one time was not considered ironically named. The paper has morphed into a lifestyle magazine and is shedding its alternative past as Fortis uses his position to promote his narrow political agenda with a zeal that would have humbled William Randolph Hearst himself.

The paper abounds with unsigned opinion pieces on news pages; you can be sure these are the writings of Fortis. In election season the newspaper endorses candidates for office with oracular certitude, another Fortis characteristic.

The spat with Berkman arose when Fortis refused to publish a column decrying the minority hiring practices of WUWM-FM, the radio station of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the school where Berkman had retired as a journalism professor.

It was not a fresh topic for Berkman, and he excoriates station manager Dave Edwards. In typical Berkman fashion, his comments are as oracular as Fortis’. Nobody is actually quoted in Berkman’s column, nobody is given the chance to explain his or her positions or to advance their causes in their own words. But then, Berkman never quoted anybody in his Media Musings, and I do not believe he ever interviewed anybody in the preparation of any of his columns over a period of over a decade. If he had, there would have been quotes.

Although the Berkman column was not published by Fortis, the author sent it to various spots on the internet, where you can find it posted somewhere if you’d like.

It now includes a preface regarding Berkman’s departure and that of Doug Hissom, about which Berkman was silent until now. (You read about it here, first.)

Berkman’s apologia contains this curious statement, which I know to be untrue:

“The Shepherd’s full-time staff is as all-white as UWMs 28 employees. Since I never actually worked for the paper, I’ve been visiting it only once or twice a year and just learned this today” [May 27th–Ed.]

I wrote for the Shepherd Express for many years, and visited it plenty often, usually to pick up a check. Berkman was a commonplace, and I well remember his quaint habit of using the Shepherd Express copy machine to duplicate his latest column on paper that would last longer than the newsprint original.

He would then use the accumulated columns as a sort of textbook for his journalism classes. I think the students had to buy them, as well.

Berkman was a frequenter of Shepherd Express parties and events. He was not a drinker, but he knew his way around a free meal.

And he, with his tenured professor’s income, was as eager to get his freelance writer’s fee as was I, with no other income, which may explain why we tended to run across each other at the Shepherd’s offices, at their various locations, over the years.

To say that he just learned “today” that the Shepherd Express was “lilly white,” and that his visits there were no more than semi-annual is even more disingenuous than I would have considered the man capable of being.

Perhaps Berkman is so color-blind he didn’t realize that the woman who wrote the checks was an African-American individual, (who has since filed a discrimination complaint against Fortis.)

The first person to leave the Shepherd Express after a dispute with Fortis’ practices was Bruce Murphy, who went from there to here, where he gave milwaukeeworld its start.

I left not long after, taking the time to ensure my departure was fully covered in the Pressroom Confidential column in Milwaukee Magazine.

I left because I caught Fortis inserting a fictional news story about a protest of a presidential visit, neither of which had yet happened, into the paper for his own political purposes.

I read the story about the protest held “at a downtown park” (otherwise unnamed) opposing George Bush, who was there to deliver a speech. Fair enough. But while I was reading the story, I was also watching the arrival of George Bush at Mitchell International Airport on television — live.
I had had enough.

Today, only one pre-Fortis journalist remains who has not departed from the Shepherd Express news pages. I always wondered who would be the last — that person who would allow his or her conscience to remain unperturbed by the character of Louis Fortis the longest.

And the winner is: Joel McNally, who should have enough money from his careers as a former legitimate newspaper reporter, a television panelist, a radio show host and a columnist, not to mention from whatever his wife is making and that Journal stock, to bid his farewell to Louis Fortis and to what has become of the Shepherd Express and of alternative print journalism in this city.

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