Monday, February 21, 2011

TNM's report from Madison, Wisconsin

As the protests in Madison continue, those from outside the Midwest would be hard pressed to understand the issues at hand by relying on the mainstream media, a sad commentary on the state of journalism in this country.

I drove up to Madison myself on Saturday and will give you my own report following a sampling of media coverage below:
Fox News starts it's report today on with the subhead How Long Can Wisconsin Dems Stay in Hiding?, followed by a quote from the governor: “For us, this is about balancing the budget. We've got a $3.6 billion budget deficit. We are broke. Just like nearly every other state across the country, we're broke. It's about time somebody stood up and told the truth.”

Of course, the issue is not about the budget at all, it is about the governor's attempt to end collective bargaining rights for state workers. So why is the governor saying this? Because Fox News will report it without correction. But listening to the reporters that are considered the stars of the American journalism profession you already know that their job is to report the lies from both sides, not find the truth. Where the hell did these people go to get their "J" degrees? Certainly not from the same school I did.

USA Today's report this morning, GOP presidential hopefuls rally behind Wis. Gov. Scott Walker, quotes Sarah Palin: "As goes Wisconsin today, so goes the country tomorrow."

CBS News this morning: Wis. labor protests a "tea party for the left". The idea that a group of union protesters that span the entire political spectrum would want to be associated with the Tea Party in any way is quite intentionally insulting.

For the past few days, and especially on Saturday, the protests in Madison has been the number one or two story in the news, depending on events in the Middle East. So Saturday I drove to Madison to see the situation for myself. If this is the number one national news story, and it is in my backyard, I simply felt I had to go.

A couple of observations: Saturday was a perfect day for the media to focus on Madison. That day, for the first time, there was a counter protest in support of Governor Scott Walker's budget bill. So CBC radio led with the story, dutifully reporting that people were protesting on both sides of the issue.

But, as you might guess, this missed the truth by a wide margin.
The crowd estimates have varied widely, but police estimates, as quoted by, were that there 50,000 people outside the Capitol, with 10,000 actually inside the Capitol. Tea Party supporters estimated their side had about 10,000 supporters, while the union claimed the counter protest was much smaller.

My own estimates would be that there were about 30,000 union supporters outside the Capital, and about two to three thousand Tea Party supporters -- I never made it inside the Capitol, so I can not comment on those numbers.

Inside a ring of police, there to separate the two groups, the Tea Party supporters had a chance to have their own rally. What separated the two groups was how they got there: the vast majority of those Tea Party protesters had arrived on bright new busses, chartered for the occasion. They were bussed in, had their rally, and then beat it out of town.

That was not to say that a few did not come in by themselves -- I saw a few along the streets of Madison. They were mostly white and older. I spoke to a few and they did not see the irony of protesting that their tax money was going to pay for union benefits -- after all, it was these same union workers whose taxes were going to pay for their retirement.

In fact the whole counter argument seems to be this: we pay taxes, so we do not like the idea that state union members get good benefits, while we have lousy health care, etc. In other words, we want everyone's economic status to decline to a same common level.

Union supporters have the run of the town: they are clearly supported by the locals, who appreciate the fact that the protesters are frequenting the restaurants, cleaning up after themselves, etc.

According to the Journal Sentinel as well as the Badger Herald, the police have said there have been no arrest over the past few days involving protesters. A few days earlier there were reports of nine arrests for disorderly conduct, but it should be pointed out that this number would be less than half the number of arrests made following the last UW Badgers football game.
All photos by D.B. Hebbard