Sykes Unloads Right Wisconsin
Wigderson is new owner/editor. But don’t worry, Sykes is a still a “conservative.”
Does this qualify as another recantation?
“Since its launch in 2013, Right Wisconsin has been at the epicenter of the conservative movement in Wisconsin,” Sykes writes. Or at least it was until Charlie suddenly began renouncing his views in prominent publications like the New York Times and Politico, and thereby winning a position as a contributor to the liberal MSNBC.
That has won him the denunciation of Wisconsin Conservative Digest leader Bob Donhal who calls Sykes a “judas goat,” and the skepticism of conservative talker Mark Belling, who told the Los Angeles Times “There’s a fortune to be made going out speaking to liberals and telling them how evil and awful conservatives are,” which “has opened doors for (Sykes) that otherwise would not have existed.”
In short, getting conservative individuals and groups (like Wisconsin Club for Growth) to support Right Wisconsin, which Sykes had previously had success doing, would be pretty tough now that many of them are no longer sure Charlie is one of them. So maybe better to hand off the baton and get out of the right lane.
But Sykes doesn’t discuss the ownership of the publication. That was always something of a mystery, as I’ve written. It was owned by Scripps Publishing, the Cincinnati-based company that owned WTMJ radio, but the support it got from conservative groups and lobbyists in the state gave it more of a not-for-profit feel.
Yet even after Sykes left WTMJ and no longer worked for Scripps, its stories still said “Copyright 2016 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved,” and that label is still there, although Valerie Miller, spokesperson for Scripps, told me back in March that “ownership of Right Wisconsin was transferred to Charlie Sykes when he retired at the end of 2016.”
So Sykes has been the owner, and it appears he has now handed it over to Wigderson.
Conservative political strategist Brian Fraley, who served as Right Wisconsin’s first managing editor, offered “Congratulations to my good friend” James Wigderson on Facebook, adding that Wigderson now “becomes the owner/publisher/editor of Right Wisconsin.”
Wigderson has managed to remain loyal to Sykes, which couldn’t have been easy, given the decline of Sykes’ standing among the state’s conservatives. (Jim scolded me back in February for having the temerity to report on the many recantations of Sykes.)
I’ve always liked Wigderson. Though we disagree on most issues, he’s never personalized it, and I’ve found him particularly insightful on Waukesha politics. And he has a sense of humor, which never hurts. He has labored for many years for little money, the rare example of the good conservative soldier who somehow never got a ride on the right wing gravy train.
And he still hasn’t. Though Sykes’ farewell column tells us “the best is yet to come,” I doubt Right Wisconsin has any funding, so Wigderson will have to rebuild it through his own efforts.
The other issue, though, is whether the conservative MacIver Institute will get involved with Right Wisconsin. MacIver already has an arrangement with Wigderson (he gets compensation of some kind as a contributing writer) and has recently styled itself as more of a news publication, having picked up M.D. Kittle, who was the top writer for years for the conservative Wisconsin Watchdog, which has been in decline for some time.
Wigderson declined to comment on Right Wisconsin’s ownership and financing. “As for contributing to the MacIver Institute, Media Trackers, or other websites and publications,” he wrote me, “RightWisconsin is going to be my primary focus for the foreseeable future. However, as Master Yoda once said, ‘Always in motion is the future.’” Maybe Yoda will come aboard as a financier.
As for Sykes, his column promises he will continue as a Right Wisconsin contributor, “to prod and poke my fellow conservatives,” in Wisconsin, though I’m guessing that prodding won’t have much impact any more.
Meantime Wigderson has written this column to herald the new era at Right Wisconsin. Task number one, I’d think, would be removing the outmoded Scripps copyright.