Media drop ball on Wisconsin coverage, make union protesters look like saints

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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The cadre of reporters that descended on Madison, Wis., during the past couple weeks steered attention away from the union demonstrators’ negativity — or, at the very least, failed to call attention it. The public sector union protesters have exhibited violence against Fox News reporters and have carried signs comparing Republican Gov. Scott Walker to recently deposed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and Adolf Hitler.

NBC News anchor Brian Williams likened union members’ actions to the populist revolts in the Middle East. “From the Mideast to the American Midwest tonight, people are rising up,” Williams said in his Feb. 18 opening segment. “Citizen uprisings are changing the world.” Williams went on to say Wisconsin’s capitol, Madison, “has been taken over by the people.” NBC News did not return requests for comment.

ABC News’ Diane Sawyer opened her Feb. 17 show in a similar manner, but went a step further. “Today, we saw America’s money trouble meet a reality, a human reality, as teachers, nurses, tens of thousands of state workers took to the streets in this country, protesting cuts by the governors, saying to these governors, a promise is a promise,” Sawyer said. “One lawmaker looked out at the crowds gathered in the Wisconsin capital today said it’s like Cairo moved to Madison.” ABC News would not comment for this story.

No major network anchor mentioned the signs comparing Walker to Mubarak or Hitler on air, according to a study from the Media Research Center (MRC). And there was little online or print coverage of the signs or of the violence. The Huffington Post didn’t publish any, nor did the Washington Post. The New York Times did mention comparisons protesters made between Mubarak and Walker.

The Huffington Post, by contrast, published a slew of signs from Tea Party rallies

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank also ripped on the Tea Party movement’s behavior during the House vote on Obamacare.

“The day’s debate on the House floor,” Milbank wrote, “was in its early moments when two men, one smelling strongly of alcohol, stood up in the public gallery and interrupted the debate with shouts of ‘Kill the bill!’ and ‘The people said no!’”

Milbank didn’t publicize any of the hatred coming union members in Wisconsin, and scrutinized Walker in a recent column.

Neither the Huffington Post nor Milbank responded to The Daily Caller’s request for comment.

Brent Baker at the MRC told TheDC the television networks “treated the Wisconsin protests far more nicely than the Tea Party protests.”

“They used anything that could be construed as violence and claims of racism to tar the entire Tea Party movement,” Baker said in a phone interview. “Whereas, in Wisconsin, they’ve basically ignored all things that would make the union guys look bad. It’s all been about the governor’s policy and what they’re doing and how they’re fighting back against an attempt to ‘bust the union.’ They ignore the signs showing Gov. Scott Walker as a Nazi and they ignore the signs showing him in crosshairs.”

Groups such as the NAACP and the Center for American Progress (CAP) haven’t issued public statements against the signs, either, though CAP did condemn the signs when the Weekly Standard pressed its spokesman on a conference call. CAP has not published any negative signs on its reporting blog, ThinkProgress. ThinkProgress did publish negative signs from Tea Partiers.

Jesse Jackson rallied with protesters too, though the Wisconsin fight is about the state’s budget, rather than civil rights. Deneen Borelli, a fellow with black conservative group Project 21, told TheDC Jackson is known “for playing the race card” and he parachuted into Wisconsin though he “doesn’t really have any reason to play the race card, especially because Obama is in the White House.”

“Now, he’s trying to justify his relevance by going to Wisconsin to join ranks with the unions,” Borelli said in a phone interview. Also, by failing to condemn the Hitler and Mubarak signs, Borelli said the NAACP has confirmed for her that “it’s just another liberal front group.”

Perhaps the most blatant media bias comes from CBS News’ Bob Schieffer, the longtime anchor of Sunday morning’s “Face the Nation.” Schieffer opened his March 21, show by describing the behavior of Tea Party protesters in Washington as the House was about to vote on Obamacare. Schieffer said a “year-long debate that’s been rancorous and mean from the start turned even nastier” the day before his program. “Demonstrators protesting the bill poured into the halls of Congress shouting ‘kill the bill’ and ‘made in the USSR,’ Schieffer said on air. “And as tempers rose, they hurled racial epithets even at Civil Rights icon John Lewis of Georgia, and sexual slurs at Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank. Other legislators said the protesters spit on them and one lawmaker said it was like a page out of a time machine.”

Schieffer’s coverage of the public sector union protests in Wisconsin, except for a single sign shown in his B-Roll, did not mention the phrase “kill the bill,” though the chant could be heard throughout Madison all week. The audio over the B-Roll that included the “kill the bill” sign was union protesters shouting in unison: “This is what democracy looks like.”

When contacted by TheDC, a CBS News spokesperson said: “CBS News does not publicly discuss our editorial decision-making process.”