The War Between Steve Schultze and Chris Abele
County exec tries to undermine county reporter because of his slanted stories.
There is a remarkable story behind the stories you read about county government. It involves the battle between Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Steve Schultze, who covers the county.
You might think Schultze would favor the state bill to downsize the county board’s budget and salaries, given the paper’s editorials in favor of the legislation. Quite the contrary. Schultze’s stories have consistently downplayed and undermined the legislation, as I’ve noted in the past. I’ve suggested this may be because Schultze doesn’t want to antagonize the vast majority of his sources at the county — the supervisors and their staff. But is the real issue that Schultze simply doesn’t like Abele?
Schultze’s coverage is so biased that he’s now getting regularly scooped by other writers at the Journal Sentinel. It was the newspaper’s Purple Wisconsin blogger Aaron Rodriguez who first reported that the county board was negotiating with labor union AFSCME and that this violated state law. Odds are Rodriguez was given help by Abele’s office in writing the story.
So Schultze chose not to follow up. When asked about this issue by state legislators, County Board chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic denied that any negotiations were going on, which enraged legislators who thought she was lying to them.
Schultze, however, still chose not to follow up on Rodriguez’s column. So the paper’s muckraking columnist Dan Bice decided to do so, offering a column reporting that emails showed the county board was negotiating with the labor union.
Incredibly, Schultze turned around and wrote a story the following day with Dimitrijevic flatly denying what Bice reported. Schultze seemed to bend over backwards to allow her to swat down the claim.
So Bice went right back on the attack, and six days later did a story showing Dimitrijevic and the board had offered contracts to four labor unions.
This has to be embarrassing to Schultze, who has been repeatedly scooped on his own beat. It’s a safe bet that Abele’s office also aided Bice with his reporting. Indeed, Supervisor Patricia Jursik criticized Abele for this, charging that “He’s using emails and innuendo to back his claim that the board is doing things that are illegal” on union negotiations.
Why has Abele’s office been working with Bice on this issue? It’s not that he’s a buddy of the county exec. Indeed, Bice was happy to write a column making Abele look silly for calling Sheriff David Clarke a “bully” and “childish.” Bice, as I’ve noted in the past, is the non-partisan dirt patrol.
But Schultze has been so anti-Abele that the county exec’s office has apparently decided to do end runs around the county reporter and find others to report what they know. Which of course just makes Schultze mad and even more favorable to Dimitrijevic and anyone else aligned against the county exec.
Thus Schultze wrote a blog post with the headline, “Abele promised to sign pact with dues provision, nurses union president says.” The story wouldn’t pass muster in Journalism 101. In the article, Candice Owley, the nurses’ union president, tells Schultze that county labor negotiator Fred Bau told her that Abele told him that the county exec was willing to sign a proposed contract with a labor union, even as he was criticizing the county board for engaging in illegal negotiations.
Incredibly, Schultze didn’t check with Bau or Abele and ran with this third-hand, completely undocumented comment. That would get him an “F” in a journalism class.
Later, Schultze amended his story, adding a comment from Abele, but still with no confirmation of Owley’s claim from Bau. In short, there is still no evidence to back up Owley’s claim.
This is just Schultze seizing on anything to punish Abele. And Schultze is doing so in a very un-transparent way: his original blog post is no longer available online, just another example of how the one-time newspaper of record erases the records.
I contacted Abele’s office and was sent this comment from him about Schultze’s column: “I absolutely expect to be held accountable but this kind of journalism doesn’t help serve the public. At its best, the newspaper is great and we should all want it to reach those heights every day. To the editors credit, when I raised my concerns with this story they were very responsive.”
That will just anger Schultze all the more. It also tells us that Abele has been complaining to the editors about Schultze. That may have the opposite reaction he desires; in such cases, the editors often circle the wagons and protect their own. The only winner in this weird little drama is Dan Bice. The clear losers are the paper’s readers.