Sunday, October 27, 2013

Speech has consequence

While in traffic yesterday NPR stole nearly half an hour of my life with a polemic against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

It wouldn't be so bad if NPR would just acknowledge that it has a slant in its coverage. That would be one thing. Instead, it pretends to be neutral while airing obviously biased pieces like yesterday's 28 minute one from Ben Calhoun. It starts at the 30 minute mark at this link.

More than 900,000 people signed a petition in 2011 and 2012 to hold a recall election intended to remove Walker from office when he took several measures against public unions. Walker ended up winning that election with 53.1 percent of the vote, higher than his 52.25 percent win in 2010 against the same opponent.

NPR followed the story of Josh Inglett, a college student who was vying for a seat on the state college's board of regents. There are 18 seats, two of which goes to students, and all are nominated by the governor's office and approved by the state senate. Board members appoint university administration members and give money to student groups collected from student activity fees.

After Inglett was nominated by one of Walker's cabinet members but before the senate confirmed him, conservative bloggers matched Inglett's name to one of the people who signed the recall petition. Walker's office took back the nomination.

Calhoun played interview clips from four other people in the piece: Inglett, a state senator who supported Inglett, a judge who lost an election after bloggers revealed that he also signed the petition and one of the conservative bloggers. In all cases, he selected clips to say that Walker was using the petition signatures as an "enemies list" and weaved a narrative that said the GOP is using that list to destroy people.

This is, of course, ridiculous. As demonstrated in Calhoun's own narrative, it was bloggers who combed through the list and put Walker on the spot asking why he nominated someone. It was only after that that the offer for a ceremonial position on a board was taken away.

Signing the recall position was a pretty extreme act, and while people have the right to do it, they need to remember that publicly stating political positions has consequences. That's Free Speech 101.

If I was so inclined I could write a foolish, angry post calling president Obama a socialist. I'm not going to do it, but technically, I could. If I chose to do that and was later set to appear in a White House photo op, shouldn't I expect trouble when the post comes to light?

Calhoun makes a big deal that Inglett is a registered Republican and says that he supports Walker, but only signed the petition on a whim because he thought it would save his mom from being fired from her substitute teaching job. He later added that he doesn't regret signing it. That's a major contradiction and I don't buy it. I also noticed that since Walker got what he wanted there was no mention about Inglett's mom losing her  job after all.

There was also a part where Calhoun said he spoke to Joe Voiland, the new judge who outed petition-signing Tom Wolfgram, but we never hear Voiland himself speak. I imagine it's because he made too many good points when he spoke and it might turn out like this:

When Voiland announced his candidacy in January and called Wolfgram out for signing the petition, the judge said his signature was "not a political statement" in opposition to the governor. 
Voiland described the explanation as "misleading hogwash." 

Wolfgram got to talk on the program, but was paraded out like his signature was meaningless. We're told that he is a loyal Republican who signed it because Walker's anti-union actions happened too fast for the public to weigh in.

"Misleading hogwash" sounds about right. Can't any of these people own their actions?

Speech has consequences, and despite this report's attempts to act like signing a recall petition is a trivial affair, no one here should be surprised what happened. People were held accountable for taking sides, nothing more.


  1. Perhaps you need to listen to the "This American Life Episode" again. It appears as though you have selective listening. You are not clearly nor correctly stating the reasons for Mr. Inglett signing the petition. Your view is very one sided.

  2. "Signing the recall petition was a pretty extreme act"? Are you joking? It is the lowest rung on the participating in democracy ladder. Your other foot is still on the ground. Get some perspective, kid. Pretty extreme act. What would you call the politically motivated self-immolation of a Buddhist monk? A 'slightly more extreme act'?
    Regarding the Walker administration's treatment of Inglett, a comparably benign acceptance of those who are not 'part of the group' was demonstrated by Donald Sutherland at the end of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1978).
    Make sure you drink the right Kool-Aid, kid. Or should I say tea?

    1. No kidding. Young, hip, and naive is more like it.

      People will not take anything you say seriously if you can't acknowledge a wrong when you see it, regardless of who commits that wrong.

      You're only hurting your credibility here, Michael.

  3. Ron, I didn't see your message. I listened to the whole thing more than once, why don't you tell me what you think his reason was.

  4. This American Life, the show you heard, is not an NPR show. Not all public radio in the US is NPR. There are also US-produced shows from American Public Media, Public Radio International, and other networks, as well as shows produced by local radio stations rather than national networks. This American Life falls in this last category. It belongs to Chicago public radio station WBEZ.

    1. Kenji, you are being pedantic to the point of absurdity. It is a show that NPR broadcasts. Who produces it isn't my concern.

    2. The reason why I think this matters is because you mentioned NPR in order to say that the content of this TAL show reflects the bias of NPR. That doesn't make sense, because NPR has no involvement in the show. In fact, it doesn't even broadcast it, because NPR doesn't broadcast anything. It's not a radio station but a national organization that produces shows and sells them to member stations. TAL is not one of those shows.

  5. I think you're being both pedantic, and misunderstanding words like "broadcast," and all to prove a point unrelated to the thesis of the bost.

    1. Pedantic means focusing on points that aren't relevant to the assertion being made or the question being discussed. The assertion you made in your post is that this TAL piece reflects the bias of NPR. It doesn't. It reflects nothing about NPR, because NPR had no involvement in it. You may have heard it broadcast on your local public radio station, which may be an "NPR member station" in the sense that it also buys shows from NPR, in addition to shows from other sources such as TAL. An analogue would be if someone heard a broadcast on a local Fox news affiliate TV station, produced by some organization other than Fox, and concluded that the show reflected the bias of Fox because some Fox-produced content airs on the same station.

      I understand that you have other problems with the TAL piece that don't depend on where it came from. Why not just concede that you misattributed its origin and redirect your criticisms to TAL, not an unrelated organization like NPR?

    2. What you said would only make sense if NPR has no control over what it puts on the air.

    3. NPR doesn't put TAL on the air. Maybe you and I are understanding "NPR" in different ways. I understand NPR to be the organization that produces Morning Edition and All Things Considered and has its headquarters in Washington, D.C. That organization has no involvement in This American Life, the show which you referred to as "NPR" in this blog post. It doesn't produce, fund, distribute, or broadcast TAL.

      What do you mean to refer to when you say "NPR" in this post, if not that organization?

  6. OK, I see your problem.

    Tell me, when someone says "I was listening to NPR" do you get incredibly confused?

    1. No, I don't get confused. I assume they may be under the common misunderstanding that all American public radio involves NPR. If for the purposes of the conversation it matters whether that specific organization is being referred to, then I ask for clarification.

    2. Maybe this will help clear things up. In your blog post, you said:

      "It wouldn't be so bad if NPR would just acknowledge that it has a slant in its coverage. That would be one thing. Instead, it pretends to be neutral while airing obviously biased pieces like yesterday's 28 minute one from Ben Calhoun."

      The piece you refer to was from This American Life, a program which the specific organization National Public Radio has no involvement in, in any capacity. In this blog post, when you say "NPR", do you mean that specific organization, or are you using the acronym as a shorthand for American public radio in general, whether it involves the organization NPR or not?