Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The War Between Steve Schultze and Chris Abele

County exec tries to undermine county reporter because of his slanted stories.

By - May 2nd, 2013 12:04 pm
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele

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.

Categories: Murphy's Law

6 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: The War Between Steve Schultze and Chris Abele”

  1. John says:

    So is this post supposed to be ironic in an ironic sort of way. Bruce Murphy, who is obsessed with the county board because apparently Ament ran over his dog 10 years ago and he thinks the board told him what street to drive down, criticizes a reporter for having a personal beef, using his position as a reporter to abuse that person, and here is the kicker mislead the reader by not giving the full story.

    Let’s look at the facts:

    1. Abele criticized the board through a blogger for negotiating with a certificated union (AFSCME).
    2. The board claims it was not negotiating with that union.
    3. The board, abiding by the guidelines in Act 10, releases agreements it negotiated with 4 other unions that are still certified.
    4. Those agreements abide by Act 10 by negotiating only on raises and raise salaries for those union members that is less than the raise that Abele gave to non-union workers.
    5. There is some confusion on whether the county is allowed to negotiate on taking union dues out of paychecks and thus those agreements are pulled until that portion can be confirmed.
    6. Bruce Murphy then jumps up and down pointing shouting, “see I told you they ran over my… I mean look they are not following Act 10!”


  2. MilwDave says:

    The comments above are the perfect example of how the left views an issue. Address nothing written by Murphy and raise a bunch of nonissues that have nothing with the points being made.

  3. Bruce Murphy says:

    Dave, my guess is the comment was made by someone very close to the board. Since the person is anonymous, of course, there is no way to know.

  4. Lucy Cooper says:

    Bruce: I’m an avid newspaper reader and a former county employee in the court system, and a former union member. (And no, I didn’t get a back-drop…) I’ve been bothered by Schultze’s reporting too – just as I was when JS assigned Georgia Pabst, their Hispanic beat reporter, to a serious legal/business story where she was out of her depth and clearly biased (Palermo’s). They now seem to have replaced her with Karen Herzog.

    As much as I disagree with Charlie Sykes about almost everything, I do listen when he reports Aaron Rodriguez’s stuff because Rodriguez seems to get the facts straight. As do you.

    Regarding Act 10, there is no “confusion” about whether dues checkoff can be bargained; it cannot. The defense of the negotiation is that the Dane County Circuit Court judgment involving a lawsuit to which Milwaukee County was NOT a party somehow enjoining enforcement of Act 10 statewide.

    Keep up your work. These are crazy making times.

    Lucy Cooper

  5. John says:

    I am not close to the board, I think I have met 2 or 3 members over the last 4 or 5 years and at least one of those is not on the board anymore.

    I did notice that you did not address a single one of my points. You are misleading the public by claiming one thing and leaving out key facts when the opposite is true. I think you are a good investigated reporter, but I have always been bothered by your reporting of the County government when you worked for Milwaukee Magazine. You obviously have a weird obsession that clouds your coverage. Frankly it has always been bizarre.

  6. Bruce Murphy says:

    Actually, John, if that’s your name, I’ve tried to contact you to respond but you don’t have a real email. And your argument is with Dan Bice, who reported on the union negotiating, not with me.

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