Sykes’ War Against Sheriff Clarke
Their bromance has gone bitter, the love has turned to hate. Why?
“He’s virtually invisible here in Milwaukee,” Sykes carped to the Chicago Tribune in a recent story on the sheriff’s rising national profile.
Sykes also ripped Clarke in a Business Insider story, saying: “There are a lot of jobs you don’t have to show up for, but [sheriff] is one where you do….And when he gets involved, it often has an almost gratuitous, grandstanding sense to it.”
On Twitter Sykes uses the hashtag #FakeCop to label Clarke, and has bashed the sheriff for running a county jail where “Milwaukee jail inmates forced to give birth in shackles” and savaged him for mocking the mayor, as follows: “Clarke can no longer distinguish between tough talk and being a crude, juvenile bully.”
So what happened to end this blissful bromance of blowhards? Sykes has been trumpeting his opposition to Donald Trump since last winter and once the Sheriff decided to back Trump in May Sykes began chiding Clarke as a “Trumpkin.” Then it came out that Clarke’s book, Cop Under Fire, included nothing about Sykes — not one word of gratitude or respect — and the enmity grew.
Right after Trump’s victory in November, Clarke sent Sykes an email saying (among other things): “You embarrassed yourself over the last 6 months. Your hubris and your ego got the best of you…I will enjoy listening to your program again for the next 2 months explaining how Trump could NEVER become POTUS.”
To which Sykes responded, “Does this mean you will actually show up and do your job now?”
Since then, Clarke hasn’t had much to say, but Sykes keeps pouring on the scorn and derision for his one-time ally. Sykes’ Right Wisconsin website has relentlessly attacked the sheriff, declaring Clarke was the “loser of the day” on January 18, on January 23, on February 1 and March 19, and for good measure, Clarke’s political advisor Craig Peterson was chosen loser of the day on March 14.
“I was kind of honored,” Peterson jokes. “I have to thank him for making me relevant again.”
The nice thing about having your own publication is you can run un-bylined stories that fawningly feature the editor’s bon mots in another publication. Thus Sykes’s publication told us that Sykes said this about Clarke in Business Insider: “And all you do is speak out on [crime], that’s been the wrap on him. Big hat, no cattle. Talks a big game but he doesn’t actually do a lot of stuff.”
Which is to say that Sykes has recanted his old views of Clarke. Recantations, as I’ve written, are a particular specialty of Sykes. After 24 years of relentlessly bashing the “biased” press on his talk show, he’s suddenly realized that this might have soured people’s trust in the mainstream media. After subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) appealing to racism among some of his listeners, he’s admitted that wasn’t right either.
In the case of Clarke, Sykes now criticizes the Sheriff for neglecting his job while taking speaking engagements nationally, but Clarke was doing that in 2015 and actually took master classes from a California college in 2013
And Sykes has suddenly realized that Clarke traffics in childish bluster and ugliness, though he promoted this kind of rhetoric by the sheriff for years.
Curiously, the one place where Sykes hasn’t recanted is at his website, which is still called Right Wisconsin, even as Sykes has won national notoriety for attacking talk radio, Trump and other Republicans on MSNBC and in New York Times op eds.
Shouldn’t the website’s name be changed to, maybe, “Sometimes Right” or “Just to the Right of MSNBC”?
I sent Sykes some questions about the website and he responded per usual, “just make it up as you usually do.”
To which I responded, “hey, I thought you’d changed your views. How about a different response for me?”
To which he responded: “Not about you.”
Okay, so Sykes won’t be recanting his view of me.
The structure of Right Wisconsin was always something of a mystery. It was owned by Scripps Publishing, the Cincinnati-based company that owned WTMJ radio, but Sykes would call conservative groups and lobbyists in the state asking them to become sponsors and help underwrite the website, which gave it more of a not-for-profit feel, along with a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” ethos.
Those sponsors included right-wing groups like Wisconsin Club for Growth and business groups like Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. At some point last year the site was no longer a subscriber-only site and became free to all readers, and the sponsorships withered away.
So now that Sykes has left WTMJ and no longer works for Scripps, who owns Right Wisconsin? Its stories still say “Copyright 2016 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved,” though this is now 2017 and an entirely different ideological era for Charlie.
Sure enough, Valerie Miller, spokesperson for Scripps, tells me “Ownership of Right Wisconsin was transferred to Charlie Sykes when he retired at the end of 2016.”
As for the site’s staff, it lists only Sykes as editor and James Wigderson as assistant editor. Wigderson, who has been an education reporter for the right-wing Watchdog.org since April 2016, just took on the added position of assistant editor for Sykes in January, so he may not be getting paid much for that gig. (Wigderson declined to discuss this.)
Perhaps Sykes is now paying for the site, with all that money he earned over the years running a radio show he now regrets. Which means you can probably expect lots more stories dumping on David Clarke.