Targeting Conservatives with John Doe Probes

WLUK FOX 11   |  5-7-14 @ 9pm

*Editor’s Note: WLUK FOX 11 and WBAY ABC 2 were the only stations to cover this news.

Bias by Obfuscation

We needed to create a new category. According to Wikipedia obfuscastion (or beclouding) is the hiding of intended meaning in communication, making communication confusing, willfully ambiguous, and harder to interpret. We will use this new category of bias to describe news reports which are favorable to conservatives or the conservative agenda, but are written in such a way as to cloud and downplay the favorable information.

Considering all the stations in the Green Bay market heavily covered the John Doe investigations surrounding Governor Scott Walker’s 2010 recall election, it would be expected they would be interested in covering this follow-up, which has a relationship to those John Doe probes. WFRV CBS 5, and WGBA NBC 26 chose not to cover this story at all in their 5, 6 and 10pm newscasts Tuesday (5-6-14) evening.

Background on the story:

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office has been looking into whether the Wisconsin Club for Growth, or other conservative individuals or groups illegally coordinated with Governor Walker in his 2012 recall election.

Club for Growth called the John Doe investigation a partisan which-hunt, and an infringement on its right to free speech.

Club for Growth sued. In a ruling Tuesday, a federal district judge agreed with the conservative group, and in his ruling put a stop to these specific John Doe investigations of conservative groups.

This is big win for conservative groups and Governor Scott Walker.
None of this was clearly reported in WLUK’s story. The first sentence in the FOX11 report does not make clear that this news story is in fact about the John Doe investigation of conservative groups in relation to Governor Walker’s recall election.

Viewing this story as it aired we will admit that we didn’t know what the story was about until we started to piece together some clues in the second and third sentences. The headline caught our eye and confused us when the story first began. The headline reads: “Investigation Blocked Conservative Groups.” We started out thinking that the story was that Conservative Groups did something wrong and they were being “blocked.” Maybe we’re just dense. Watch the video and you make the call.

Here’s a read out of the FOX 11 story:

Anchor: “We also learned this evening that a federal judge has blocked a secret investigation in Wisconsin into possible illegal coordination between some conservative groups and recent recall campaigns. That conservative organization known as Club for Growth, sued in February arguing the probe amounts to harassment that violates the right to free speech. Judge Rudolph Randa agreed and ordered the prosecutors to stop conducting the so-called Joe Doe investigation. The judge also ordered prosecutors to return all the property seized in the investigation and to destroy all copies of information contained in the probe.”

This was a convoluted presentation of the facts.

As a comparison, here is how a report of this story posted on presented the facts:

The “John Doe” investigation into conservative organizations and individuals who supported Governor Walker from his recall election in 2010 until now is coming to a screeching halt. U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa has ordered the investigation to stop, ruling the probe is affecting the free speech rights of the conservative political action committee Wisconsin Club for Growth.

The lawsuit claimed that the investigation chilled the group’s fundraising activities and unfairly blocked them from speaking out on what they termed a ‘political witch-hunt’.

Here’s how WBAY ABC 2 presented the story:

“New information tonight about the legal probe known as the John Doe investigation. Tonight a federal judge has blocked that investigation between illegal possible coordination between conservative groups and recent recall campaigns, including Governor Scott Walker’s …”

The WLUK FOX 11 report also did not touch on the allegation that the John Doe investigation was being used wrongly to serve a political purpose. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel communicated that information which is central to the story, in a clear manner.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
… U.S. District Judge Rudolf Randa in Milwaukee ordered a halt to the John Doe investigation into campaign spending and fundraising by Walker’s campaign and conservative groups, saying the effort appeared to violate one of the group’s free speech rights.

Democrats have sought to use the long-running probe to impugn Walker’s integrity and erode his lead in the polls as he runs for a second term against Democrat Mary Burke.

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