Perspective vs. Experience: A Presidential Conversation


So I published a post titled A Lack of Perspective on Monday about why I believe that Mitt Romney shouldn’t be president because he can’t understand what it’s like to be poor. That’s dumbing it down a bit, but that’s the general premise.

In response, one of my favorite Facebook critics, Mark Ashley*, asked me whether I really believed that someone had to be poor to understand what poverty is and stated that a person’s actual policies show a lot more about a politician than their life experiences.

I’ll restate his argument here:

Had this been written in 2004, it would have been a great argument against John Kerry. Of course, the alternative was Bush, who also came from wealth, but you have effectively disqualified the likes of JFK, FDR, and a lot of other presidents.

The idea generally that one ought to have been poor at one time to be a good political leader seems odd to me. How poor is poor? Does one’s family have to have begged at one time to qualify? Been on government assistance? Or is simply struggling to make ends meet enough? I’m not being facetious in asking these questions, and I am well acquainted with living below the poverty line. My expectation is that any person running for president would be long past poverty–nobody is interested in electing a person who has never been successful in life–and many up-from-the-bootstrap people are not particularly sympathetic to the poor either.

Ultimately, there are a lot of people who have been poor whom I’d not trust to run an office lottery pool, let alone the country, and there are a lot who have been rich about whom I’d say the same. Likewise, many who have been poor and who have never been poor have genuinely good perspectives on poverty and even sometimes good policy proposals. What matters more is how a person has processed those life experiences and what a person chooses to do with them.

I’m not about to offer any defense of Romney, and I do think that life experiences matter, but I am skeptical of the notion that someone has to be/have been [poor, rich, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, female, male, etc.] in order to empathize with, represent, and lead people who fall into those categories. Show me a person’s actual policies. That, to me, is much more revealing of how a politician thinks.

First, let me address the idea that this argument would have disqualified JFK, FDR, and a lot of other presidents. On its face, that’s a valid argument, but I believe that there is one important factor that makes this argument moot:

Thanks to Mother Jones for the graph

The income equality gap is higher now than it has been at any time since the Great Depression.

When FDR came to power, despite coming from old New York money, he set out New Deal Legislation, got us through World War II (I am not going to debate the wisdom of either New Deal legislation or his policy decisions in WWII right now) and worked with civil rights organizations like the NAACP. Point being: He wanted to help.

On to JFK. Was he wealthy? Yes. Was he from a wealthy family? Great. But he seemed to understand the problems and priorities of this country in a way that Romney does not. (Kennedy also wasn’t a draft dodger, but that’s another kettle of fish.) Kennedy genuinely wanted to better the lives of his countrymen. I can’t say I’ve seen any indication of that from Romney since his campaign began.

When Mark says “The idea generally that one ought to have been poor at one time to be a good political leader seems odd to me,” I have to say that it’s not to me. He goes on to say that “My expectation is that any person running for president would be long past poverty” and that “there are a lot of people who have been poor whom I’d not trust to run an office lottery pool, let alone the country, and there are a lot who have been rich about whom I’d say the same.”

Does my argument come down to attitude and life experience as much as it does money? Absolutely. But there’s such a huge gap now between rich and poor that I really feel that Romney and other people in his income bracket just simply don’t get it. He has not ever had to worry about a single thing I do on a daily basis.  And his comments about the 47% being “dependent on government” and that a middle class income is “$200,000 to $250,000,” just for a few examples, show how out of touch he truly is.

This baffles me, considering healthcare and gay marriage in Massachusetts, but I don’t trust that he’ll revert back to being a ‘progressive moderate’ once he takes office.

Obama came up from relatively nothing. His mom, while educated, was not rich. He lived in parts of the world where not many people are rich by anyone’s standards. He went to prep school on scholarship and then to Columbia and Harvard the same way most people in my income bracket would, by shelling out for student loans. He worked as a community organizer in Chicago and organized African-American voter drives.

I could go on and on, but my point is that he gets it. He gets what my problems are. He’s worried about money. He’s had to pay off student loans. He’s worried about health care for his family. He’s experienced the problems of being a minority in this country. And the policies that he’s tried to implement (again, the merits of those are a different argument) reflect that.

