Scott Walker is controlling the message…literally

Emails obtained by Badger Democracy confirm what has long been speculation. Conservative talk show hosts in Wisconsin, particularly the Metro Milwaukee market, get their talking points directly from the office of Governor Scott Walker.

Two sets of email chains specifically name Charlie Sykes, Vicky McKenna, and Jerry Bader in statewide broadcast radio; and former TMJ4 television Executive Producer Julie Pearl. The reach of these media outlets through syndication is virtually statewide; and is a flagrant use of on-air broadcast as a full-time campaign mechanism for the Walker Administration – outside of the campaign.

The first set of emails is from Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie to Governor’s staff, and Walker himself; though the email is redacted along with one other email address. The email is dated June 7, 2011:Important to note the contact is initiated by Cullen Werwie to Charlie Sykes on Monday, June 5; soliciting an appearance for Walker on June 9 to explain how his reforms are already “producing positive results.” Sykes confirms, and Werwie replies on June 7, sending an attachment titled “6.9.11 Bader Sykes McKenna briefing”

The “Meeting Briefing” for the radio hosts is an outline of talking points, strategically planned for not only Walker’s interviews; but for the hosts themselves.

The audio archive of Sykes’ show from June 9, 2011 shows that all major points from the above briefing were discussed – many with Walker himself. The CEO ranking and “job creators” message, supposed savings for local schools, and the Middleton/Cross Plains teacher arbitration issue were all discussed in the Walker interview. Sykes touches on the other primary points during the balance of his show.

The Jerry Bader show from June 10, 2011 was staged as a “call-in” show for Walker’s segment. The points covered during this segment encompass most of the memo. Walker’s fiscal reforms already working, increased pension and health premium contributions by teachers saving districts money, local government savings, and the favorable CEO rankings/”job creators” message were all discussed during this call.

Badger Democracy was unable to obtain audio archive of Vicky McKenna’s June 9, 2011 show – a Clear Channel staffer informed BD that older podcasts had been removed.

WTMJ television producer Julie Pearl receives a solicitation on June 1 from Werwie for a Walker appearance on the morning show. This after Werwie gives a “no comment” to the status of Act 10, after Judge Sumi struck down the law in May, 2011. Just days after the “no comment” response, Werwie replies to Pearl – “Julie, can you give me a call when you get a chance today? I think I’ve got an offer TMJ might be interested in. Give me a call on my direct line (redacted).”

On page 2 Werwie gives Pearl a full briefing on the event, and includes Tonette Walker in the appearance:

On page 3, same day, Pearl replies “Would love to have them on.” Werwie promises exclusivity, noting it is the Walker’s first joint appearance since inauguration:

Page 4, same day (June 1), and Pearl expresses her gratitude: “Thanks Cullen! And thank you for giving us the opportunity to have the Governor and Tonette on. It means a lot!” The email also brings in Tonette Walker’s scheduler Annie Nolan for the final itinerary:

Just days later, June 7, as Werwie is also coordinating the radio media blitz for Walker, he again solicits an appearance from Pearl – this time with a friendly “smiley face” for emphasis. Pearl replies in kind, saying “Definitely want this.” How professional…

In the final exchange from June 8-9, 2011; Werwie expresses thanks for having Walker on the morning show. Pearl responds in kind, and offers a spot for Tonette Walker to talk about “how she’s dealing with things – dealing with the attacks on her family re the collective bargaining law.” The email is forwarded to Nolan and Tonette Walker (email redacted).

The emails reveal a blatant use of mainstream media posing as news organizations; for campaign purposes posing as state business.

In a statement to Badger Democracy, Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski raised grave concern over this practice:

