If today’s Wisconsin recall is truly second in importance only to the presidential race, as many media outlets have trumpeted lately, then why have those same outlets so badly neglected one of that election’s most salient aspects? As millions of dollars in dark right-wing money pour into the state to preserve Governor Scott Walker from his progressive opposition, it seems relevant that he and many top aides are under investigation in a campaign finance and corruption scandal that has been growing for two years.
Yet the national media have largely ignored the fascinating details of that probe – which has already resulted in indictments, convictions, and cooperation agreements implicating more than a dozen Walker aides and donors – have been largely ignored by the national media. Only readers of the local newspapers in Madison or Milwaukee would know, for instance, law enforcement documents have emerged in court during the past few days suggesting that Walker stonewalled the investigation in its initial phase.
The typical reference to the scandal in the national media notes that Tom Barrett, Walker’s Democratic opponent, is seeking to “stoke suspicions” regarding the investigation, “in which former Walker aides stand accused of allegedly misappropriating campaign funds.” But the suspicions have been stoked by actual events, not campaign propaganda, including guilty pleas, immunity deals, and home raids by law enforcement officials. (Last September, a team of sheriff’s deputies and FBI agents raided the Madison home of Cindy Archer, a former top county official who served as the governor’s deputy administration secretary until going on extended “sick leave” in 2011.) And Walker’s associates stand accused of felonies that go well beyond the mere misuse of campaign funds.
Without close attention to the Wisconsin media, you might not know that a top Walker associate is currently facing charges of embezzling funds from a veteran’s charity – or that Walker’s former spokeswoman just became the 13th figure in the scandal to accept an immunity deal from prosecutors. Indeed, nearly all of Walker’s highest-ranking aides and associates from his years as county executive appear to be either facing prosecution or cutting immunity deals to save themselves.
What is easy to learn about the controversial governor is his confrontational attitude toward the state’s workers and perhaps his fealty to extremist billionaires like the Koch brothers. From the perspective of Fox News – whose TV personalities resent the idea that a public school teacher who imparts facts might receive a tiny fraction of what they are paid for broadcasting lies – these are great virtues that they praise loudly. But in the mainstream media, there has been a curious reticence in exploring the sort of scandal that ought to excite reporters, editors, and producers.