So while, yes, a lot of it comes down to empathy and policy, I don’t believe Romney has enough of either to lead our country.

Maybe, until the income gap goes down to levels that make sense, we should only allow people who came up from nothing to run. It might help.

*Mark Ashley is a buddy of mine who is also working to be tenured at a university and so doesn’t want his name associated with silly political blogs at this time. Due to his needing to use a pseudonym and then coming up with one as silly as Mark Ashley, I am dubbing him Professor Who, Master of Mystery. (Feel free to insert a booming voice worthy of that title here.) Prof. Who for short. You’ll be seeing a lot more of him, as he’s been set into a contract to write me 8 blog posts by the end of the year.


acabercrombie:

A really interesting article from the TED Talks blog about how politicians can appear warm and trustworthy during the debates while still projecting strength and intelligence, and how the two mix.

Originally posted on TED Blog:

At TEDGlobal 2012, Amy Cuddy gave a talk about the remarkable power of our posture to affect our mental state: Strike a powerful pose (in private) before a job interview, and your performance will improve. 

With the US election coming up, we asked Cuddy, an expert on nonverbal communication, for her insights into political posturing — and what to look for in the upcoming presidential debates.

We’re right in the middle of politics season. I presume we can be looking for a lot of this kind of signaling. As an observer, what should we be looking for?

Stepping back from this specific research on power posing, more broadly what I study is how people judge and communicate both power/competence and warmth/trustworthiness. These are the two primary dimensions along which people evaluate each other — we ask: do I like this person (warmth/trustworthiness)? And do I respect this person (power/competence)? We’re…

View original 3,451 more words

If only, Mittens. If only.

A lack of perspective


A couple Fridays ago, I was sitting in an over-filled Panera Bread over on the East Side with a group of co-workers we jokingly call The Young Fogies.

We’re the youngest workers at my company, the most recently hired and all close enough to being in college to have some sort of sense of idealism left. In an effort not to discuss about a work week that had left us all desperate for 5 o’clock, the talk turned to politics.

I’m in a memes phase. Sorry y’all.

Despite our disagreements (Dems, Independents, Reps and a non-voter all at the same table, oh my!), we all seemed to agree on one thing: “I don’t want someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to be poor to run my country.”

Now, this may seem unimportant in the grand scheme of presidential qualifications, but as young voters we all coalesced around this one point.

The reason we thought Mitt Romney is a bad idea isn’t his lack of plans, his refusal to release tax returns, his Mormonism, his time at Bain Capital or even the fact that he can’t seem to keep to a given opinion for more than a day at a time.

It’s that you can’t know what it’s like to be poor until you’ve been there. It just doesn’t compute.

“Most of us won’t be more than middle-class in our lives and that’s if we’re lucky. How can someone who places $10,000 bets understand that?”

The resounding answer? You can’t.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I would love to be in a monetary situation where I could place a bet that large and have it be a normal day.

Yup

But considering that a few months ago I wouldn’t have been able to go to Panera for lunch without putting off paying my bills for two weeks, I doubt that will ever happen. My young coworkers agreed as well. Right now, we’re just all glad we have jobs at all.  All we’re hoping for is enough money each year to pay off our loans and eventually afford the lifestyle our parents were lucky enough to have. We all have friends who haven’t been so fortunate, who are stuck in their parent’s basements staring at fading Obama posters, as Paul Ryan put it a couple weeks ago, wishing even one company would call them back.

And yet, I don’t understand that very well, myself. I was lucky enough to get an internship right out of school, to get one job with low pay and then another one that bumped me up to a higher tax bracket less than a year later. I had a legitimate major, two or three jobs, and the lucky ability to be in the right place at the right time.

While I wasn’t getting paid much for a while, it’s difficult to understand how someone couldn’t be getting paid at all.

However, when a couple kids with a dog and hippie clothes approach me and ask to bum a cigarette or for a couple cents to get them on down the road, I give what I have. It seems to surprise some people, but I spent much of my life on the road, picking up stray hitchhikers and asking strangers for change to fill our tank again. I still buy my clothes at Walmart and thrift stores out of sheer force of habit. So I get why they might need some extra help.

