The unsubtlety of the headline pretty much gives you the feel for this over-the-top and meandering trip through the fever swamps of anti-Walkerism. Suffice it to say that writer Alec MacGillis establishes that he has frequented every anti-Walker website and twitter feed... and has fed deeply. His article is a heavy stew of urban legend, reheated unionista talking points, cherry-picked anecdotes and the usual journalistic hackery.
And I haven’t even gotten to the part about me.
I actually had a drink with MacGillis (which he recounts) and found him to be as charming and engaging as he is clueless about Milwaukee. How clueless? At one point he described me as "a man-about-town with a smooth on-air manner and modish eyeglasses," which I’m pretty sure is eliciting guffaws from everyone who knows me.
But the entertainment value here is pretty thin.
You can read the whole thing yourself, of course, but I can save you the trouble: Walker supporters are raaaaacists. Suburban raaaaacists. Talk radio-listening raaaaaacists. Sunday morning TV show watching raaaaacists. And this goes on…. tediously…. for 7258 words. (This has apparently become an obsession with the New Republic which featured a cover story in 2013, with the headline Original Sin: Why the GOP is and will continue to be the party of white people.)
MacGillis’s thesis seems to be that Walker is a product of reactionary politics aided and abetted by a two-headed monster of awfulness he calls SykesBelling. Even though he has a shaky grasp on the facts (we’ll have more on that later this week), he pays a somewhat flattering backhanded tribute to local talk radio and its influence on state politics. Short, non-New Republic Version: it’s a BFD around here.
No other midsize city has this kind of sustained and energized conservative forum for discussion of local politics. The only counterweights on the left are Wisconsin Public Radio, with its implicit but restrained liberalism, a lefty F.M. talk show in Madison with limited reach, and two African American talk-radio stations in Milwaukee, one of which recently went out of business.
In the past dozen years, two moderate state senators in metro Milwaukee have lost their jobs in Republican primaries after falling out of favor with SykesBelling, while a third has moved sharply right to avoid their wrath. "The listenership is just so much higher here," says Scott Jensen, the former Republican speaker of the state Assembly. "And the ability to get people to march in step when [the shows] are all hammering the same themes is extraordinary." Dale Schultz, a moderate Republican state senator in southwestern Wisconsin who is retiring this year, is blunter. "Talk radio gets going and some of my colleagues end up wetting themselves," he says. "It’s appalling."
But to get the flavor of the thing, let’s cut to the very end of this endless piece, in which the intrepid reporter commits a flagrant act of journalism by turning on the TV in his hotel room.
On Sunday morning, as the convention concluded with a closed-door prayer breakfast, I headed to my hotel and flipped on the television, just in time for Charlie Sykes’s weekly show. One of Sykes’s panelists raised the issue of "an incident in the fifteenth aldermanic district where supporters of a liberal candidate bought meals for voters." The fifteenth district is mostly black, the candidate is black, and the former acting mayor who provided the lunches to voters is black. But the panelist didn’t mention any of that. For his audience, who live beyond Fond du Lac Avenue and its check-cashing outlets and shuttered storefronts, over the city line where the humble frame houses and bungalows give way abruptly to McMansion subdivisions with names like Harmony Hills and River Heights, he didn’t need to.
Let’s unpack this bit of fatuousness and faux-profundity.
The panelist (I’m guessing it was Brian Sikma, but inspired by Alec MacGillis I won’t bother checking) mentioned that the district attorney was investigating a former mayor for possible political corruption. This is, ahem, a news story. It was a news story that had duly been reported by other media. (JSOnline: DA looking into free meals Marvin Pratt provided early voters.) But MacGillis focuses on playing the race card. For MacGillis the lack of any reference to the race of those involved was a dog whistle to the racist suburbanites. But if Sikma had actually mentioned race….
In other words, MacGillis’s I’m-writing-as-badly-as-I-can prose can’t conceal the fact that he really has no point, except that even talking about the city is…. Racist. And, by the way, he forgot to mention that one of the panelists on the show – Mikel Holt – is an African-American journalist, perhaps because that would have interfered with his narrative.
Mentioning talk radio’s outspoken support for Milwaukee’s conservative African-American Sheriff would also have interfered with his agenda, so he manages to ignore his existence. Ditto for conservative support for school choice in the central city. Not surprisingly, he also fails to mention this incident of "poisonous" racial divisiveness on talk radio.(Only conservatives, apparently, are toxic.)
As I mentioned earlier, I had a drink (okay, two) with MacGillis, which he recounts:
Over Sykes’s second glass of wine, we got onto "The Wire," which Sykes loves, a fact that, along with his cerebral manner, was making it hard for me to reconcile him with his abrasive on-air persona…
For a moment, he seems to be weighing the possibility that his caricatures may be wrong and that maybe he should rethink his cardboard portrayal of local conservatives. But no.
At least I got him to buy the drinks.
For a final word on his piece, I’ll leave it to one of the story’s readers, named John Webster, who posted this reaction on the magazine’s website:
The New Republic was the first political magazine I read regularly starting around 1980; at that time and for many years thereafter it had the most nuanced writing of any publication covering politics and culture. I always learned a lot, agree or disagree with them, from the great TNR writers of that era: Michael Kinsley, Martin Peretz, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Strout, et al. …
Sadly, though, TNR is now just a cocoon of snarky, narcissistic, mentally lazy Leftists, who rather than grappling with opposing ideas, end up - or begin with - calling non-like-minded people racists. Zero meaningful diversity of opinion in TNR anymore. … TNR is now just another Salon or Slate: smug, self-satisfied Lefties living in an ideological bubble, who don't merely disagree with opposing views, but who are too uninformed to even understand those views. Hence the promiscuous accusations of racism, always on every issue.
That about sums it up.