Late Thursday morning, an attorney for special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, who is leading a once-secret probe into conservative groups in Wisconsin, released a bombshell statement on behalf of his boss. When documents related to the probe became public last week, state and national media outlets tripped over themselves to explain how they implicated Gov. Scott Walker and showed him to be at the center of an alleged criminal scheme.
But those reporters, the stories they wrote and the headlines their editors created, got it wrong.
"At the time the investigation was halted, Governor Walker was not a target of the investigation. At no time has he been served with a subpoena," said attorney Randall Crocker, who serves as counsel for Schmitz, in a written statement to media outlets.
"It is wrong for any person to point to this sentence in a legal argument as a finding by the special prosecutor that Governor Walker has engaged in a criminal scheme. It is not such a finding,” declared Crocker.
And that means a lot of reporters and editors now have some explaining to do. Here are some of the most egregious examples of headlines and stories that, as it turns out, lie about what the documents really revealed about Gov. Scott Walker.
"Prosecutors: Gov. Walker part of criminal scheme," trumpeted a headline in The Washington Post from an Associated Press story. "Prosecutors believe Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 Republican candidate for president, was at the center of a nationwide “criminal scheme” to illegally coordinate fundraising with outside conservative groups, according to previously secret court documents released Thursday," the lede read.
"Wisconsin Governor at Center of a Vast Fund-Raising Case," proclaimed The New York Times in a story penned by Monica Davey and Nicholas Confessore. "Prosecutors in Wisconsin assert that Gov. Scott Walker was part of an elaborate effort to illegally coordinate fund-raising and spending between his campaign and conservative groups during efforts to recall him and several state senators two years ago, according to court filings unsealed Thursday," explained the misleading lede.
"John Doe prosecutors allege Scott Walker at center of 'criminal scheme,'" wrote Walker's hometown paper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a report bylined by Patrick Marley, Daniel Bice, and Bill Glauber. The paper even developed a nifty graphic to outline prosecutors' theories, even though a state and federal judge both remain unpersuaded by the arguments advanced by investigators.
Prosecutors allege Gov. Scott Walker schemed to bypass campaign laws - The Washington Post's GovBeat blog
Wisconsin’s Walker implicated in ‘criminal scheme' - MSNBC
Report: Scott Walker Accused of Campaign Finance 'Criminal Scheme' - NBC News
Prosecutors Allege Scott Walker At Center Of Campaign Finance Criminal Conspiracy - HuffingtonPost
John Doe prosecutors accuse Scott Walker of running 'criminal scheme' during recalls - Wisconsin State Journal
It remains to be seen if these news outlets will back down from their misleading headlines now that one of the prosecutors has made it clear they are blatantly wrong and false.