If it is not illegal it certainly is unethical for these broadcast corporations to be providing propaganda support in a scheme straight out of the Kremlin’s playbook. The employers at WTMJ and the other stations should explain how they are independent of the Walker administration and how their hours and hours of slavishly positive-and now, we see, coordinated-coverage fits within their own ethical guidelines and the rules and laws of Wisconsin and the United States.
The idea that the government can so directly control broadcasters who use public airwaves represents a major crisis for Wisconsin journalism.
As long as reporters and broadcast “journalists” are in collusion with conservative politicians like Walker, reporting political agenda as news, democracy is in serious trouble. Zielinski also points out that progressive talk show host John “Sly” Sylvester is never given “talking points,” and has, on many occasions, disagreed with Democratic Party officials and candidates.
For the record, a WTMJ spokesperson referred Badger Democracy to corporate counsel – no response has been received. WTAQ station manager referred Badger Democracy to Jerry Bader who is solely responsible for his content. Bader is in Tampa and has not responded to emails. WIBA also had no comment beyond stating that the memo represented basic show preparation for McKenna.
An explanation should be required by WTMJ, WISN, WTAQ, and their affiliates. Don’t hold your breath as the hypocrisy continues…
Help keep independent journalism alive in Wisconsin!

30 thoughts on “Scott Walker is controlling the message…literally

  1. Forgive me for not sensing that the sky would be falling because of this, but I fail to see what is so shocking here. Sykes, McKenna, et al are not journalists, and I genuinely doubt are rendered as such by their listeners. Does this cozy connection between the governor and broadcasters look bad? Absolutely! But is it propaganda? No. If these talking points were sent out to mainstream media — not self-appointed talking heads in love with the sound of their own voice, convinced of their unwavering certainty — and then “reported” to the public as news, that would be genuinely worrisome. Again, this reeks of cheap tricks and petty chicanery, of cronyism and the one thing everyone can agree that Scott Walker is guilty of: addressing/acknowledging only his own coterie of conservative converted while ignoring the other half (and more) of the state he has been elected to govern. But none of this should come as a surprise. It’s the Fox News of the airwaves. Does it reach anyone other than those already predisposed to listen to the bias of these right wing talk show hosts? Probably not. But since when have the hosts themselves ever purported (or even bothered) to address anyone other than their own devoted followers? Maybe they’ll run for governor some day, too.

    All that said, your post is relevant and the documentation excellent. Thank you for shining light on this.

    • Well thought out. Brilliantly exectued response, Timothy. THAT’s what I want more of from the general public. BRAIIINS!

  2. Great work Scott. Not that this is really surprising, but it’s good that you worked to get the documents that prove Wisconsin talk radio is nothing more than propaganda- an offense worthy of getting their licenses pulled.

    Keep it up.

  3. This is what is wrong with “citizens united” the media won’t criticize where the money comes from ever. They are getting rich and aren’t going to bite the hand that feeds them.

  4. Timothy hit the nail on the head. There is nothing particularly surprising — and CERTAINLY nothing illegal — about Walker handing out talking points to talk show hosts. That Skyes and McKenna are carrying water for the GOP is not surprising; it is part of their job description.

    It’s particularly ironic that Tate and Zielinski have repeatedly argued that it is “illegal” for conservative hosts to campaign for Republicans. They have both regularly been given time to spout party talking points on Sly’s show. The Democrats are understandably frustrated with the talk radio market, however, since lefty talk is nowhere near as popular as right wing talk, even in Madison.

    • I will agree that it is not surprising, Jack. As you used to be involved with Sly’s show – you know that he never receives (nor would he follow if he did) programming notes from anyone. He also does not “carry water” for Dems – especially Tate. IMHO, the line is crossed when these “talk show hosts” stop doing their own work/research, and merely repeat the party line. Also, the TMJ4 thing is particularly disturbing, seeing as how that functions as a legitimate news organization. Thanks for the comments – they are welcome.

  5. Thank you for plodding through these emails to prove this. It may not be earth-shaking to some who comment here, but most of us didn’t know that this is how this happens.

    In my humble opinion, this is a very low level of respectability by the administration.

  6. I love how you talk about msm masquerading as news orgs! Conservative talk shows don’t masquerade, they tell it like it is. You say they get their talking points directly from the Gov., and in the same story you get your talking points from Grame “crackers” Zelinski! Too funny!

    • Funny comment…ask Graeme Zielinski and anyone at DPW – I’ve pissed them off plenty of times. There’s a difference between a “source” and getting a reaction statement. I also contacted all media outlets named in the story – none denied it, in fact, they defended it. Obviously, you’ve drunk the kool aid, and can’t see between the nose on your face at how deadly this is for democracy. Shame.

