November 22, 2011

Media Trackers needs to put up or shut up

Recently we had Rick Esenberg, a professor of law at Marquette University, accusing nine Madison doctors of "fraud" even though there was no finding of any fraudulent behavior on the part of the doctors.

Then we had Prof. Esenberg's fellow Bradley Foundation beneficiary Charlie Sykes accuse two young women in Milwaukee of "recall fraud," even though both were well beyond voting age. Today we have this:
"[Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor] was, in fact, an accessory to one felon voting on April 5 when that individual, whenever that person was ineligible to vote under Wisconsin statutes," said Brian Sikma, a spokesman for Mequon-based Media Trackers.
Intentionally procuring, assisting, or advising someone to vote at any election if that person does not have the necessary elector qualifications is itself a felony. In other words, Mr. Sikma is accusing Sen. Taylor of committing a felony. Where's Sikma's evidence? He has none, because:
"At best, this is gross negligence that undermines the integrity of the election process," the Mequon-based Brian Sikma said.
Well, which is it? Negligence — "gross" or otherwise — denotes the absence of intent. So basically this character is accusing Sen. Taylor of a crime, but then he claims "at best" she didn't commit a crime. All of which is dutifully repeated, without any explanation, by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Apparently Brian Sikma doesn't know what the hell he's talking about, but he did manage to convince the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel to generate a headline referring to voter fraud "allegations."

What they don't tell you is there's no substance to any of these "allegations" and there's no such thing in Wisconsin as "negligently" assisting someone to vote, even if Sen. Taylor had anything to do with the voting at all, and indeed there are no facts presented supporting the proposition that she did have anything at all to do with the voting.

Suffice to say this is not exactly local journalism's finest moment.

And we have months more of this B.S. to look forward to, where you can accuse anybody of anything you want, without facts or argument.



Ed Fallone said...

The trend seems to be for an "expert" to make public statements about the content of the law that are inaccurate. The purpose of the statement is not accuracy, however, but rather to influence public opinion.

Most news readers tend to react to new information and arrive at an opinion about that information rather quickly. These first impressions in the minds of readers are "sticky," and readers will rarely revise their initial opinion even if later legal proceedings (or the lack thereof) demonstrate that the original source of the information was wrong. The latest political science research on the way that our minds form opinions demonstrates that it is first impressions that counts.

It is not surprising that those who wish to influence public opinion might adopt these "quick hit" tactics. What is surprising is that a major media corporation is apparently either ignorant of these tactics or else views itself as under no obligation to push back.

Perhaps one response (admittedly imperfect) might be if the State Bar were to discipline or rebuke any lawyers who make obviously reckless mistatements about what is or isn't fraud, or about what the law is generally. In paragraph 6, the preamble to Chapter SCR 20 states that all lawyers "should further the public's understanding of and confidence in the rule of law." Playing games designed to influence public opinion would seem to be inconsistent with the obligation of furthering the public's understanding of the law.

Apparently the prospect of shame or ridicule is not sufficient to deter some people.

illusory tenant said...

Couldn't agree more with all of that.

Jesse said...

Ed Fallone said everything I wanted to say, but much more elegantly. Media Trackers won't "put up or shut up," because their objective is not to inform. It is to mislead.

illusory tenant said...

And I just noticed it took four Journal-Sentinel reporters to put that thing together.