My point is this: If I can’t understand how someone can’t find a job when I’ve been further down the road to poverty than almost any of my friends, how can someone who has never had to worry about finding a job and can lay off an entire workforce without a second thought understand my problems?

And how many nannies did you employ?

If Ann Romney can’t understand why raising children and volunteering doesn’t count as being a working mom, how can her husband help single or working mothers?

If Mitt never had to learn about the problems of paying back student loans, how is he supposed to understand how important Pell Grants are to the average college student?

The answer is while he can in theory, he will never truly get it.

And while I freely admit that I don’t understand the problems of the upper classes, I’d like there to be someone in the White House who started where I am and became president anyway. Maybe then I’ll actually have a fighting chance of moving up myself.

I am the… 47 percent?


Ah, Mittens, Mittens, Mittens. How am I supposed to get any actual work done when you keep saying such ridiculous things?

I have to admit, when my friend asked me I’d heard about Romney’s latest comments taken from an undercover video at a Republican fundraiser, I was skeptical. This is the age of the Internet after all, and, not to diss Huff Po, but they’ll publish anything as long as someone else does first.

But for once it wasn’t merely a hoax. I was honestly momentarily speechless. Even in the context of a campaign, saying that 47 percent of the country are victims and believe they’re “entitled” to things like housing and health care is pretty blatant discrimination and classism.

At first I was merely outraged. Excuse me? I’m “a victim?” I’m “dependent on the government?” I’m “entitled?” I HAVE a job. I PAY taxes. WTF? Coming on the heels of his comments that a middle class income is between $200,000 and $250,000, I was amazed. Is there really no connection at all between the actual middle class and “1 Percent” anymore?

But last night I realized that really is the problem. There’s just no connection at all.

I was explaining the situation to a friend last night and was trying to explain Romney’s view of the role of government and she was just baffled.

“If it isn’t the government’s role to protect and provide for its citizens, whose job is it?”

Me: “Well, they believe that it’s your responsibility to take care of yourself. The government is just there to regulate trade with foreign countries, provide infrastructure like roads and keep us safe from other countries. The rest is private.”

“But what if you can’t take care of yourself and you need some help? What if you’re a kid? Besides, I like things like the FDA. They keep me safe. I wouldn’t trust a corporation to do that.”

To that, all I could do was shake my head and say, “Yeah, I don’t know.”

Among Romney’s comments was another that I was incredibly upset about until I got some idea what he actually meant. Saying that it wasn’t his job to “worry about those people” is a horrible thing to say taken out of context. A president should worry about everyone. But his rebuttal on Fox  essentially said “Dude, I’m talking about running a campaign. I can’t worry about those people because they aren’t voting for me anyway.”

However, that’s where his misconceptions really show, because that’s simply not true.

First off, according to the Policy Tax Center, of the 47 percent of people that don’t pay income tax, 28.3 percent still pay payroll taxes. Which means they have jobs and likely don’t view themselves as dependent on government. Myself included.

Secondly, a lot of people who don’t pay income taxes are staunch Republicans. I come from a small middle-of-nowhere town where over half the population will vote for Romney because, despite having no health care of their own and probably going to the local food bank a couple times a month, they believe they have a responsibility to  take care of themselves. They are not “victims,” they don’t believe they are “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Thirdly, a lot of people that believe that everyone is entitled to a good life, provided by the government if needed, are people who DO pay income taxes. Think Warren Buffet’s progressive tax plan. They’re the people that ring Salvation Army bells and donate to food pantries.

So statements like “those who are reliant on government are not as attracted to my message of slimming down the size of government. And so I then focus on those individuals who I believe are most likely to be able to be pulled into my camp” show, in my opinion, a huge flaw in Romney’s thinking.

Democrats are not always poor. Republicans are not always rich. There’s far more correlation between religion and political affiliation than money and political affiliation. (See this really interesting article for a more in-depth analysis.) So stereotyping those likely to vote for Obama as poor? Pretty bad judgment call.

And the race goes on.