    • That may be one thing we can agree on…ANY corporate or party “control” of media is dangerous. For example – my understanding is that right now, at the DNC, occupy protestors are being forced into a “free speech” zone away from the entrance to the venue. Whether it is Republicans or Democrats, there is too much corporate/party influence and control. And too little fact.

  7. This has been going on since, when? 1987, I believe when the FCC eliminated a regulation it had no business making in the first place. As far as I’m concerned, as long as these corporations/ parties are doing things that I agree with, I don’t really care.

      • Thank you for admitting to your own hypocrisy. Government does indeed have a right to regulate and legislate “corporate greed.” Especially when you consider the economic and societal impact of that greed. What has caused the greatest economic downturns in US history…not government – unless you consider government’s willingness as an accomplice in allowing corporate greed to go unchecked and unregulated. The lack of corporate conscience throughout the history of this country makes your previous statement ridiculous – and you don’t even realize that is the case, or that the Founders of this nation are turning in their graves at the power corporations have over our democracy. How sad for all of us…

  8. And Zelinski’s “Kremlin” comment is laughable since the Democrat Party is getting a lot closer to the Kremlin with each passing election cycle.

  9. What is “mine”? I am not worried about corporate greed. That is something which individuals in corporations have to address in their own consciences, and which government has no right to try and legislate. I am more worried about GOVERNMENT greed.

    • There is too much here to discuss in a comment response. If you are hanging your economic hat on Friedman, I’m sorry. He and his followers have been wrong in so many ways about his so-called “free market” theories. Friedman’s theories put into practice are directly responsible for worldwide dissolution and collapse of middle class working economies. The only reason his economics are still practiced is revisionist history and those in power profiting greatly from the outcome. Greed as the driving force – you are missing the point. Friedman has always misrepresented the work of Adam Smith – ignoring the moral imperative in his work. “Superior prudence,” Smith said, “is the best head joined to the best heart.” But over the years, economics instructors have edited out Smith’s “moral sentiments” — leaving only the impression that the “invisible hand” of free markets can magically convert individual greed into mutual benefit. Much ignored today is the fact that Smith was pro regulation – The purpose of banking regulations was to oblige “all of them to be more circumspect in their conduct, and by not extending their currency beyond its due proportion to their cash, to guard themselves against the ruinous runs, which the rivalship of so many competitors is always ready to bring upon them” (Wealth of Nations). As for your definition of fascism – to imply that progressive policies in any way reflect fascism is laughable. And by the way…the founders NEVER intended pure laissez faire capitalism. Our current state of corporate capitalist-dominated politics was one of their worst nightmares.

      As I said – this is just too much for a mere comment reply…but thanks, and you better take a heavy dose of Krugman – he has been right about this economy since 2008…

      • Sorry Badger you said “And by the way…the founders NEVER intended pure laissez faire capitalism. Our current state of corporate capitalist-dominated politics was one of their worst nightmares.”

        Of course you are completely wrong. The corporate capitalist system that we live in is fascism and could not exist under pure laissez faire capitalism. There would be no bail outs, no special tax incentives and no job killing regulations.

  10. Can you give me some current news please? Got any? This is from over a year ago. Get your lawyers out and start suing everyone over this. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

    Do you have people still researching for mud and clinging to the past? What are you hoping to accomplish? Another recall? A shutdown of the radio stations? Is this what this party is all about? Where’s your forward thinking, your intelligence? All I hear is crying. What is your platform for the future of the Badger State, besides snipping and fighting?

    • You must not follow this blog. First, what “party…” I do not carry water for Dems., who I disagree with often. Next – it’s called journalism. A nearly dead practice of holding elected officials accountable – something the MSM no longer does. As for what my future platform would be:

      And by the way – fighting is something we Badgers take pride in…ever hear of “Fighting Bob…?”

      Fighting for democracy.

      • …the cascading criticism from the libertarian, free market thinkers. Pure laissez faire capitalism is a pie in the sky fantasy; which has nice philosophical overtones – but no basis as a valid economic theory. Followers of Friedman fail to acknowledge the role his economics have in crashing national economies and destroying the middle class in nations worldwide in the 70’s – when his “laboratories” of free market economics were put into practice. Your criticism of the Franklin quote is interesting – you don’t consider “people not paying their fair share of taxes” to be an issue of economic justice? That is one of the basic tenets of economic justice.

