Gannett Wisconsin thought they had a big scoop when they exposed 29 sitting judges in the state that signed petitions for the recall of Governor Scott Walker. Unfortunately, the scoop blew up in their face when they had to admit this weekend that nearly as many of their own reporters had signed the same petitions. Now these 25 supposedly independent journalists in Wisconsin will face disciplinary action for participating in a political process on which they are expected to observe and report (via Twitchy):
Our journalists are expected to provide you with the clearest picture of the news as it develops — with objectivity and impartiality. And, as readers, you must be able to trust that your newspaper is providing you the most complete picture, without bias of any kind.
In the interest of full transparency, we are informing readers today that 25 Gannett Wisconsin Media journalists, including seven at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, signed the recall petition. It was wrong, and those who signed the petition were in breach of Gannett’s principles of ethical conduct.
It is little consolation to us that none of the editorial employees who signed a petition has any involvement in our news or political coverage or decides how those stories are developed and presented. None of the employees serve on the investigative team. Had they been directly involved, we would identify them.
But the fact that any of Gannett Wisconsin Media’s 223 news employees did sign the petition is disheartening. It has caused us to examine how this could have happened, how we will address it and how we will prevent it from happening again. Most important is informing our readers and being as open as possible.
The worst damage to the credibility of these journalists is probably the excuse they offered Gannett. According to Kevin Corrado, the president and publisher of Gannett’s Green Bay Press-Gazette, they claimed that signing the petition wasn’t “a political act,” but more like casting a vote in an election. That’s not just hogwash, it’s transparently misleading hogwash. Petitions in any instance are political acts intended to force a question of some sort on a larger scale. In this case, it’s even more explicitly political, as the petitions want to use the political process to negate an election and render the ballots cast in it meaningless.
Given the issues of public-employee union reform that swirl around this recall effort, only a truly uninformed person could possibly argue that signing the petition was not a political act. That leaves Corrado and Gannett with the unenviable position of trying to determine whether these journalists are really that ignorant or just dishonest. Either way, it doesn’t leave much room for them to be taken seriously as journalists in the future.