Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Journal Sentinel’s Bias Against Feingold

The coverage of Russ Feingold suggests they’ve truly become a Republican newspaper.

By - Jun 21st, 2016 10:35 am
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Dan Bice and Christian Schneider

Dan Bice and Christian Schneider

When asked about the Journal Sentinel’s political slant, I’ve always answered they try to steer to the middle, to serve as much of four-county metro-area readers as possible. But the newspaper’s coverage of the race between Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic challenger Russ Feingold suggests it’s increasingly aimed at its readers in Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties, with far less concern about Democratic-leaning Milwaukee County.

Russ Feingold

Russ Feingold

The leader of the anti-Russ hit squad is the newspaper’s sole political columnist and longtime Republican operative Christian Schneider. Even before Feingold announced his run, on May 14, 2015, Schneider had begun with a preemptive attack, a March 28, 2015 column warning that Feingold wouldn’t be able to run away from his pro-Obamacare past. Why a story on someone before you’re even sure they’re running? Because the Republican Party had just released a video attacking Feingold and Schneider dutifully repeated its message.

Once Feingold had officially entered the race, Schneider poured it on, with a June 17 column, “Russ Feingold’s hypocrisy is kind of a big deal,” a July 31 satirical column suggesting Feingold was trying to erase his “18 glorious years in the U.S. Capitol, an Aug 28 column, “Russ Feingold’s campaign finance double talk,”and one on November 18 blasting him for opposing the Patriot Act.

In 2016 Schneider treated us to a May 6 column, “Feingold is counting on your short memory,” and one on May 21, which attacked Feingold for “the most odious trick in the new media content production machine: the false comparison.”

That’s seven columns attacking Feingold in the past year and there may be others I couldn’t find. Schneider’s online archive at JSonline only goes back a couple months. (The newspaper has not always been transparent about Schneider.)

Was there some balance offered on Feingold from regular columnist James Causey or occasional columnist Ernst-Ulrich Franzen? Nope. Neither one has written a column about the race. Both, moreover, are veteran journalists whose columns are issue oriented and range widely, while Schneider traffics in Republican talking points.

Was there a Journal Sentinel editorial on the race to balance Schneider? Nope. There was one editorial calling for Johnson to break ranks with the Republicans in the Senate and have a hearing on Obama’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it had the usual temperate tone of JS editorials.

You can also see bias creeping into the reporting. Not long after launching his campaign, Feingold proposed that both candidates sign a pledge to keep to keep outside money from super PACs and nonprofits out of their campaign, which was covered by the Huffington Post and Cap Times. Feingold repeatedly challenged Johnson and got no response, none of which shows up in coverage by the Journal Sentinel.

Instead No Quarter columnist Dan Bice did a column on Aug 23, 2015 that simply put both candidates in the same boat, with a headline, “Big money pouring into Senate race.”  It’s not until the 12th graph of the story that you learn that Johnson rejected the idea of signing Feingold’s pledge.

Indeed, the thrust of Bice’s coverage has helped reinforce the idea that Feingold is the hypocrite and thus his dark money support is more newsworthy than Johnson’s. Bice’s May 25 column is headlined, “Russ Feingold jabbed by foe for rally with ‘dark-money’ group.” Bice does mention that Johnson is getting dark money but that comes later in the story — and nowhere in the headline.

Since the campaign began, Bice has done five stories with negative information about Feingold and only three on Johnson. Moreover, Feingold’s spokesperson often seems to get his innings far later in the game, in the 31st graph of a story about Johnson distancing himself from an anti-Islam group while a column about Feingold accepting speaker fees had Republicans dumping on him in the seventh graph of the story.

Bice is an excellent reporter. He had always operated as the bipartisan dirt patrol of the paper, gleefully skewering Republicans and Democrats alike, with half of its attacks coming against each party’s politicians. That was arguably biased, since Republicans and conservatives control the state Senate, Assembly, governor’s office and all the many departments under the governor, attorney general, state Supreme Court, not to mention all the local governments in three of the four counties in metro Milwaukee. You’d expect the majority of the political dirt would involve Republicans and conservatives.

So maybe Bice was being pushed to balance his coverage by a newspaper that tried to be middle of the road. That’s perhaps understandable.

But things seemed to go screwy in February 2015, around the time that conservative George Stanley took over as Journal Sentinel editor. Bice did no less than seven stories on Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and her handling of problems at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah around that time, suggesting he has having trouble getting stories on Republicans cleared. Over a period of two months Bice did just two columns, which led me to speculate — wrongly — that his column might be getting discontinued.

