Monday, November 21, 2005

The Canonization of "Saint Lyndee"

It's payback time.

In 2001, disaffected state worker Lyndee Wall dialed up Dee Hall from the Wisconsin State Journal to "blow the whistle" on what she had seen as a worker at the Assembly Republican Caucus in Madison. Wall went into great detail and provided documentation to Hall, and was largely credited for sparking the entire recent investigation into legislative ethics.

As soon as Hall’s puff piece about caucus “scandal” informant Wall surfaced this morning, I immediately received e-mails from Capitol staffers and ex-staffers asking me to offer a more balanced view of Ms. Wall (now Woodliff). Backed with documentation provided from past press stories, they painted a picture of Wall's motives for coming forward that is far different than Hall portrays of her buddy Lyndee. After reading the article, it's hard to understand how the Catholic Church could have possibly passed over Wall in favor of Joseph Ratzinger for the next Pope.

From the article:

"The reason I was willing to accept the personal risk ... was because I truly, deeply cherish my democracy more than the security of my state paycheck," Woodliff said recently.

"I couldn't bear the fact that while I worked there, I was being paid by taxpayers to commit crimes against their democracy."

Oh really?

Maybe the most notable crime against democracy occurred on November 30th of 2000 when the police were called to investigate Ms. Wall drunkenly trying to kick in window at Ken’s Bar near the Capitol after she found out her boyfriend, a Republican state legislator, was cheating on her. The relationship with the legislator reportedly ended in April of 2001, right about the time Wall decided to go public with the legislature's dirty laundry. (She apparently got over the relationship fairly quickly, seeing as how she now has a 3 year old son - do the math.)

After this episode, Wall called Dee Hall of the Wisconsin State Journal to “blow the whistle” on alleged abuses she had witnessed as an employee of the Assembly Republican Caucus. Many around the Capitol still apparently believe she did so as retribution for her boyfriend’s activities, not out of any sense of “cherishing her democracy.” In the article, Wall said that she knew her first day on the job that there was something "drastically illegal" going on at the Assembly Republican Caucus. Apparently, she had no problem with breaking the law for nine months after that first day.

So there you have it. Hall's brave and "idealistic" heroine likely used to her to get revenge on an-ex lover. How courageous. But because Wall gave Hall the story she had already written in her head, the love fest now continues with people like Jay Heck of Common Cause comparing her to "Deep Throat." (Heck is apparently unmoved by the irony created by his tenure at the Senate Democratic Caucus.) Steven Walters of the Journal Sentinel wrote an article in 2001 about Wall that is similarly gushing, but at least acknowledges the "unwise personal choices" Wall made during her tenure in the legislature.

What makes this recent Dee Hall article so objectionable is the tongue bath treatment Hall gives her former informant. Obviously, Wall delivered the goods back in 2001, and now it is payback time. Exactly what was the story here that merited a front page story? The fact that she has left the Legislature, never suffered any type of meaningful retribution, and lives a fairly normal life?

In fact, the article strains to give Wall credit to the degree that it actually makes misleading statements. For instance, it says “Now, more than four years later, two Democratic state senators have pleaded guilty to related charges, and cases are pending against three Republican legislators.”

Presumably, Hall is referring to Chuck Chvala and Brian Burke as the two Democratic state senators who have pleaded guilty to "related charges." In fact, the charges against Burke and Chvala had nothing to do with the so-called "caucus scandal." Chvala was charged with running a front group that he and and his Chief of Staff, Doug Burnett (who worked for Chvala, not the caucus) controlled, and extorting money from lobbyists to illegally fund Democratic legislative races.

Burke was busted for falsifying per diem sheets and for shaking down lobbyists in his office, while the "caucus scandal" dealt primarily with the partisan staffs used primarily for election purposes. As long as she's stretching the truth, Hall might as well throw Gary George's conviction in there with the rest, just to further pad the numbers a little bit.

To date, Wall's accusations against legislators and legislative staff have yet to yield a single criminal conviction.

Of course, just because Wall may have had questionable motives for coming forward, it doesn't discredit anything she revealed when she came forward in 2001. This post isn't an attempt to smear Wall, just an attempt at giving a fuller explanation of why she did what she did. Everything she said may be the truth, and she may be a wonderful human being (that occasionally gets drunk and tries to kick in bar windows). In fact, I think elimination of the partisan caucuses is a good thing, and a more sensible use of taxpayer dollars.

What is truly disappointing, however, is Dee Hall's sycophantic portrayal of Wall as an independent, courageous voice - without ever even acknowledging the significant personal issues that were likely driving her crusade. Everyone in state government and in the press knew about the caucuses, and few citizens were shocked when reports surfaced that ***NEWS FLASH*** legislators were trying to get re-elected. Wall simply provided the press with information that they were too lazy to get via open records request themselves (more on this later).

Apparently at the State Journal, what matters is who gives you the information, not the facts as they occured. Future readers of Dee Hall articles should wonder whether she's hiding details to protect the reputation of her sources.

SIDE NOTE: The graphic that accompanies the print copy of the story shows a memo distributed to caucus staff by caucus director Jason Kratochwill that essentially says "don't ever put our illegal activities in writing." A typed memo. Distributed to his employees. Is there a Stupidity Hall of Fame?

UPDATE: The Wisconsin State Journal editorial board plant their lips firmly on Ms. Woodliff's backside the next day with this editorial, in which they say "political hacks tried to smear Wall's reputation. But it didn't work."

Oh really? Political hacks like Spivak and Bice and Steven Walters at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel? Or did they just actually report what happened and not what they wish happened? A search of statewide media shows that the Wisconsin State Journal never acknowledged what could have been Wall's motivation for blowing the whistle, while other papers dug a little deeper. In my post above, all I do is link to information made public by papers other than the "Lyndee Times," A.K.A. the State Journal.

Of course, actually reporting the facts would have forced the State Journal to stop patting themselves on the back and trying to win awards for a few minutes.