Mainstream media forced to walk back Walker ‘criminal scheme’ narrative

M.D. Kittle
|
Jun 26, 2014 3:47 PM
Mainstream media forced to walk back Walker ‘criminal scheme’ narrative
Part 92 of 91 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. – After last week’s breathless headlines putting Gov. Scott Walker at the center of a nationwide “criminal scheme,” the mainstream and left-leaning media are being forced to step back from such sensational indictments.

The man doing the forcing is the special prosecutor who raised the specter of said conspiracy in a court document — part of 268 pages of previously sealed records dumped last week by order of a federal appeals court and embraced by John Doe prosecutors.

An attorney for Francis Schmitz, one of several prosecutors involved in the secret John Doe investigation into dozens of conservative groups, sent out a statement Thursday, clarifying that Walker was not a target of the investigation and at no time “has he been served with a subpoena.”

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OOPS! Turns out Gov. Scott Walker is not at the center of some sinister “criminal scheme.” A John Doe prosecutor is forced to correct the record Thursday.

Attorney Randall Crocker’s statement comes exactly one week after the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals’ unsealing of documents related to a civil rights lawsuit against the John Doe prosecutors. Within minutes the legacy media and left-leaning outlets were frothing about what Schmitz had described in a court document as an “expansive” investigation. Stories everywhere pushed a theme of Walker engaged in a “criminal scheme.”

Not true, Schmitz’s attorney said a week after the damage of widespread press coverage had been done.

“Contained in these documents is a reference to the request for production of documents that relates to an alleged criminal scheme. Gov. Walker’s name was included in this reference,” Crocker wrote in the statement carried in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Wait for it …

“While these documents outlined the prosecutor’s legal theory, they did not establish the existence of a crime; rather, they were arguments in support of further investigation to determine if criminal charges against any person or entity are warranted,” Crocker added.

He did not return a request for comment.

So, to be clear, Walker has not been implicated or targeted in an investigation based on a court-debunked legal theory that at least 29 conservative organizations may have illegally coordinated with Walker’s campaign during the state’s partisan recall election.

That seems to be of small consequence to the general press.

While the headlines may change, the narrative remains pretty much the same.

Remember, Walker was never a target, nor was he charged with any wrongdoing in what conservatives call the first John Doe “witch hunt.” Yet, story after story speculated on his “guilt” over the course of the nearly three-year probe into Walker’s former aides and associates — an investigation that ended with six convictions, four of which had nothing to do with the original scope of the court-ordered dragnet.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a story Thursday with this headline: Prosecutor: No determination if Walker committed crimes.

“An attorney representing special prosecutor Francis Schmitz warned the media and public against jumping to conclusions of guilt based on documents within a once-secret probe that emerged in a federal lawsuit last week,” states the newspaper’s lede.

This is what the Journal Sentinel’s headline screamed week: “John Doe prosecutors allege Scott Walker at center of ‘criminal scheme.’”

“The John Doe prosecutors’ legal theory has already been rejected by two judges as unsupported by Wisconsin law, violating federal law, and inconsistent with the facts. No one has been charged because there was never any crime, only a years-long investigation launched on a legal pretext aimed at silencing Wisconsin conservatives,” said Andrew Grossman, an attorney for conservative activist Eric O’Keefe, who, along with the Wisconsin Club for Growth are suing Schmitz, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and others on charges they violated conservatives’ First Amendment rights.

One legal expert with knowledge of the investigation and lawsuit says Schmitz is in an “awful position.”

“He didn’t feel like he had enough evidence to bring charges before. Why would he put things this way unless he wants to reset expectations that this will not lead to any kind of legal action against the governor or these other groups,” said the expert, who asked to remain anonymous due to his proximity to the case.

And yet, the recriminations and the rush-to-judgment roll on.

“The rightwing media, from The Wall Street Journal to Rush Limbaugh, rushed to defend Scott Walker after a federal court released documents last week, placing Walker at the center of the ‘criminal scheme’ to evade campaign finance law, according to the lead prosecutor in the case,” wrote the left-bent Center for Media and Democracy , an organization that bills itself as a watchdog news organization.

Walker’s campaign on Thursday afternoon called on the governor’s opponent, Madison liberal Mary Burke, to pull her “slanderous” campaign ad in light of the special prosecutor’s statement.

Burke’s 30-second ad, as the Wisconsin State Journal put it, “splices newscasts from MSNBC, Fox News and Madison’s WKOW to highlight last week’s revelation prosecutors are investigating whether Walker oversaw a ‘criminal scheme.”

Still with the “criminal scheme” talk. This narrative won’t go down without a mainstream media fight.

“Mary Burke’s ad is slanderous at best and it should be pulled from the airwaves immediately,” Stephan Thompson, Friends of Scott Walker campaign manager, said in a statement. “Failure to remove this ad would be dishonest and misleading to Wisconsin voters by furthering baseless allegations and inaccurate reporting.”

Walker’s camp also has asked television stations to remove the Burke ad.

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org