Things I Learned From the RNC


Best meme since Hillary’s.

1. Paul Ryan is adorable, but a liar.

2. Mitt Romney is still incredibly uninteresting. Also a liar.

3. Lying has now become an acceptable means of political communications. Not fudging, but outright lying.

Seriously?

Now I’ve had some problems with Romney and his crew from the get-go. When I worked as a journalist, we had cable news running non-stop in the office. I could often be heard screaming things at the TV like “Obamacare is the SAME THING AS ROMNEYCARE! Ugh!” “That’s not what you said yesterday, dude. Seriously?” “Just release your tax returns already!” and “What happened to the ‘moderate progressive’ Republican governor who allowed gay marriage? I might have voted for him!”

Needless to say, we stopped watching cable news all the time in the office after a while.

But Mitt got the vote by being less crazy and more handsome than Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich or Herman Cain. Fine. Like we didn’t all see that one coming. When he chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, I felt like maybe I should start hoarding birth control, but it was an overall solid choice. Ok, fine.

But then his campaign started going from ‘maybe people won’t notice I changed my mind’ to straight up ‘people will believe anything I say because they hate Obama.’

Now, after watching the RNC, my problem with Romney and his crew can be summed up in a single sentence spoken by campaign staffer Neil Newhouse: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

Uh, what? Now, there are some things people called lies, especially in Ryan’s speech, that you could fudge. The closing of the Janesville plant? Eh, maybe you could technically, sort of, possibly blame that on Obama if you tried really hard. The rest?

Let’s just say even Fox News called him out on it.

The man now running for President of these United States is no better. According to PolitiFact.com, 70% of the statements made by Romney surrounding issues ranging from Obama’s policies to job rates are somewhere between a half-truth and a complete flat-out “pants on fire” lie.

He mostly avoided lies in favor of out of context exaggerations during his acceptance speech, but still couldn’t manage to just stick to the truth.

As much as I’d like to be calm about this, here’s my reaction:

HOW IN THE HELL ARE WE SUPPOSED TO TRUST YOU TO RUN A COUNTRY WHEN YOU CAN’T STOP LYING ABOUT HOW OTHER PEOPLE RUN THE COUNTRY?

(Now, I’m not saying that Obama and Biden didn’t do some exaggerating of their own during their DNC speeches. Certainly they did. But quoting a disputed study is, in my eyes, different than completely fabricating your speech.)

But you say, what does the Republican ticket get out of lying so much? Why would you do that when you’re trying to win a country’s trust?

As I see it, there are a few options.

1. They know people will believe anything if you say it enough.

I could give numerous examples of this fact, but here’s a few. There were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Obamacare has made taxpayers pay for other people’s birth control. Things that are purple taste like grape. (The correct answers are: nope, isn’t happening and purple is a color, not a flavor. Duh.)

So maybe they’re hoping if they lie enough, people will vote for them based on false beliefs. An understandable but terrible way to run a campaign.

It’s a meme sort of day.

2. Republicans are determined to make Obama a one-term president, but since he organized the killing of Bin Laden, gave kids and broke college grads health care and helped fix the auto industry, they don’t have a good reason for people to vote Republican. Especially when their candidate won’t release his tax returns, insults foreign leaders across the globe and seems to be totally out of touch with the average American.

Really all I can say to this one is that when even your own party leaders can’t seem to get behind someone, maybe you should have floated some better candidates. Even all the RNC endorsements were fairly lukewarm. I mean, after sweeping the House and Senate in 2010, you’d think there would have been someone, anyone, better out there than those who showed up for the primary race.

However, since you are stuck with Romney you could, you know, maybe have Mittens introduce his own plans? Say how he’s going to do better in concrete terms? Explain what he would have done differently (other than not make Romneycare available to the entire country)?

Stop lying to win (see #1) and instead get your candidate under control. We only have 50-some days left until the election. Get your act together.

