I'm linking to the publication of the article in the Wisconsin State Journal, because it seems to be the original version of what Lueders wrote. The version that now appears at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has been — according to a note in red at the top, time-stamped 10:15 p.m. — "updated to reflect reports of a statement from Prosser denying the allegations." But "updated" does not mean that there is an update at the bottom of the original text, adding new material or noting mistakes. The article has been rewritten, so the flaws that I am going to write about here can no longer be detected.
I first read the Lueders article after it was noted in an email that went out to the Wisconsin Law School faculty. I won't quote that email, but my immediate emailed response was: "I think it would make an interesting object of study for a journalism class."
By the way, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, as you might imagine, purports to model high journalism values. It is "a first-of-its-kind alliance with public broadcasting journalists in six cities around the state, plus students and faculty of the journalism school at Wisconsin’s flagship university." Wisconsin's "flagship university" is, of course, the University of Wisconsin—Madison, my place of employment. I'm not inclined to hurt my own university, but I will make my observations as I see them. This is an object of study for the little journalism class of the internet that is this blog post.
Over the course of the day, yesterday, on lefty blogs and Twitter, there were vicious attacks on Prosser, with many opponents of Prosser (and Scott Walker) asserting that Prosser must leave the court. He should resign (or be impeached or recalled). I linked to a blog post over at Think Progress, where Ian Millhiser concluded:
Should the allegations against Prosser prove true, it is tough to imagine a truer sign that our political system has broken down than if the calls to remove him from office are not unanimous.I agreed with Millhiser that "if it's true Prosser reached a breaking point and started strangling Bradley, he should go." But I wanted to know the whole story. It seemed to me that Lueders had given us "just the snapshot of one hard-to-comprehend instant within the longer event." I was skeptical about the version of the story Lueders had put out, because there had been no arrest and because I found it hard to picture an elderly, dignified man suddenly grabbing a (somewhat less elderly) woman by the neck.
I first noted the Lueders article in this post, where I excerpted 2 paragraphs and wondered about Lueders's reference to his sources: "The sources spoke on the condition that they not be named, citing a need to preserve professional relationships." Lueders said he had "three knowledgeable sources," and that he had contacted Prosser for a response and that Prosser had said "I have nothing to say about it."
He repeated this statement after the particulars of the story - including the allegation that there was physical contact between him and Bradley - were described. He did not confirm or deny any part of the reconstructed account.Later in the day, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel came out with an article that revealed more complexity to the allegations. I wrote about that post last night, noting the account of "a source" who had spoken to "several" of the justices who witnessed the incident (there were "[a]t least five"), and said that Prosser "put his hands around" Bradley's neck, without "exert[ing] any pressure," which Bradley "described as a chokehold."
The Journal Sentinel then cites "another source" that said "that Bradley attacked Prosser." Here we get the first allegation that Bradely "charged him with fists raised" and that Prosser "put his hands in a defensive posture," blocking her, resulting in hand-neck contact.
The Journal Sentinel begins a new paragraph with "Another source..." If that is not miswritten, we now have a third source — "another" and then "another" — that's the second and third source. This third source, like the second source, has Bradley coming at Prosser "with fists up" and Prosser reacting defensively. This source — which I'm seeing as the Sentinel's third source — confirms the first source in saying that Bradley called it choking at the time. This source also has a Justice (not Prosser) reacting by saying "You were not choked."
Now, we've just reviewed the stories of various unnamed sources, as reported by Lueders and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. What I want to know is: What is the total number of sources? Is it 6? 5? 4? Or is it 3? It could be only 3! That is, 2 of Lueders's sources could have been the sources who gave the fuller context, with Bradley as the aggressor. What did Lueders know and when did he know it? Did Lueders have the fists-of-fury version of the story and deliberately leave it out? Did he leave it out when he contacted Prosser for a response and recited "the particulars of the story," the "reconstructed account" that he referred to in his article.
I told you this was going to be a little journalism class. Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, will you investigate your own journalism?
Maybe Prosser had "nothing to say about it" because the "reconstructed account" Lueders recited contained the allegation that Bradley charged at him with raised fists. Prosser did comment later in the day — a day full of destructive attacks on him, which speculated about the meaning of his absence of comment. Those attacks assumed that Prosser knew the story in the form that would appear in Lueders's article. But did he? I want to know!
In my last post of the day, commenting on the Journal Sentinel article, I said:
I want to know not only what really happened at the time of the physical contact (if any) between the 2 justices, but also who gave the original story to the press. If Prosser really tried to choke a nonviolent Bradley, he should resign. But if the original account is a trumped-up charge intended to destroy Prosser and obstruct the democratic processes of government in Wisconsin, then whoever sent the report out in that form should be held responsible for what should be recognized as a truly evil attack.When I wrote that, it did not cross my mind that the "truly evil" person might be Lueders himself. That's something occurred to me when I woke up this morning and began thinking about the possibility that the total number of unnamed sources was only 3.