Since Jan 31, 2015, Bice has done 28 columns mining dirt on Democratic politicians and just 11 on Republican politicians (and a goodly number with reporting that doesn’t cut either way). So no, his column hasn’t disappeared, it’s simply changed into something quite different, a column that now manages to mainly attack Democrats in a state overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans. Small wonder the newspaper’s coverage has been so anti-Feingold.

Categories: Murphy's Law, People

34 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Journal Sentinel’s Bias Against Feingold”

  1. Donald George MacDonald says:

    The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has finally sold out to deep pockets of Gannett men wearing suits and ties who believe in the shortsighted ignorance of the Republican Party. This is a logical and expected demise of OUR once great local print media treasure brought about by conservative management cowards at the MJS.

    Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editor George Stanley and the Editorial Page Editor David Haynes will be remembered as primarily responsible for the downfall of the MJS, once OUR local print media treasure. And yet, many other cowardly people in power at the MJS, members of the MJS Editorial Board included, also conspire to oppress the publication of progressive solutions to our many social problems…who also conspire to oppress the progressive spirits of subscribing readers and contributing writers in order to enforce their conservative and dim and dark version of social order…in order to stifle social change for the better.

    And the quality of writing at MJS remains unskillful and amateurish while reporting remains boring and biased and opposed to more enlightened ideas and progressive ideals.

    The MJS too often seems to want to maintain the painful status quo and repeat the mistakes of their mediocre past. MJS should not be tempted to maintain their milquetoast, boring, conventional, conformist, conservative editorial policies.

    The MJS needs to enlist at least one writer of opinion who dares to articulate needed editorial opinions that are far more provocative, far more progressive, far more insightful, far more radical solutions of our many social and economic problems that continue to plague Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the U.S. and throughout the world.

    In order to increase readership, but primarily to just do what is right, MJS should maintain their history of investigative journalism to much more aggressively expose the lies and deception and failures and corruption of industries and governments in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the U.S. and the throughout the world.

    Milwaukee readers should finally be exposed to far more extremist solutions of social problems that continue to plaque us such as our filthy environment, corrupt politics, U.S. militarism, poor education, increasing unemployment amongst minorities, unequal and unfair criminal justice and law enforcement, increasing poverty, ineffective and lazy elected “representatives” as well as disenfranchisement and discrimination and much more.

    I realize that many other MJS readers call for an even more conservative editorial policy. Many readers want MJS to not report news objectively, but to intertwine the news with false and inaccurate and hateful and neglectful and ignorant and corrupt conservative ideals. To this I say: Let them watch FOX News as they try to tear down our valued institutions and ideals.

    MJS must finally begin the real work of communicating our positive ideals and solutions to overcome the profound social and economic problems that continue to plague us and to rebuild Milwaukee and Wisconsin and the U.S. to what we once hoped we would become.

    MJS must vastly increase efforts to open closed minds!

    Until they do, why would any reader subscribe to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel? 

    Try Urban Milwaukee for news, editorials and opinions instead!

  2. Bill Marsh says:

    OMG! Something negative has been written about Saint Feingold in the local press! Call Attorney General Loretta Lynch for the redaction squad!

    Let me get this straight. Leftist Bruce Murphy on leftist Urban Milwaukee is complaining that the leftist Journal-Sentinel is leaning conservative because they have one conservative columnist criticizing Saint Feingold? This is the former senator that rarely was or is asked a tough question by the Wisconsin press unless the outcome will put him in a good light.

    What is the Feingold-Johnson score at Urban Milwaukee? Has there ever been a negative word about Saint Feingold in Urban Milwaukee? We certainly know Urban Milwaukee doesn’t miss a chance to go negative on Senator Johnson.

    Hypocrisy anyone?

  3. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    The fact that Schneider continues to pull a paycheck from that rag is a huge reason why I’ll never give the JS a dime. This article also reminds me of how Paddy Mac was given the same space 6 years ago…until he resigned to be RoJo’s staffer in DC.

    As for Bice, he’s a company man through and through, and if Stanley is telling him to go after a certain candidate, he will. Notice how he had a ton of anti-Chris Larson articles earlier this year? The MMAC made their call, and the JS obliged their fellow oligarchs. Also, covering a 15-point blowout by Feingold over (mo)Ron is boring, so theyre trying to keep people interested.

    I thought being separated from the campaign ads on TMJ 4 and the GOPperganda on AM620 with the Gannett acquisition might get the JS away from its obvious bias. But as Bruce correctly points out, they arent fixing their old habits.

  4. Donald George MacDonald says:

    Mr. Marsh, “I realize that many other MJS readers call for an even more conservative editorial policy. Many readers want MJS to not report news objectively, but to intertwine the news with false and inaccurate and hateful and neglectful and ignorant and corrupt conservative ideals. To this I say: Let them watch FOX News as they try to tear down our valued institutions and ideals.”

