Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Journal Sentinel Bias In Mayor’s Race?

And was its story on Rebecca Bradley’s affair “offensive garbage”?

By - Mar 17th, 2016 11:51 am
Journal Sentinel

Journal Sentinel

It was an amusing week at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Ald. Bob Donovan walked out of a meeting with the newspaper’s editorial board because No Quarter columnist Dan Bice was present in the room. “Donovan said he had no intention of sitting down for an interview with the editorial board if Bice, whom he called a ‘gossip columnist,’ remained in the room, the newspaper reported.

Donovan was angry about a column Bice did reporting on the anti-crime candidate’s own run-ins with the law, including the infamous incident in 1992 where Donovan was cited for disorderly conduct for peeking through a hole in a partition between men’s room toilets at UW-Milwaukee.

Bice’s column was factual, and any such legal citations are of interest to voters, so it’s hard to see what Donovan has to complain about. It’s Ald. Joe Davis, who also ran for mayor in the primary, who has the real complaint here. Bice also did a column on Davis, reporting on his friendliness toward violent gangs in the city. Jessica McBride, a columnist with slammed it as a “smear job.” I don’t agree. It may be less important than the legal run-ins of Donovan, but it’s an eyebrow-raising situation that is suitable fare for a column like Bice’s.

But here’s the difference: the Davis column ran before the primary election and Donovan’s ran after the primary. Davis probably would have taken third either way, but he might have done better if the Donovan story had been published before the primary.

Not only was this decision good for Donovan, it was even better for incumbent Mayor Tom Barrett. The Barrett campaign badly wanted to run against Donovan, creating a classic liberal vs conservative election in a very Democratic city. A race against Davis, a weak candidate, but an African American challenger in a majority-minority city, would have been less predictable. Before the election, I’m told, some of Barrett’s supporters were joking they should vote for Donovan to make sure Davis lost.

The Journal Sentinel’s decision looks even worse given that only the black candidate got the negative story before the primary. What was the rationale for holding the other story?

Bice responded by email to my question. “I had a health issue that put me in the emergency room three times, along with stays at the hospital and rest at home, in the time between my interview with Donovan and the primary.”

From all I’ve heard there’s no doubt Bice has had health problems. But here’s the thing: If he couldn’t finish the story he started, then hand it over to another reporter. The information in the story on Donovan is nothing new to City Hall insiders, it’s public record and not difficult to report, but many voters undoubtedly weren’t aware of it. How can you publish the slam on Davis and wait until after the primary to go after Donovan? When stories like this are held, it’s always the editor’s decision. Either run both the Davis and Donovan stories or hold them both. For whatever reason, Journal Sentinel editors decided it was okay to run only the Davis story before the primary. Bad decision.

A Journal Sentinel story that has caused far more controversy is its front page article that Justice Rebecca Bradley had an “extra-marital affair.” Bradley went on conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes’ show to say she was “shocked and disgusted” by the story, calling it an “offensive piece of garbage.” The Cap Times did a good story covering that and other negative reactions to the JS article.

The heart of the JS story was actually about Bradley making the decision to represent someone with whom she had a romantic relationship, J. Andrew Bednall. The question of whether this was a conflict for Bradley is a legitimate one and goes to her judgment and the story offered pro and con views on this.

That, however, would have been small potatoes without the revelation that Bradley and Bednall commenced their relationship well before Bradley was divorced. Her husband Gordon Bradley says he told JS reporter Patrick Marley that he and Rebecca Bradley were “separated” at the time she commenced the relationship with Bednall and that the story didn’t include this.

Actually, the story went one better, reporting that both Rebecca Bradley’s attorney Dan Kelly and Gordon Bradley said “the couple were living in separate residences at the time of her relationship with Bednall.”

In short, the article’s reporting is completely accurate. The two Bradleys don’t claim to have been legally separated but informally separated, prior to their ultimate divorce. Nor has Rebecca Bradley told the press when her relationship with Bednall began; we only know through her response to a legal motion that it ended in November 2002. She got to know Bednall sometime after joining the firm of Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek (where Bednall was chief operating officer) in February 2000 and did not file for divorce until April 2004, more than four years later.

I might add that Rebecca Bradley didn’t purchase her Lower East Side condo until 2003, as my colleague Michael Horne has reported, and that was well after her relationship with Bednall began.

All of which leaves many questions, which Rebecca Bradley has not addressed, instead heaping condemnation on the Journal Sentinel. The story is clearly accurate; the only question is whether “extra-marital affair” should have been in the headline. In legal terms, it’s correct, in human terms it might be simplistic, but we don’t know that without more information being provided by Rebecca Bradley.