3. They’re trying to disenchant voters so much that independent and Democratic voters get fed up and stay home.

This one sounds silly, but I’m becoming more and more convinced as the weeks pass that this could have some truth to it. Look at it this way: In the age of the Internet, no politician can say a word that won’t be dissected by everyone with a computer. And as a young voter with a brain, I’m getting pretty sick of the way the political process works in this country. I may be a Policy Dork, but I’m not stupid. (Older voters seem to agree with me based on a series of loud lunchroom rants I’ve participated in over the last two months.)

There’s simply no trust left in the political process.

Will I vote on Nov. 6? Absolutely. Do I feel the voting booth urgently screaming my name as it did in 2008 and 2010? No, not really.

Credit to http://balooscartoonblog.blogspot.com for the comic :)

And if even a small percentage of the Independent and Democratic voters that are hard enough to get out the door feel that way too, well then, they might just stay home and let someone else take care of the problem.

Of course, they’re already taking care of this voting ‘problem’ with disenfranchising voter ID laws in various states, but I guess it can’t hurt to up their odds. Finally…

4. They actually believe what they’re telling people.

I don’t believe this one. Partially because it’s terrifying and partially because I believe a man smart enough to have off shore banking accounts is smart enough to know the difference between truth and fiction.

Ultimately, if I may issue a challenge to the Romney-Ryan ticket, one that I guarantee will go unanswered, here it is:

Please, prove me wrong on any of the reasons above.

Just once, I would like to see a completely honest speech. No skewed facts, no exaggerations and certainly no outright lies. Just once, let’s see a headline that says: “Everything in Romney/Ryan’s Speech Found to be Completely True.” Just once, show me you can actually be trusted to govern a country.

Because we’re too far along into the age of the Internet for you to do anything else.

What the Act 10 Ruling Means


On Friday afternoon, Facebook exploded with news that a Dane County judge had once again overturned key parts of Act 10, the “Budget Repair Bill” that took away key bargaining rights for members of state and local Wisconsin unions.

I was skeptical. After all, the same thing happened in March, the case went to the Supreme Court and the ruling was struck down. Besides, overturning a bargaining law based on the freedoms of speech and assembly seemed rather farfetched. (Here’s a link to the ruling itself.)

Also, striking down a law that’s already been used in bargaining for over  a year seemed like it would have some far reaching consequences. And it does, though what those are remains to be seen.

Let me clear a couple things up right off the bat. The ruling doesn’t apply to state employees because no state unions took part in the lawsuit. The plaintiffs were Madison Teachers, Inc. a Madison teachers union and Public Employees Local 61, a union representing employees of the City of Milwaukee. If a state union had also been a plaintiff, it would apply to the state as well. Along with that, technically this ruling only applies to those two specific unions and won’t apply to the whole state unless the appeals court also agrees with Judge Juan Colas. However, both the plaintiffs and the Attorney General’s office are considering this ruling as applying to the whole state. So for now, it does.

Second, this will definitely be appealed, and because of that, the Attorney General’s office has a right to ask for an injunction on the ruling until the appeals process is over. Van Hollen announced on Saturday that he would be seeking one. If that injunction is granted, nothing changes until this again reaches the Supreme Court.  Because believe me, it will.

Now, for some context.

Act 10/the “Budget Repair Bill/whatever else you want to call it did a few things. (You can try to muddle through the bill itself here, but I don’t recommend it.) One, it created two different types, or “classes” of unions. There are “public safety” unions, which include some police, some firefighters and some other unions, most of whom supported Walker in his 2010 election bid. (Of course, that had nothing to do with who was chosen to count as a public safety union. Nothing at all.) Then there’s every other union, now called “general” unions. General unions are no longer allowed to deduct dues from the paychecks of their members, make non-members of their profession pay “fair share dues,” doesn’t allow them to bargain for wages above cost of living increases and makes general unions have to recertify every year. Public safety unions don’t have to abide by those rules.

There are some other changes, but that’s basically what all the fuss has been about. And rightfully so. Unions use dues to fund pretty much everything they do. Without being allowed to take wages from paychecks, even if the members ask for it, they’re getting less money. By making it so you can’t get higher than cost of living increases if you’re part of a union, it makes more sense to NOT be part of one. Making non-members not have to pay “fair share” dues means that when a union bargains for all the members of a profession, all non-members benefit from the union’s work without having to pay the union for it’s help. It’s a lose-lose-lose-lose situation for the unions that really doesn’t have anything to do with balancing the budget.