  5. AG says:

    Bruce, I’d love to see a breakdown of the GOP/Democrat bashing ratio that goes on within the columns of a certain online magazine that covers Milwaukee. Even if one disagrees with the points made in this article, at least the JS is keeping the bias to the political and gossip columns. Said online magazine tends to let it touch almost every article and column released… even ones about home and architecture reviews on individuals homes.

  6. Howard says:

    Thanks for the article. I was wondering if it was just me or is there a right leaning bias in the MJS. It’s not that one MJS columnist writes negative and misleading articles, it is that it is the only regular opinion columnist writing these outrageous right leaning articles.

  7. Bruce Murphy says:

    To AG and Bill Marsh: Urban Milwaukee is an online daily that champions the city and urban solutions to city issues; we’ve been quite transparent about that. The Journal Sentinel is still the state’s largest news publication whose mission, it often proclaims, is to cover things down the middle in a way that favors neither party. I believe that’s increasingly not the case. That doesn’t mean the paper has no value (I still read it on a daily basis); indeed I wouldn’t be writing this is I didn’t think the paper was important.
    I might add that your comments and all those of readers agreeing or disagreeing with our stories are very prominent at the bottom of stories. We welcome and get a spirited debate about the issues we report on.

  8. Vincent Hanna says:

    I’m surprised Bruce’s opinion of Bice is so high. He strikes me as a gossip columnist with limited writing skills. What he does seem more fitting at a tabloid like the NY Post or Daily News. It’s hard to put much weight in his columns. They can be amusing, but mainly he seems to prize sensationalism and titillation.

    Schneider is a detriment to the paper. Not because he is conservative, but because he is so simplistic. Almost every single one of his columns could be an official GOP press release. He’s a Walker/GOP propagandist. Yes he’s anti-Trump but that’s hardly brave considering the man he’s taken a stand against. It’s hardly surprising that he spends a significant amount of time bashing Feingold given that he doesn’t expect Trump to win and has to throw his weight behind close Senate races like Johnson/Feingold as he hopes the GOP can hold the Senate. All that said, everything is so partisan right now (as shown in comments here) that people will see the anti-Feingold bias claim through a partisan lens. Conservatives still think the JS is a liberal rag, and liberals think it skews way too conservative. Maybe that says something? But either Schneider should go or someone of a different political persuasion should get the 3 or 4 weekly columns he gets. I don’t think Causey counts. Isn’t he considered more of a community-focused writer rather than an opinion columnist like Schneider?

  9. Jeff SImpson says:

    You didn’t even mention that Schneider called Feingold, worse than josh duggar who is a child predator

  10. Milwaukee Native says:

    Not all staff political columnists are former reporters, but I suspect it’s a pretty high ratio. Other “pundits” often are professors, retired political figures and such. I could not find a bio for Christian Schneider although he recently wrote this self-congratulatory post about becoming “Almost Famous” when he made his TV debut as a political pundit eight years ago. There was even a lead image from the movie by that name of the budding Rolling Stone reporter Cameron Crowe. Nice try at correlation.

    http://www.christianschneiderblog.com

    Schneider appears to have no journalism cred, only stints as a political hack and right-wing think-tanker. Perhaps Bruce Murphy can shed light on Schneider’s pre-JS career.

    I rarely read an entire Schneider column (though do still subscribe to JS to see what they’re covering—and NOT covering). Schneider is such a hackneyed and sophomoric writer, and so popmpous, that I just can’t slog through his word swamp once the gist is obvious (sometimes the headline is enough).

    Bice is a better writer though has gotten tedious as he sinks ever further into gossip while avoiding anything of civic relevance. He could try harder even while toeing the company line.

    I often read or listen to diverse opinions that are rendered with intelligence, clarity and craft. Schneider and Bice could well become quite irrelevant as even the conservative JS readership drifts off mid-sentence from sheer boredom.

  11. Bill Marsh says:

    It is amazing how intolerant the left is about opinions outside their orthodoxy. The left owns education, entertainment, the government bureaucracies, and a large majority of the news media. But that is not enough. They want total adherence to their line.

    As to being concerned about bias, in his comment above, Bruce Murphy did not address the bias at Urban Milwaukee. Being that he is counting, what is the Feingold-Johnson score at Urban Milwaukee? Mr. Murphy mentioned transparency. How about some transparency? Or is Bruce Murphy above keeping score for himself and Urban Milwaukee.

