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Editorial: Reporters aren’t Nazis Gableman, knock it off

Recent comments made by the leader of a taxpayer funded election investigation team trample trust in media

By John McCracken

Headshot illustrated by Jake Phelps, staff photo edit

Newspapers and their staff are a competitive breed.

They may not act like it, but the desire to break a story, write a killer lede, take an impactful photo or delve into an investigative topic untouched by others is lurking beneath an often reserved demeanor.

Here in Green Bay and Wisconsin at large, the competition is ripe.

In my eyes, the two big local contenders are The Press Times—owned by Multimedia Channels (who also owns Green Bay City Pages) and descendent paper of the Green Bay News-Chronicle— and the Green Bay Press-Gazette—owned by Gannett, a behemoth in the industry, the largest newspaper publisher in the country and owner of the USA TODAY conglomerate.

I won’t delve into the enormous history between these two Green Bay papers (there’s a literal book about it all, see “The Chain Gang” by Richard McCord) but the skinny of it is the competition is fierce.

While I support the occasional ribbing of our peers a few blocks down Walnut Street from readers, government officials, business owners and others in the public arena, what I don’t support is the likening of the efforts of reporters at the Press-Gazette or any of the other Wisconsin owned Gannett papers (of which there are 12) to the work of Nazis.

According to an Oct. 8 report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman did just that.

“You keep in mind Joseph Goebbels, who was Adolf Hitler’s head of propaganda in Nazi Germany, Goebbels said you give me control of a country’s media, I will turn any people into a herd of pigs,” Gableman said. “What they’re doing over at the Journal would make Joseph Goebbels blush.”

Gableman, the leader of a state government approved investigative team tasked with finding supposed 2020 elections irregularities and the comptroller of $670,00 in taxpayer funds, likened reporters at one of the state’s largest newsrooms to a group of people responsible for the ethnic cleansing of over 6 million European Jews and other minority populations.

Let that sink in.

What’s even more abhorrent is the fact that one of the reporters who has written about Gableman’s inquiries and had her byline in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Press-Gazette watchdog reporter Natalie Eilbert, is of Jewish descent.

Full disclosure, Eilbert is a friend and former mentor.

But, that wouldn’t matter even if it was someone else, like Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political reporters Patrick Marley and Molly Beck, who I do not know personally but have admired their work for quite some time, and are now wrapped up in the mess Gableman has blurted out.

The saga of Green Bay’s – and the other “Big 5” cities – election inquiries has been confusing, constantly changing and migraine-inducing.

When Gableman showed up at a recent Green Bay city council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 5, it was hard to make sense of the purpose of his 30 minute impromptu Q&A.

Luckily for people like me who were busy quietly doing dishes while a toddler slept and streaming the meeting from the comfort of their homes, reporters exist to inform the public. We are lucky to have folks like The Press Times staff writer Heather Graves (who I’d also consider a friend, despite the fact that I keep stealing her camera) who reported on the recent meeting’s kerfuffle and Eilbert who did the same for the Press-Gazette while joining forces with Marley for an Oct. 5 report distributed through the USA TODAY Wisconsin Network. Without their work, the public’s understanding of local government shrinks.

I am all for putting media under a microscope. I’m also all for holding powerful institutions, like newspapers, accountable for their work and actions. And look, the Press-Gazette and Journal Sentinel reporters don’t need a random alt-weekly editor coming to their aid. They’re reporters. They’ve (hopefully) got thick skin.

What I’m not for is the continued mauling of information and truth by likening reporters to a sick breed of historical monsters in an effort to erode public trust in newspapers during a time steeped in clicks, conspiracy theories and misinformation.

As we await the fallout from Gableman’s back and forth, questionable decisions and the rising call from state lawmakers to have him resign due to his gut-churning comments, one thing is for sure, calling a reporter a Nazi for accurately doing their job is demonstrably offensive to the health of our society and shouldn’t be tolerated by anyone—even the friendly competitor down the street.

John McCracken is the Editor of Green Bay City Pages. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @jmcjmc451.

The views and opinions expressed by weekly columnists, illustrators and community members submitting letters to the editor are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of Green Bay City Pages, its advertising partners or its parent company Multimedia Channels. Editorials are clearly labeled and represent the views of the Editor who wrote the column. To submit feedback, a letter to the editor, pitch an idea for a recurring column or voice a concern, email Green Bay City Page Editor John McCracken at [email protected].

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