        The economic followers of which you speak have been data sifting, propagandizing, and re-writing history for decades, even abusing the “invisible hand” that Adam Smith wrote of in the earliest days of the republic. You need to get out of that box – economic theories and systems do not operate in social, moral, or fiscal equilibrium. Krugman, Marshall. Read Paul Krugman.

      • We have never had pure laissez faire capitalism. As a matter of fact it was in 1971 that Nixon put the final nail in the gold and silver standard declaring , “I am now a Keynesian in economics” So your criticism of laissez faire is unfounded. Crony Capitalism has existed almost since the founding of our country.

        On your comment:
        Your criticism of the Franklin quote is interesting – you don’t consider “people not paying their fair share of taxes” to be an issue of economic justice? That is one of the basic tenets of economic justice.

        Fair share would be everyone paying the same percentage, if everyone paid the same percentage the people would demand the government quit spending money. But when the government promises to give money to one group at the expense of another, that is not fair share, PERIOD.

        I notice that you said nothing on Franklin’s opinion of the modern welfare state (which is another false tenets of economic justice.) Again here it is.

        “I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.” -Relating to prices and the poor, 1766

        Here is more Milton Friedman.

    • While your “Keynesian v. Austrian” video is intriguing…your characterization of Krugman’s 2008 book is misleading. Krugman knew that deregulation of banks and Wall Street was a precursor to another depression – he was right. Yes, Bernanke and many other economists (not all Keynesian) missed the impending housing bubble (a result of the aforementioned deregulating) – again Krugman acknowledged this, and points out in 2010 that the Fed didn’t learn anything from its mistakes in evaluating the situation: …oh yes, and in 2006, Krugman lamented the increasing housing bubble being ignored by Greenspan:

      “Some say the worst is already over. Mr. Greenspan, who’s been an optimist all the way, now argues that the latest data on new-home sales and mortgage applications suggest that housing has already bottomed out. Business investment is still growing briskly, and so far consumers haven’t cut their spending. So maybe this is as bad as it gets.

      But I think the pessimists have a stronger case. There’s a lot of evidence that home prices, although they’ve started to decline, are still way out of line. Spending on home construction remains abnormally high as a percentage of G.D.P., because banks are still lending freely in spite of rapidly rising foreclosure rates.

      This means that home sales probably still have a long way to fall. And you don’t want to make too much of the fact that some housing indicators have turned up; those indicators tend to bounce around a lot from month to month.

      Moreover, much of the good news in the latest economic report is unsustainable at best, suspect at worst. Almost half of last quarter’s estimated growth was the result of a reported surge in automobile output, which some observers think was a statistical illusion, not something that really happened.

      So this is probably just the beginning. How bad can it get? Well, you don’t have to go far to find grim forecasts: Merrill Lynch predicts that the unemployment rate will rise from 4.6 percent now to 5.8 percent by the end of next year.”

      Not saying Krugman is infallible…just pointing out that your continued allegiance to the theories of Milton Friedman is a bit misguided. On a macroeconomic scale, his theories have been a failure. They work well if you are part of the corporate elite/ownership class…but have always resulted in high unemployment, depressed earnings, and increased income inequity. Argentina, Chile in the 70’s? The Friedman “lab schools” in South America? It took those countries generations to recover – and in many ways they still are. The immorality and inequity that led to this current depression is why Friedman doesn’t work – left to their own self governance in the “free market” – corporations and the wealthy elite will destroy each other (and the economy) with their own greed. That has been proven time and time again.

      As for your Franklin quote – it is not “fair” in your words to tax someone in poverty at the same RATE as one who is in the top 1%. 10% for someone in poverty is a significant burden – for someone who is a multi-millionaire, it is, quite literally, the very least they ought to do. Even Jefferson was wrong on some issues – particularly slavery. The Founders were not infallible. As the Constitution allowed for – the nation evolves. They set in motion a system of governance that has been turned on its head by many of the followers of Friedman and the “Chicago School;” who themselves profit in power and wealth from those policies.

      You are quite welcome to your “every individual for themselves” philosophy. A society doesn’t function that way. Maybe in Vicky McKenna’s mind it does…but not in reality.

      We are done here – in some manner, I would enjoy letting you have everything you want politically and economically so you can see the consequences. Say hi to Vicky for me.

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