Journal Sentinel Bias In Mayor’s Race?
And was its story on Rebecca Bradley’s affair “offensive garbage”?
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 OnMilwaukee.com 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.
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.
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.