    I enjoy Urban Milwaukee. I use to enjoy it more when it kept primarily to urban Milwaukee issues. But the editors have let politics seep into a large portion of the site, including articles about homes. The pieces about urban Milwaukee issues that do involve politics would be better written if the writers went to the effort to inform us of opposing opinions or perceptions on such issues.

    But guess what, I’m not calling for the ouster of Bruce Murphy and all the other left leaning writers for Urban Milwaukee. I understand where they are coming from (their left bias) and sometimes I read their stuff to understand their perspective. Like most open-minded readers, I can tolerate diverse opinions. What is tough to tolerate is hiding the truth or opposing views in supposed news articles such as the “Wisconsin Budget” section of Urban Milwaukee. Is that a weekly opinion piece by a leftist entity or is it a biased weekly news article by a leftist entity? Where is the transparency on that?

    In my book, open bias is acceptable as long as we know what it is and where its coming from. Deceptive bias by not telling the truth, by ommission of important known facts, or by trying to pass a news story by a biased party is not tolerable.

  12. tom says:

    The Journal Sentinel is a biased rag I parted ways with years ago. I wouldn’t give JS a dime for paper or online garbage.

  13. Vincent Hanna says:

    So Bill what are some examples of open and deceptive bias, as you see it? How could UM be more transparent? You claim to be open-minded and tolerant of diverse opinions, but you make sweeping generalizations and overly broad assumptions about “the left.” Your argument holds no water because you accuse “the left” of all these dastardly things without defining it or explaining exactly what you mean. It’s simplistic. If I said everyone on “the right” gets their views from talk radio and doesn’t think for themselves, you would object and dismiss that. You make it too easy to dismiss your arguments here.

  14. Milwaukee Native says:

    Bill Marsh,
    I would hardly call UM columnist John Torinus a lefty, nor Bruce Thompson. There’s also the middle-of-the-road Wisconsin Eye and many other pieces, including by Bruce Murphy or Jeramey Jannene, that veer down the middle.

    And news items by Neighborhood News Service (reprinted here) can only be considered “lefty” if you believe that writing about issues affecting non-affluent MKE neighborhoods is somehow lefty on its face. UM also runs plenty of op-eds with views across the spectrum. Plus detailed info on every development in progress within the city limits, especially Greater Downtown.

    Even House Confidential columnist Michael Horne is an equal-opportunity disher of what you may consider political dirt.

    It’s odd that you hammer UM for its lefty-ness. I wonder what you actually read on the site. Along with lots of lifestyle content, you’ll find in-depth journalism, as opposed to reports that are simply “taking dictation.” That’s rarely true of the JS or MKE’s business publications.

    If you want a steady diet of right-wing bluster, it’s easy to find on AM radio. Or get your steady dose of blather from Schneider. UM may be too much of a smorgasbord for your taste.

  15. Bruce Murphy says:

    Bill Marsh, I see your email address is a fake one, so I assume your name is made up as well. As I thought my original response made clear, Urban Milwaukee has never claimed to be a middle of the road, “objective” publication, as the Journal Sentinel repeatedly and resolutely does. I think transparency is hugely important, all the more so in the internet age, which is one of the reasons I wrote this column.

  16. Kent Mueller says:

    It wouldn’t hurt Urban Milwaukee to run something positive about Sen. Ron Johnson before November. I’ll just spit-ball some suggestions.
    “Choosing the Right Son-In-Law for a Closely Held Private Company”
    “”Someone has to warm the bench” Assessing the First-Term Senators of the 2010 Wave”
    “Blandness as a Virtue: the Charm of Senator Ron Johnson”
    There must be other ideas, damned if I can think of them off-hand. It wouldn’t have to a long, in-depth article — given the subject matter I don’t think that’s possible.

  17. podman says:

    Living in the far north of Wisconsin I count on the online versions of the Milwaukee Journal,Cap Times,Wisconsin State Journal to stay informed. I found Urban Milwaukee after reading a Murphy’s Law article and check it out everyday for news or stories not found elsewhere and look forward to reading Murphy’s Law, Bruce Thompson ,Torinus and other Milwaukee/State contributors.I note that both right and left commentors are critical of the Milwaukee Journal and are sure they favor the other.How Schneider gets so much print is a mystery to me as well and worth pointing out. As usual Murphy investigates and reports.I find that refreshing as a reader and look forward to more.

  18. Ben Cadott says:

    I agree with Murphy’s assessment 100%.

    Christian Schneider is simply a simpleton mouthpiece for the conservative establishment, from which the MJS needs advertising revenue desperately. And, while we used to enjoy Mr. Bice’s columns, it appears that his writing has become — more and more — a mouthpiece for right-wing religious politicians with a social agenda to push.

