Media Matters for America posted a piece on Tuesday purporting to give voice to allegedly serious concerns on the part of some Wisconsin journalists over a new political news outlet that is set to launch soon. Charlie Sykes, a conservative talk show host on WTMJ radio in Milwaukee has announced that in the near future he will be launching Right Wisconsin, a full spectrum news outlet with a decidedly conservative tilt to it. The for-profit (which might make it inherently evil in the eyes of liberals) venture is being underwritten by Journal Broadcasting, the parent company of WTMJ radio and owner of sister television state TMJ4, also in Milwaukee.
The Media Matters’ piece frames the new venture as a hyper partisan project designed to spout off Republican talking points. Right Wisconsin represents a fundamental assault on good, unbiased journalism and threatens the livelihoods of some of Wisconsin’s finest reporters, the article suggests. Reporter after reporter lines up to gripe about Sykes and his conservative views, moaning that once his project launches it may well be the end of unbiased journalism in Wisconsin.
Unbiased journalism in this presidential battleground state died years ago – assuming it ever existed.
Sykes and Journal Broadcasting are merely taking advantage of a news consumer appetite that is going unmet and a market rapidly opening up as media outlets like the Journal Sentinel newspaper, owned by Journal Communications – the ultimate owner of Journal Broadcasting, struggle with decreasing readership.
That so many Journal Sentinel reporters would line up to blame Sykes’ current talk show and prospective venture for their troubles is no small irony. The decision by a for-profit company to launch Right Wisconsin means that somewhere someone made a decision to bet on a product that utilizes one of the company’s biggest profit-makers. The reason none of the Journal Sentinel reporters quoted by Media Matters have been asked to start their own news source is because none of them make as much money for Journal Communications as Sykes’ does. Their work isn’t worth betting the future on.
Media Matters appears to justify its attack on Right Wisconsin by emphasizing that the outlet will have a clear ideological bent. Sykes is a conservative and has used his shows to interview Republican candidates, but Media Matters’ objection to that is far-fetched and hypocritical. As the Daily Caller exposed, Media Matters is a valuable part of the Obama Administration’s communications and media spin team. Officials within the Administration have even gone so far as to help coordinate Media Matters’ coverage of national newsworthy events to present a pro-Obama perspective.
Certainly any organization is free to embrace an ideological bent, and non-charitable enterprises are not barred by the IRS tax code from engaging in activities that could support a campaign. That’s why editorial pages like that of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel make endorsements during political campaigns.
What observers should recognize is the refreshing honesty of Sykes’ venture. It is a conservative venture and his open about that. Unlike news outlets that try to conceal their bias, or nonpartisan groups that try to hide their own partisan handiwork like Media Matters, Right Wisconsin appears to be a genuinely honest news source. By clarifying up front that it has a conservative editorial approach consumers will know right away how the facts are being presented. If those facts are good and if the news is meaningful, Right Wisconsin will be a value to both the public and Journal Broadcasting.
Disclosure: I work for the conservative watchdog group Media Trackers, which embraces its conservative but non-partisan credentials (we beat up both political parties as needed). I have also appeared on Mr. Sykes’ radio and television shows.