Lueders needs to tell us whether or not he knew the Bradley-as-the-aggressor story when he presented his original work of investigative journalism under the name of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. If he knew it, why didn't he present the whole context at first? And what was in the "reconstructed account" that got Prosser to decline comment? If Lueders didn't know the alternate version of the story, in which Bradley was the aggressor, why on earth didn't he know? The story he presented is so weird that any thinking person would demand to know more of the context. Did Lueders keep himself willfully ignorant of the more complicated version of the story, and if he did, why? What kind of journalism is that? Truly evil?
Now, let's go back to what Ian Millhiser said: "Should the allegations against Prosser prove true, it is tough to imagine a truer sign that our political system has broken down than if the calls to remove him from office are not unanimous." All right, Mr. Millhiser, I appeal to you. Let's be unanimous about this and show that our political system has not broken down. I agreed with you that if Prosser did what Lueders's story made it seem that he did, Prosser should resign. By your own standard, will you say that if Bradley initiated the physical aggression, running at Prosser with raised fists, that the integrity of our political system demands that there be unanimous calls for Bradley to be removed?
Finally, it must be said: If Lueders had the larger context of the story — including the allegation that Bradley was the aggressor — and he suppressed it in his original account, what he did was not only evil, shameful journalism, it was freaking stupid. All sorts of bloggers and tweeters like Millhiser committed themselves to the firm, righteous position that if Prosser did what is alleged, he must leave the court. Lueders's article lured them into stating a firm and supposedly neutral principle about physical aggression. With that principle in place, they are bound to call for Bradley's ouster, if Bradley really did take the offensive and transform the verbal argument into a physical fight.
And what are the methods of ouster? Refer to the list in Millhiser's post: 1. Resignation, 2. Impeachment, 3. Removal by Address, and 4. Recall. A newly reelected official, under Wisconsin law, cannot be recalled for a year. Unlike Prosser, who was just reelected, Bradley is subject to recall. Impeachment and removal by address are procedures that take place in the state legislature. But the state legislature is controlled by the Republicans, who aren't likely to go after Prosser. Only Bradley is vulnerable to impeachment and removal by address if the legislature is influenced by political ideology. And if either justice is removed, the replacement will be named by Governor Scott Walker, so only Bradley's ouster will change the conservative-liberal balance on the court.
See what I mean about stupid? If Lueders didn't know the allegation about Bradley after doing his investigative journalism, that was stupid. How could he investigate and not find that out? If Lueders did know the allegation and suppressed it he was not merely stupid but evil. And make no mistake about how stupid: His article initiated a day of furious writing by liberals that threatens to hurt Bradley and the liberal interests in Wisconsin.
ADDED: I corrected a mistake in the paragraph that begins "Maybe Prosser had 'nothing to say about it'..." It was originally missing the word "had" and said "the 'reconstructed account' Lueders recited contained the allegation" instead of "the 'reconstructed account' Lueders recited did not contain the allegation..." UPDATE: It was right the first time, as someone in the comments pointed out! I uncorrected it. And now it's un-uncorrected. Sorry for the confusion!
ALSO: Instapundit says: "It’s as if the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism is just a partisan hit shop or something."
IN THE COMMENTS: Bill Lueders himself responds:
As our original story reported, the Center and WPR made individual inquiries to every member of the Supreme Court...So, it's a mystery how the Journal Sentinel came up with the 2 sources who portrayed Bradley as the physical aggressor. Lueders does not say whether he went back to his original sources to inquire about about the truth of that story — unless Bradley was one of the original sources. Whether Bradley was one of the original sources or not, he's giving us only an ambiguous statement with respect to the question whether she did anything like charging at Prosser with raised fists. We get the conclusory assertion — not in the form of a direct quote — that she "ridiculed the contention that this was somehow her fault." Her version could be that Prosser verbal statements made her extremely angry and refused to leave her office, so it was his fault that she ran at him with raised fists. What exactly happened? Why didn't she call the police?
We had as reported "at least three" sources for the statement that Prosser allegedly put his hands around Bradley's neck. We also spoke to others who declined to give any information about what occurred. No one said or suggested in any way, shape or form that Bradley was the aggressor, a charge that Prosser himself has not made. The Journal Sentinel says it found sources who contend this, so we updated the story to reflect that, but I do not know who these sources are and have no way to gauge their credibility, as I do for the sources we had.
As you know, Justice Bradley has now publicly accused Prosser of putting his hands around her neck and ridiculed the contention that this was somehow her fault....
We absolutely did not have information about an alternative version that we purposely withheld.
Lueders doesn't say how much (if at all) he probed into the context of what happened. I'm puzzled by his lack of curiosity about a story that is so inherently hard to believe. Why did the Journal Sentinel so quickly turn up a more complex version of the story? Was Lueders willfully incurious? Why did he pass on such an odd story without asking the questions that an ordinary person would instinctively ask? Or did he ask those questions? Did his sources insist that Bradley was sitting or standing peacefully and Prosser suddenly lunged at her? Or did he snap up the useful version of the story and run with it? It just doesn't add up to me.