Monday, July 11, 2005

Best and Worst State Government Reporters

I have run every report ever filed by these state government reporters through a complex formula to determine how good each one is. The indisputable results are as follows:

THE BEST

Frederica Freyberg – Wisconsin Public Television

Wisconsin’s version of Tim Russert, host of “Here and Now,” which unfortunately is viewed weekly by fewer people than viewed my last prostate exam. Fair interviewer, gives it to both sides, and understands the issues. Knows the difference between state government and the federal government, which for TV is a plus, but not a requirement. Handles the transitions beautifully between serious topics and people playing the fiddle with their feet. Has to speak very slowly for the show's target demographic, World War I veterans.

JR Ross – Associated Press

Solid, reliable, if unspectacular.

Stacy Forster – Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Relative newcomer with an impressive research ethic. Doesn’t rely solely on information given to her by political combatants. Doesn’t cave in to spin from either side. Prolific – seems to write 37 stories per week.

Todd Richmond – Associated Press

See “JR Ross”

David Callendar – Madison Capital Times

Kind of a backhanded compliment, but is the fairest of the left-wing Capital Times reporters. That’s kind of like saying “he’s a good kisser for a guy with no lips.” I have no idea what that means.

THE WORST

Matt Pommer – Madison Capital Times

When I give a name to the annual “worst reporter” award, it will be named the “Matt Pommer Award for Excrement in Reporting.” A corpse who nobody realized died seven years ago, the Capital Times has pulled a “Weekend at Bernie’s” with Pommer and propped him up in the Capitol to “report” on events. Despite his assumption of room temperature, still manages to pump out semi-lucid left wing opinion pieces that are actually taken seriously in areas of the state that don’t know better. Only columnist ever to fit points about the War in Iraq, John Gard living in Sun Prairie, and global warming into the same column.

Phil Brinkman – Wisconsin State Journal

Automatically assumes the top slot when Pommer’s death is exposed (perhaps reported by Pommer himself). Brinkman, who thinks everyone is corrupt and writes stories solely to back up his point of view, could take a story about firefighters rescuing a cat from a tree and make it into a Watergate-style cover-up scheme. For example, reported recently that UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley attended a fundraiser for State Senator Ted Kanavas, because Kanavas sits on the Joint Finance Committee and holds the key to UW funding. Sounds juicy, right? Except, oops, Kanavas actually wasn’t on Joint Finance and had nothing to do with the UW budget. Actually checking your facts apparently is too much of a hurdle. Often files a formal open records request without ever even calling and asking for the info first, which would get him the same info without him appearing like a moron. About as likeable as a parking cop.

Tom Sheehan – Lee Newspapers

Instead of writing actual stories, Sheehan could just file a report that says “I’m Tom Sheehan, and I am clearly smarter and funnier than you.” Relies more on dazzling us with his wit than actual reporting. Reports naked political gamesmanship as if it is actually meaningful. Writes for Lee Newspapers, which nobody knows what the hell is. Phil Brinkman just started writing for Lee, which makes the Sheehan/Brinkman pairing the worst since Jen and Ben in "Gigli." Reporters at Al-Jazeera probably say "man, that guy is sloppy."

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Steve Walters of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel fits into his own category, which is somewhere between “best” and “worst.” He’s been a reliable reporter since the formation of Stonehenge, but still falls for spin too often. He does very little investigative work – it seems like he’s always reporting on the obvious things everyone knows about anyway. Then again, he’s a couple years away from a fat pension – would you really bust your tail to get a hot tip on Tom Reynolds when you're going to be doing tequila body shots off some Aruban waitress in six months?

Interestingly, Walters collaborates on a lot of stories with Stacy Forster, which has "Lethal Weapon 5" written all over it - the old, grizzled reporter teams up with the hotshot rookie for one last job. There is a 90% chance one of them ends up dangling perilously above a vat of molten lava in the next month, with the other one rushing to save them. Maybe Phil Brinkman will be there to file an open records request with the bad guys.

Special awards go to Ryan Foley of the AP for “best up and comer,” and the folks at Wispolitics for “best anonymous reporting,” since a lot of their work isn’t bylined.

I know I’m leaving people out, but for some, that might be a good thing. I don't know nor have ever met any of these people, these are just my obervations and what I have heard from Capitol sources. They are likely all wonderful people. Take note – there’s really not a lot to say about the good reporters, because they just do their job without a lot of frills.

UPDATE: This post was written before I saw this ridiculous article by Forster and Walters today about the budget passing "in the middle of the night." I covered this issue at length a few weeks ago here and here.

Exactly what difference does it make what time the budget is passed? I'm sure hardware store owner Dave Warren was one of the millions of Wisconsonites listening intently on the internet all day for passage of the budget. What percentage of Wisconsin citizens knew the budget was on the floor that day? Less than one? Would Dave Warren have loved this budget if it passed at 3:30 PM?

Secondly, late passage of the budget is due almost solely to the minority party offering amendment after amendment to push passage into the night. The majority party would be out of there in five minutes without minority amendments. They do so because they know they will get a story exactly like the one written by Walters and Forster today - they just take it hook, line, and sinker. Stories like this only guarantee that the same charade will occur in the next budget.

Just poor, poor reporting.