So there are a few different main challenges presented by the plaintiffs in this case.

  1. The Act was passed in violation of special session rules.
  2. The Act violates the right to free speech and association.
  3. The law violates what’s called the “Home Rule Law.”

One is pretty straightforward, all in all. The Governor can call a special session of the Legislature and can say what the Legislature is going to talk about when they get there. In Executive Order  #14, Walker said one of the purposes of the session was to discuss the Budget Repair Bill and then began circulating that through the Legislature.

The plaintiffs tried to say that the session was to talk about budget repair, not the bill itself. A flimsy argument all in all. As Judge Colas said: “The question in evaluating the governor’s call is whether it served the purpose of notice to the public and the legislature of the nature of the business to be conducted at the special session. Those purposes were served in this case by the specific reference to the Budget Repair Bill and the concurrent submission of the legislation and a summary of it to the legislative leadership.”

Now we get to the interesting stuff: the second challenge based on free speech and assembly.

Remember how I said the bill created two different classes of unions and restricted what members of unions can bargain for versus nonunion members?

Well, there’s this little thing called the First Amendment and in it it says that Congress shall make no law prohibiting freedom of association. Now, Walker argues that while the statutes “burden the economic effectiveness of plaintiff’s associational activities,” the Act doesn’t take away the right to associate in the first place.

However, that doesn’t fly based on precedent in other cases. In Lawson v. The Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee the court ruled that holding out privileges – such as being able to bargain for pay above the cost of living – as a condition of non-membership in an organization is a more subtle encroachment of liberties, but “may be equally violative of the constitution.”

Colas holds that Act 10 does the same thing here: “(These statutes) single out and encumber the rights of those employees who choose union membership solely because of that association and therefore infringe upon the rights of free speech and association guaranteed by both the Wisconsin and United States Constitutions.”

He says it also violates Equal Protection, which is essentially the obligation of the state to treat people equally unless it can prove it has a really good reason not to. To prove that the government is violating Equal Protection, you have to show that the law “treats members of a similarly situated class differently.” However, if the state can show a rational basis for doing this, then the court will support it. (Rational basis is generally up to the court.)

And the statute does do just that. There are now two classes of employees, municipal employees represented by unions and municipal employees NOT represented by unions.

Now, the state argues that they didn’t actually create the classes. Instead, people decide what class they belong to when they decide whether or not to join a union.

Side note: That makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE! AT ALL. It makes so little sense I can’t even think of a simile for it.

Anyway, Judge Colas disagreed and said that the state is treating people in similarly situated classes differently, both in terms of rights and in terms of payroll deductions. I won’t get into payroll deductions, but needless to say there are now three classes: general unions, public safety and transit unions, and then there is everyone else. Each group is similar but treated differently. ‘Nuff said.

The third challenge is to Wisconsin’s “Home Rule” Law. Essentially, this is like the separation of powers between federal and state, but at a more local level. Municipalities can decide what to do with their workers unless a law is passed that affects the entire state. Milwaukee had passed an ordinance that said that the City would pay the employees’ share of their pensions. That is now illegal under Act 10. Judge Colas ruled that the law interferes with Milwaukee’s power to govern it’s “local affairs.”

Now, I have to admit things like the Home Rule are not my forte. I can talk about the First Amendment all day long, but that’s kinda my thing.

So if you want a better explanation of the Home Rule, you won’t find it from me.

Phew. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a legal analysis. Let me know if I missed anything, and in the meantime, you have all the details to be that one smart-ass in the conversation who actually knows what’s going on. Enjoy!

On Journalistic Self-Censorship and Transparency


Originally I named this post “Journalist Self-Censorship, or Could You Please Pretend You Don’t Have An Opinion?” But I figured that was both too inflammatory and too long to tweet.

But that is essentially the problem I want to address in this post.

What journalists are not

Before we get any further down the controversial road of objectivity vs. transparency in the media, let me explain something that I’ve always taken for granted. Journalists are critical thinkers. We are trained to evaluate information and fit it into the context of the world at large. And since journalists aren’t zombies, we are probably going to have an opinion. It’s inevitable.