    It’s too bad that Mr. Stanley has come to rely on space-fillers of this ilk, rather than investing in true journalism that relies on balanced reporting of facts. For example, has the MJS determined and reported to readership those WI politicians who support/endorse Trump or Clinton so that readers have a single source/link to which they can refer to determine the positions/beliefs of these WI politicians? No. No single comprehensive source on issues. None. What a disservice to their readers, and, what a great contribution MJS is making to the dumbing down of American voters.

    Far too much “opinion” in MJS “reporting” which appeals to subscribers in outlying suburban areas, but at the expense of long—term journalistic integrity.

  19. Bea says:

    I second Hanna’s motion that Bice is an overrated gossip columnist. He and others did tremendous damage to the Burke campaign by making a big to-do over ridiculous claims she plagiarized her jobs plan. She started to drop in the polls shortly thereafter. Bice could be a good investigative reporter if he wanted to be and had free rein. Instead he’s only click bait.

  20. C. Caflisch says:

    I agree, Bice prints dirt wherever he can find it. And, ok, Causey and Franzen haven’t weighed in. Though, they don’t write on politics as often as Schneider.

    You didn’t mention Emily Mills. I’ve always thought of Mills as the main counter-balance to Schneider. Agree? Has she not written about the race?

  21. Vincent Hanna says:

    Isn’t Mills one of those Community Columnists they have?

  22. C. Caflisch says:

    EM gets printed pretty frequently. Also, see the below link, she’s listed w. the columnists, along with the likes of Schneider, Causey, Franzen, Gurda, Haynes.

    http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/

  23. C. Caflisch says:

    EM gets printed pretty frequently. Also, see the below link, she’s listed w. the columnists, along with Schneider, Causey, Franzen, Gurda, Haynes.

    http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/

  24. Joanne Brown says:

    Emily Mills could be a counter to Scneider if he had only one column per week (that is all she has), but Schneider sometimes appears in as many as three places in one day! He seems to have as many columns published as WPRI deems necessary, usually four or more. Ms. Mills also has a far more nuanced view of a wider world, so her columns rarely match up one to one with Schneider.

  25. Willie Ray says:

    “For newspapers, political news predominates during these times, if not always. Economic and political life can become all-important. The outward circumstances – comfort, money, position and power – can seem to dominate and shape our existence and the total process of life can be forgotten or deliberately set aside. It is so much easier to throw oneself into social and political activity than to understand life as a whole. Organized thought, with political or religious activity, offers a respectable escape from the pettiness and drudgery of everyday life. So with a small heart we can talk of big things and of the popular leaders; we can hide our shallowness with the easy phrases of world affairs; our restless mind can happily and with popular encouragement settle down to propagate ideology.” K.

    An the advertising dollars love it.

  26. daniel goldenew says:

    The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has become the office newsletter of the Bradley foundation. Christian Schneider was at one time financed through a Bradley Foundation grant.. A once proud moderate paper has embarrassed itself since its endorsement of Scott Walker, and its subscription decline is well deserved. Urban Milwaukee has more reporting of value in a week than The MJS has had in years.No responsible paper would have only one political columnist on its staff,who, like Christian Schneider , spews out unreadable and generally false verbal garbage on a regular basis. The best solution:. Ignore the Journal Sentinel and its advertisers and soon it will be unprofitable for Gannet and it will die a well deserved death by attrition.

  27. dk mke says:

    Isn’t it possible Bice prints more dirt on Dems because being based in Milwaukee he has more access to Dems?

    Schneider is a tool, plain and simple. His writing is poor and sounds like it’s coming from the radio.

  28. Bruce Murphy says:

    dk mke: Bice should have unmatched access to state politicians because its the state’s biggest journalistic enterprise. I can assure you that members of both parties from across the state are pitching him stories and delivering dirt.

  29. dk mke says:

    Haha. I accept your assurance.

  30. Johnny Smith says:

    We shall see how Bice reports this story on Thursday. https://youtu.be/htEHyWbYlLo

    Don’t ya love it when Republicon puppets shoot their mouths off. They just can’t help themselves.

    If the MJS is truly turning into red ink – WI is in deep trouble. The MJS will be in deep trouble.

  31. delay says:

    JS has been leaning right for a long time.

  32. Vincent Hanna says:

    Johnny Smith Bice uses about half of his story on Weber’s comment to repeat criticism’s of Baldwin and the VA issue.

  33. Thomas says:

    I agree with the last half of post # 28: “Schneider is a tool, pure and simple.” In that respect, he resembles Scott Walker. Schneider is clearly better educated than Walker, but that education is wasted in the service of carrying water for his benefactors.

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