Wisconsin journalists signed Gov. Walker recall petitions

It’s “disheartening” that 25 news employees of Gannett newspapers in Wisconsin signed Gov. Scott Walker recall petitions, says Green Bay Press-Gazette publisher Kevin Corrado. “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,” he tells readers. “We now are in the process of taking disciplinary measures and reviewing supplemental ethics training for all news employees.”

A number of the journalists told their editors they did not consider signing the petition a political act. They equated it to casting a ballot in an election. But we do not make that distinction.

Is it not an ethics violation, too, to claim authorship of something you didn’t write? Compare this column “written by Richard Roesgen,” executive editor of the Fond du Lac Reporter, with this column by Green Bay Press-Gazette publisher Kevin Corrado and this one from Appleton Post-Crescent publisher Genia Lovett. Many of the passages are identical.

* Journalists erred in signing Walker recall petitions
* Read what Gannett Blog visitors say about the petition brouhaha

(This post was updated to correct the number employees who signed the petition.)



  1. Dave Barnes said:

    I agree.
    “they did not consider signing the petition a political act.”

    I sign petitions all the time here in Colorado and sometimes I do not agree with the petition, but I do think the voters should get their say on the issue.

  2. DragonAtma said:

    Let me guess: next Kevin Corrado doesn’t want them casting votes in election either because that’s also bias?

    As long as they’re acting as a private citizen and not representing their paper, journalists are fully allowed to sign all the recall elections they wish to; he’s just despondent that his idol Scott Walker is as doomed as Nixon was in early ’74.

  3. Of course it’s a political act. So is voting. They are inherently political. The difference as far as appearance goes is that the individual choices of voters are generally kept secret, the identities of the petition signers are not.

  4. Mike Airhart said:

    Is it wrong for a journalist to sign the petition which is required to repeal a law or amendment which prohibits that same journalist from marrying his partner, or exercising one’s rights within a newspaper union, or defending one’s freedom of the press in a nation that has concealed much of the government and its contractors behind secrecy laws?

    Most people agree that journalists should be allowed to vote on a private ballot. But how can a journalist vote on a private ballot, if an issue never reaches the ballot because the journalist was prohibited from signing the petition which is required to place the issue on the ballot?

    How are newspaper unions supposed to defend themselves against antiunion media companies, if union members are prohibited from signing a petition that is intended to restore collective bargaining rights?

  5. Bill Reader said:

    What if the editorial board decides to endorse or oppose the recall effort with little to no input from the newsroom rank-and-file?

    This kerfuffle only crosses certain ethical lines with regard to reporters who cover the statehouse or state-level political campaigns. A restaurant critic, a sports columnist, and a features editor have no real conflicts of interest to exercise their constitutional rights in such a manner.

    Gannett is (sadly? predictably?) taking the Darth Vader approach when a Yoda approach is needed (cue the Empire theme music … ).

  6. Paul Lukas said:

    Here’s something everyone’s overlooking: NOT signing this petition can also be a political act. If you’re a fan of Gov. Walker, you’re not gonna sign the petition. Who knows how many “liberal media” members fit into this category? Will any of them be taken to task by their employers?

  7. Andrew Ottoson said:

    @Paul – Silence on an issue shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement of the status quo, but signing a petition leaves no room for such doubts about where a person stands.

    (My question for everyone else is, why does a journalist, or anyone else, think it’s a good idea to cultivate public doubt about his/her own point of view?)

    Rebuking journalists who take positions can also be a political act, not least in the sense that some organizations fear a loss of credibility — that is, a loss of political sway — if underlings are allowed to play into reactionaries’ narratives about the universality of newsies supposed leftishness.

    Of course what really matters is organizational and individual commitment to truth-telling, which can’t be gauged by a discussion of biases but can be gauged by paying attention to how evidence is handled in formal reports. If evidence is mishandled, appeal to bias may explain…..but the presence of bias does not by itself imply that evidence has been mishandled.

  8. J. Knight said:

    The Society of Professional Journalists has an ethics code, and here is one part that is pertinent.

    Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

    Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

    I agreed to abide by this code of ethics when I worked as a reporter. Most professional reporters do as well. I blame a lack of training on what happened, but nonetheless, a professional reporter should have known better than to get involved in partisan politics. It destroys credibility.

  9. Walabio said:

    So now, reporters are not allowed to vote.

  10. Bob c said:

    As stated earlier, one’s vote is private. Signing a petition is a public act that may bring into question one’s credibility or impartiality and should thus be avoided. When people come to my door with petitions to sign, I tell them “no,” and I tell them why.

  11. Rich Fallis said:

    A sizable group of beat reporters covering the Walker regime have developed opinions. Negative opinions. This is natural. Whether it is politic to sign a recall is open to debate as it reduces their ability to report the news from a so-called unbiased view. Still, when Fox news sent in their angry gomer at the height of the demonstrations in Madison injecting pictures of shoving and pushing with palm trees in the background from California unrelated protests, the reporter was not fired, nor suspended. In fact, the goof is still on the air. Fortunately, with the Internet, citizens can exchange information at the speed of light, and what the traditional media says is increasingly irrelevant. Lite brite trite with a dollop of disingenuous for fun.