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!