The story was based on a news release that purportedly came from Nass’ office, but was in fact fabricated by Madison labor cartoonist Mike Konopacki [who] sent the fake release to a staff member who then forwarded it to Associate Editor John Nichols, who wrote the story.The Cap Times took the embarrassing and libelous story down after 40 minutes.
The release seemed plausible because on Wednesday, The Capital Times reported that the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s School for Workers abruptly called off an event called “Art in Protest” connected to the Capitol protests after a Nass aide told its organizers that it would be in poor taste. The organizers said publicly that they called off “Art in Protest” for a “variety of reasons” and that “now is not the best time” for it, but the story paraphrased two informed sources anonymously saying that Nass’ office threatened the school’s funding.
Konopacki helped organize the canceled event, and in that story, he was quoted as saying: “I understand why the School for Workers had to make this move. They're in survival mode. But I'm outraged. This is an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and is an attack on academic freedom.”
Nichols wrote a short story based on the fake release and made follow-up calls to flesh out the story, but began to have doubts when he discovered that other sources had not heard about the release.
Questioned about the release, Konopacki revealed that he created it using Photoshop. He said he intended it as a prank (in an initial email he said he “wanted to point out the hypocrisy between allowing Wisconsin protest art in the Smithsonian but not at the Pyle Center” where “Art in Protest” would have taken place), but is apologetic about the confusion it created.
By the way, John Nichols has a new book: "Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street." Meade and I have been reading it.
ADDED: In his book, Nichols is highly critical of the media for getting the story of the Wisconsin protests wrong. Excerpt:
While it was easy to laugh at Fox, it was harder to comprehend the coverage of events in Wisconsin by the New York Times. The Times can and does produce terrific reporting on a variety of fronts. In many senses, it remains the last bastion of old-school “newspaper of record” seriousness in a media landscape that is littered with the carcasses of once-great news-rooms, thus making it more important—and influential—in today’s news landscape than ever before in its history. The Times even has something that’s lacking at virtually every other print, broadcast, or digital news outlet in America today: a solid labor writer in the person of Steven Greenhouse. Unfortunately, he was not dispatched to Wisconsin to cover the story. The Times reporters who did come to Wisconsin brought with them some of major media’s worst misconceptions and biases with regard to unions and working-class people. And in so doing they became a part of the story, reinforcing Governor Walker’s intransigence.
Walker is a media junkie.... he reads, listens to, and watches media with an eye for how different outlets are interpreting and reacting to stories....
The Times... blew an even bigger piece of the Wisconsin story several weeks later. When Republican legislators used backroom maneuvers to pass Walker’s bill, the Times reported that the fight was “over.” But the editors in New York forgot to tell the people of Wisconsin....
The hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who rallied at their capitol and in communities across the state said by their very presence that they were no longer going to accept the official “line” from old-media outlets that failed them—and new media outlets that simply compounded the sins of the fathers by aggregating and amplifying the folly of media outlets that have replaced reporting with stenography to power. What dawned on Wisconsinites and their allies in other states was that the problem was not simply the overt bias of a Limbaugh or an O’Reilly but the overt ignorance of media outlets that imagined Americans no longer approved of organized labor—and would never ever stand in solidarity with a trade-union movement that was arguing for public services, public utilities, and public schools.
When media outlets got around to conducting polls on the issues that arose in the Wisconsin struggle, they found that, to paraphrase the old Firesign Theatre routine, everything they “knew” was wrong. A CBS News/New York Times survey, conducted shortly after Wisconsin exploded, revealed that six in ten Americans opposed the elimination of collective bargaining rights for public sector union workers, while 56 percent were opposed to the cutting of pay or benefits to reduce state budget deficits. The USA Today/Gallup survey released two weeks after Governor Walker made his proposal indicated that 61 percent of Americans were opposed to legislation that would take away the collective bargaining rights of unionized government workers. Only one in three of those surveyed backed any move to undermine protections for labor.
... Many was the day when an absurdly ill-conceived or simply inaccurate report on the front page of the Walker-supporting Wisconsin State Journal newspaper had been deconstructed by Sly and his guests before Madisonians had trudged out their front doors to find the offending publication in the snowbank where it had landed.