Liberal Media Witch-Hunting in Wisconsin

Over the last couple of weeks friends in Madison have been forwarding me various correspondence between folks at the University of Wisconsin, the UW-Extension, the office of state representative Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater), and the syndicated labor radio news service I helped create, the Workers Independent News Service (WIN(S)).
Rep. Nass, who is chair of the State Assembly’s Committee on Labor and also sits on various committees dealing with education issues and the UW System, apparently has a problem with WIN(S) and the fact that it reports business news from the perspective of working people.
The WIN(S) project originally began under the auspices of the UW-Extension’s School for Workers. We founded the project in late 2001, began production in early 2002, and spun WIN(S) off as an independent entity in 2003, with offices off-campus. Though we were not incubated in a university research park, we tread a path similar to those businesses based there (though ours was a non-profit).
In June, Rep. Nass’ panties knotted up because UW-Madison granted a semester-long teaching contract to one Kevin Barrett, a scholar who believes, in part, that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were an “inside job” designed to provide justification for wider Western occupation of the Middle East. Barrett will be teaching one course on “Islam history and culture,” according to a UW-Madison web page set up specifically to deal with the controversy this decision has unleashed (it even got Rep. Nass face-time on the O’Reilly Factor).
Earlier this year, Frank Emspak, the professor whose brainchild WIN(S) was, sent out a fundraising appeal for the service, in which he included his e-mail address as part of his contact information. After the Barrett blowup, as visions of rabid radicals massing at the other end of State Street danced in his fever-brain, Rep. Nass longed to out more campus subversives.
Someone forwarded him the WIN(S) fundraising pitch, and this particular hunt was on. Rep. Nass and his chief bootlicker, Mike Mikalsen, expanded the probe to include an interrogation of the status of WIN(S)’s Finance Manager, Rich Thomson, a graduate student working toward a PhD. in industrial relations.
After extensive investigation by university officialdom over the last few weeks, Nass was told that his allegations of university support for an “agenda-ized” news service basically had no merit, though Frank should have used his address on the funding pitch, and an admonition of sorts was placed in his personnel file. Apparently, Rep. Nass’ office is not satisfied and continues to probe, for what, not sure.
On reflection, there’s not much to this story except rank hypocrisy. The UW-Madison Business School regularly prostitutes undergraduates to help corporate America with “market research, financial analysis, real estate valuation,” and other tasks; the Fluno Center for Executive Education is located a block and a half from the WIN(S) offices; and there is that whole research park thing. But a small-change department cannot scream into the wind of the corporate media machine that there is often a human cost to rising stocks?
It’s not like WIN(S) does its work in the shadows, either: it’s on the radio, for f*ck’s sake, with two affiliates right there in Madison itself. When WIN(S) used to be heard on the Air America network and several stations in major markets, it had a weekly listenership in the millions. On January 19, 2002, shortly before we launched, Madison’s own Capital Times newspaper ran a front-page feature on the project, which included a color photo. Had Nass seen my blue dome at the time, he would have certainly labeled me a pinko. So he’s just four years late to the persecution-party.
Not that Rep. Stephen Nass and his posse are shining examples of virtue, upholding the rich populist tradition of Wisconsin politics. Nass ignored the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s electoral ethics questionnaire this year. He’s used his grandstanding campus-hunt to hold up state government ethics reform legislation. (Perhaps because he’s played a bit fast-and-loose with a little-known IRS provision involving mileage and per-diem allowances to state lawmakers.) Nass and his posse are also quite adept at muck-slinging without regard for maturity and civility.
Nor is Rep. Nass much of a friend of the working Wisconsinite: he attempted to quash Madison’s living-wage ordinance via special provision in a bill that otherwise would have severely limited the state’s ability to adjust the minimum wage, and he killed a “fair share” health care proposal designed to end the public health service-leeching of mega-retailers like Wal-Mart before it could even be properly debated.
That said, I think another blogger best-summarized the Nass approach to governing as one long whine-fest, full of pointy fingers but substantially empty:
I’m sure many of you have a friend like Steve Nass. He never wants to host the Super Bowl party, but he’s always happy to show up at yours. He steals a seat in your favorite recliner when you get up to refill the chips. He grumbles about how your wings aren’t very good, yet he always seems to have a few on his plate. He carps about your selection of beer but asks you to get him another at halftime. By the 4th quarter, he’s nesting the whole bowl of chips beneath his left arm like a football, grousing about how the game has mostly been a letdown and that the commercials weren’t very good and that he was expecting better. When the game finishes, he excuses himself to your restroom, throws up in your bathtub, and then shows himself to the door.
WIN(S) has suffered worse than the likes of Stephen Nass. Legal pressure from Viacom made the service change its name two years ago, which puts the bleating of a small-town state lawmaker to shame.
Frank probably got a chuckle over the the black mark in his personnel file: as a man whose family was instrumental in the rise and crushing fall of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America and hounded as Communists, and who himself was chairman of the National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam during UW-Madison’s campus-as-war-zone years of the 1960s, Frank knows what real persecution is. Rep. Nass is a gnat on his ass. The people of Whitewater deserve better.