However, the whole idea of objectivity now seems to be that journalists have to pretend to not have opinions. I’ve heard of some journalists who literally do not vote, EVER, because they don’t want to seem biased in any way. Opinions are only for the op-ed pages.

However, call me wrong, but that doesn’t seem possible. Journalists are not zombie robots. They are people trained to analyze information, make quick decisions, ask the tough questions and inform their public. OF COURSE they’re going to have opinions. How could they not? Not only that, but your opinions inform, even subconsciously, how you view a story, what angle you pursue, who you interview, how many column inches you beg your editor to let you use.

So wouldn’t it maybe be better to let people know what side of the spectrum you’re on and go from there?

This issue became closer to my heart and experience over the last two years when Walker took office and the protests began around the Capitol. Now that I am no longer a journalist, I can freely admit this: I participated in the UW walkouts, leaving my Media Ethics class to march for my professors, TAs and friends in the teaching profession with the full support of my professor. I took my poor little 5 megapixel camera all over State Street and the Square. I filmed rallies, I tweeted from inside the Capitol building, I took innumerable photos that ended up on Flickr. Needless to say, I did not support Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal.

Those photos, videos and opinions ended up on this blog. I didn’t write a lot about it, I was too upset and as I said in one post, “I can’t write about this with any objectivity, so I won’t.” Luckily, I got a journalism internship and a job working for a small print newspaper after graduation, even with those opinions out there for anyone to read.

I say luckily because others weren’t as the years wore on. One journalism student had their internship offer rescinded after admitting to signing the recall petition.

While I didn’t have my offers of employment rescinded, an intrepid reader who stumbled upon my blog after Googling the new reporter brought it to the attention of my editor about a month after I landed my first real journalism job . While my editor, in the spirit of fairness, told me he couldn’t require me to take down posts written before I reported in any official capacity, he did ask if I could delete them. The recall election was heating up and I’d inevitably be covering it in some way within a month or two.

After a night or two of soul-searching, I agreed. I didn’t want to compromise my integrity in a new town where no one trusted the reporter who was only 3 months out of school and I wanted people to think I could listen to them and report fairly on both sides of the aisle.

But I have to admit that I almost didn’t. This blog was inactive at that point. The way I saw it, I shouldn’t have to sacrifice having beliefs to be able to do my job. But worry about the appearance of integrity won out.

I also didn’t sign the petition to recall Walker. In this case the law came down from the main office in Madison. Signing a petition would be sacrificing integrity. We agree to keep our personal opinions to ourselves when we take on the role of being journalists.

It killed me to not be able to participate. It took all my strength to not pull over and sign when I saw someone standing at the corner with a drive by petition signing booth. I seriously considered saying screw journalistic principles and doing it anyway. But I didn’t. I’m thankful as well, considering the investigation that went down later on within Lee.

But that was a major factor when deciding whether or not to leave my journalism position two months ago. I couldn’t bear to spend my entire life pretending I didn’t have opinions.

In my media ethics classes, we spent a lot of time debating objectivity vs. transparency. Objectivity is the idea that journalists are neutral. As I’ve established, I believe that’s totally impossible. Here’s where transparency comes into play: Instead of pretending to be objective, let readers know where you’re coming from, especially on political issues.

My coverage of the recall election and petition signing was possibly some of the least “biased” coverage I gave to any story while I worked as a reporter. Why? Because I knew my own limitations and biases and did my best to keep them out of the story. I believe every journalist does the same.

As Reuters columnist Jack Shafer said after Gannett reprimanded employees for signing the petition:

“So the ethical crime in Wisconsin wasn’t having political views, which the Gannett code allows. It wasn’t expressing those views in secret. It was expressing a weakened form of them in a way that could go public. As long as you conceal your views from the ethics cops, you’re safe….At the core of the current journalistic codes is the notion that judging journalism requires us to judge the conduct of the journalists producing it. Instead of suppressing the political lives of journalists, why not allow that which is now covert to become overt and give readers more information to assess coverage?”