Memo to Media: MacIver Institute’s Journalistic Misrepresentation

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As you are a respected member of Wisconsin’s media, we at One Wisconsin Now wanted to make sure you had heard about a disturbing media misrepresentation by the MacIver Institute, a conservative Milwaukee organization linked to former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen.

According to a weekend story broken by Wisconsin State Journal, a newly-hired staff member of MacIver, former television reporter Bill Osmulski, interviewed two prominent Democratic elected officials by making them believe he was still working in his capacity as a former local news reporter, not as a paid staff member of a conservative, ideological-biased advocacy organization. (Full story is attached at the end of this memo for review.)

MacIver is not only unashamed of its misrepresentation, it also is vowing to conduct similar activities in the future. It would appear the goal is to create “news stories” it can foist off onto unsuspecting news outlets as pre-packaged “news.” MacIver has shown it will misrepresent itself in order to advance its conservative agenda and will attempt to manipulate the media in order to achieve this end.

We are urging media outlets to remain vigilant in resisting efforts to degrade the content of local news in print or broadcast with bias and partisanship, and reject MacIver’s unethical violation of the public trust.

Claims of misrepresentation in reporter’s first MacIver story
Wisconsin State Journal, 9/5/09

Political junkies wondering how a conservative Milwaukee think tank scored a recent interview with liberal Congressman Dave Obey now have an answer.

The interviewer got it by allowing Obey and a Democratic state senator to think he was just interviewing the two politicians for a local television station, all three men confirmed Friday.

The revelation raises questions about plans by the free-market oriented MacIver Institute to have former television reporter Bill Osmulski produce unbiased news reports that will be offered for free to state news outlets. Osmulski’s hiring was announced Thursday.

“You have a duty as a reporter to disclose to the person the purposes of your interview,” said Stephen Ward, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at UW-Madison. “You should be open about all your affiliations in advance.”

Osmulski, who previously worked at WKOW-TV (Ch. 27) in Madison and WQOW-TV (Ch. 18) in Eau Claire, interviewed Obey and state Sen. Pat Kreitlow, D-Chippewa Falls, last month in Chippewa Falls about a project in the city funded with federal stimulus dollars.

Osmulski said he did the interviews both as an unpaid freelance reporter for WQOW and as a reporter for MacIver.

In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal on Friday, Osmulski said he used a WQOW camera along with a personal camera for the interviews. He said he told Kreitlow he was working for WQOW but did not mention his MacIver affiliation because Kreitlow didn’t ask.

“I was more than willing to tell them who I was with if they had asked,” Osmulski said.

MacIver spokesman Brian Fraley said Osmulski had done a well-intentioned, fair report but acknowledged he should have identified he was with MacIver.

Kreitlow spokesman Jeff Buhrandt said the senator, a former television newsman himself, felt misled by how Osmulski identified himself.

“It’s an interesting way to get an interview,” said Buhrandt, adding that Kreitlow considered Osmulski a fair reporter when he worked at WQOW.

Obey spokesman Dan Bachhuber said Osmulski “misrepresented himself.”
“He did not say that he was with the MacIver Institute,” Bachhuber said.

Osmulski said Obey never asked his name.

His report on the stimulus-funded upgrade of the Chippewa Falls riverfront on the Channel 18 Web site is a short, routine story. His report for MacIver questioned whether the five-year project would meet the federal stimulus goals of quickly boosting the economy and job market.

Lisa Patrow, news director at WQOW, an ABC affiliate, said the responsibility lay with both Osmulski and Obey and Kreitlow to make sure there was a proper introduction.

Ward of UW-Madison disagreed, saying the burden was on the journalist, not the source.

Link to story:
http://host.madison.com/news/local/article_43751011-0980-527f-be38-63ee4a4530bf.html

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One Wisconsin Now specializes in effective earned media and online organizing to advance progressive leadership and values.