By James Wigderson
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Kertscher, writing in the newspaper’s fact-checking Politifact section, once again substitutes opinion for an objective evaluation of a political candidate’s statement. Kertscher gave a Supreme Court candidate a “half true” rating when everything he wrote in evidence pointed to a “Pants on Fire” rating for knowingly making a false statement.
The Politifact article was an evaluation of a statement by Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Rebecca Dallet accusing her opponent in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock, of making a promise to the National Rifle Association (NRA) about the organization’s political agenda.
“I’ll point out some things he’s done during the campaign, like vowed to uphold the platform of the NRA,” Dallet said during a televised debate with her opponent on March 2.
Screnock did no such thing. In an email that was released to the media before the debate, Screnock made the same promise to the NRA that he’s made to all voters, to uphold the rule of law:
Having an independent judiciary comprised of justices with an unwavering commitment to upholding the rule of law, to recognizing and respecting the separation of powers, and to interpreting the Constitution as it was intended is critical to preserving and maintaining our democracy and our republic.
Citizens across the Badger State deserve the security and predictability of an independent, nonpartisan judicial branch. By electing me to the bench next spring, that is exactly what they will get.
Earlier in the email, Screnock even explained to the NRA that he would not make any promises regarding their political agenda:
I am a Judge, and I have served as an attorney, so I know firsthand the importance of upholding the rule of law, protecting public safety, and respecting the Constitution and the separation of powers. I also know about the dangers of legislating from the bench.
Judges are not legislators, nor are we executives. Our job is to interpret and apply the law, based not on our personal or political beliefs, but by relying on statutes and the Constitution. Simply put, our job is to be arbiters of the law; not policy analysts or political activists. This of course includes the Second Amendment.
When evaluating the veracity of Dallet’s statement, Kertscher started with her claim elsewhere that the NRA said Screnock would uphold their agenda. “But that’s quoting the NRA and not Screnock himself, and it refers to firearms freedom generally, not any particular agenda,” Kertscher wrote.
The NRA statement was not at issue. The question is what Screnock said to the NRA and how Dallet characterized it. On that question, Kertscher was clear that Dallet was wrong.
So, while volunteering that he is a proud gun owner, Screnock pledged to uphold the Constitution, including the Second Amendment, rather than to be a political activist.
But he didn’t vow to take a position on policies or laws or cases that might be part of a broader NRA platform.
Politifact typically rates politicians’ statements from True all the way to Pants on Fire for statements that were made with the knowledge they were false.
In this case, Dallet actually had Screnock’s email ahead of the debate, along with nearly every media outlet. She actually admitted as much during the debate when she commented, without any evidence, about other non-existent communications between Screnock and the NRA. Despite her foreknowledge of the email, Dallet blatantly mischaracterized the contents in her accusation during the debate.
The point of Politifact is to supposedly make the readers more informed while correcting false statements by politicians. There was nothing true in Dallet’s statement, and she knowingly lied about her opponent. Dallet deserved, using Politifact’s scale and an objective examination of her statement, a “Pants on Fire” rating. And after the “half true” rating, so does Kertscher.
James Wigderson is Editor of RightWisconsin