10 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Journal Sentinel Bias In Mayor’s Race?”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    I can’t believe what thin skin Donovan and Sheriff Clarke have. According to the JS, since 2008 only two people have either threatened to leave an editorial board meeting (Clarke) or actually did leave (Donovan). Those two have no problems issuing incendiary press releases and giving angry press conferences and spouting off to conservative media and calling other elected officials names. But they become petulant little children in front of a few reporters at the local daily. Unreal. They are both clowns.

    Bradley is just sticking to the tried and true conservative playbook. Whenever possible, blame the media. It’s been done countless times before and will certainly be done countless times in the future. Plays well to the base. Give major interviews to friendly media outlets and blast the big bad “mainstream/lamestream” media as often as possible.

  2. Frank Galvan says:

    Rebecca Bradley is a gaffe machine; what’s next?

  3. John Casper says:

    Very sorry to hear about Dan Bice’s health issues.

    Terrific reporting, as per usual.

    In the JS comments, since deleted, it was reported that Mark Belling vigorously held Justice R. Bradley accountable.

  4. WashCoRepub says:

    I am certainly looking forward to the future in-depth coverage of the dating and romantic habits of prominent liberal candidates… should be fascinating.

  5. John Casper says:


    How many Wisconsin attorneys document their adultery in an affidavit?

    From Bruce’s link, “Bradley, now a state Supreme Court justice and candidate for a full term, responded in a January 2005 affidavit that she could remain on the case.

    ‘At one time I had a romantic relationship with (Bednall), which we both believed might result in marriage. We broke off that relationship in November 2002, although we have continued to date on a nonexclusive basis since that time,’ wrote Bradley, who was divorced in 2004.”

    How’s Justice Rebecca Bradley’s adultery different than President Clinton’s?

    Why are you opposed to, “individual responsibility?”

    Do you want them renamed, “THE TEN SUGGESTIONS?”

    Are you opposed to marriage?

  6. Vincent Hanna says:

    Conservatives bring this on themselves and no one should feel sympathy for them when it blows up in their face. They drone on and on about the importance of (straight) marriage and family values (as if only they have them) and lament the good old days before Hollywood and liberal, coastal elites shoved their immoral lives down everyone’s throats. They have made these things campaign issues for decades now. Then, when they are exposed for their hypocrisy, they just blame the media. The personal responsibility they love to talk about is instantly forgotten. It’s the media out to get a conservative. So spare me your outrage WashCoRepub. Your party decided long ago to make the sanctity of marriage a campaign issue. Members of your party join groups devoted to fighting for “traditional marriage.” The media is not to blame when conservatives are revealed to be hypocrites.

  7. M says:

    “The heart of the JS story was actually about Bradley making the decision to represent someone with whom she had a romantic relationship, J. Andrew Bednall. The question of whether this was a conflict for Bradley is a legitimate one and goes to her judgment and the story offered pro and con views on this.”

    The repping question was the legal focus of the issue–and does not seem all that big a deal on its face. But the human “heart” of the story was that Bradley was repping her boyfriend, formerly the COO of her legal-firm employer, in his custody case over his 16-year-old son–who reported he was made uncomfortable by Bradley’s role in the court battle. Sure, you can rep your boyfriend legally, but why further tie your boyfriend’s family in knots, why throw fuel on a touchy custody fire. Remember what it felt like to be 16?

  8. Thomas Spellman says:

    Why is that when the facts come out it only gets worse!! A custody hearing WOW How stupid can you get but we know that they can get stupid. Peace Thomas Spellman

  9. Peter Abbott says:

    Yes, as M agrees, “The heart of the JS story was actually about Bradley making the decision to represent someone with whom she had a romantic relationship, J. Andrew Bednall.”

    Besides “throw[ing] fuel on a touchy custody fire,” Bradley might have been called as a witness because the affair might have become a factor in the custody case itself. Even if she were technically within her rights to represent Bednall, it showed extremely poor judgment. And if she made her ex-boyfriend’s son uncomfortable, imagine how it might have felt to Bednall’s soon-to-be ex-wife to see her husband’s one-time girlfriend (of 10 years or so) walk into the hearing room or courtroom as the man’s legal counsel.


  10. M says:

    Good points, Peter. In her televised debate Bradley called the JS reporting on her relationship with Bednall “vile” and “filth.” They simply quoted from public records about her boyfriend’s custody case, including Bradley’s own statements about it.

    In the debate Bradley painted herself as doing a favor for a “friend,” as she said people often do when family or friends need a lawyer. However, in this case the “needy” friend was formerly the chief operating officer of a large law firm and obviously knew many attorneys. His judgment could be questioned as well, except he is not seeking a term on the state Supreme Court.

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