Judges Split and Journalists Merge

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court is still split, though the judges did come together as one  to uphold the legality of the state domestic partner registry, which is pretty much a moot point given that Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage has been ruled unconstitutional and the issue faces a U.S. Supreme Court test. But considering how much deference the current U.S. Supreme’s have shown towards conservative religious values, securing a partner registry in the state is better than nothing. Legal merging is fine, according to some conservatives, as long as you are a corporate person or a heterosexual person. “Partners” are permitted, says the WI Supreme Court, but gay and lesbian spouses are beyond the pale. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson helpfully pointed out in her concurrence that the Court had refused to hear the case on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage and that, meanwhile, a federal court had ruled that banning same-sex marriage is, by the way, unconstitutional.

As for the other two Wisconsin Supreme Court rulings yesterday, the decisions were not surprising, except perhaps for Chief Justice Crooks siding with the four solid conservatives, at least on the legal merits, regarding Act 10. Crooks said, in essence, that Act 10 was dumb and unfair, but legal. It was certainly an uphill argument to prove that the First Amendment protects collective bargaining for state employees. But the majority was clearly wrong– as the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board points out–on the question of “home rule” for Milwaukee.

But the voter ID ruling was an utterly ideological 4-3 split with a silly thing about the ID being legal if Dept. of Motor Vehicles doesn’t charge people for certified copies of their birth certificates in order to get one. Of course, without proof of who you are since you were born, how do we know you are now whom you say you are just because your ID identifies you? How would we know that you were even born? Perhaps you are impersonating yourself, and if you don’t really exist, you have no right to vote in Wisconsin. We must ensure that “Mickey Mouse” and “John Doe” are not voting (or voting too often for Democrats. Too many “John Does” is what Republicans fear the most.) If some Democrats don’t get to vote at all because they don’t exist in the eyes of the state, oh well.

And Milwaukee’s journalists are merging. Or splitting. Well, the journalists of Journal Communications are joining the newspaper journalists of E.W. Scripps of Cincinnati, OH, and the broadcast “entertainers” of the Journal Broadcast Group are merging with the broadcasters of Scripps. Dividing journalists from broadcasters is at least an honest recognition of whom exists to create journalism (a dwindling number) and whom exists to look attractive on TV, entertain and make most of the money by selling political advertising time. At least Milwaukee gets to be the newspaper headquarters, rather than Cincinnati or Abilene.

So– which group will get to claim the Journal Communications’ journalistic gem of a website “Right Wisconsin”?  As the site claims to be “powered by” a radio personality, the broadcast team seems like the more likely choice, though technically the web magazine is a separate “media” entity. Maybe “Right Wisconsin” deserves its own media category within the conglomerate– Online Conservative Intelligence Agency. Or perhaps Scripps will pull the plug. Or open the spigot. Who needs newspapers and journalists when you can have broadcasters/conservative entertainers write all the news and opinion.

Dividing the journalists from the broadcasters will eventually make it easier to downsize. One media analyst put the merger/split this way, “They’re doing it to keep the good assets with one company and the secular declining assets with another.” Soon it may be, “Farewell, you bunch of muckraking secular assets!”

The Journal Media Group will be overseen by CEO Timothy E. Stautberg whose educational background is reportedly finance (not journalism or English literature or even political science) but he is, reports the Journal Sentinel, “an incredible amount of fun”, the kind of guy who will take part in karaoke. Steven J. Smith, the current CEO of Journal Communications, will now become JMG’s “non-executive chairman” and get a parting package worth about $8.7 million.

And the beat goes on.

Update— Also see Bruce Murphy’s interesting perspective on the Journal/ Scripps deal, including more “Right Wisconsin” speculation.





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