While Scott Walker has become a hero to conservatives by taking on the public sector unions driving the state's budget into the red, he is as close to universally vilified on the Left as any public figure in America today. Every proclamation and action from Walker is subjected to intense scrutiny. Thus, no doubt, there was much consternation when Laurie Kellman of the Associated Press reported that Walker had stated - in a Congressional hearing, no less - that restricting collective bargaining for Wisconsin public employees would not save the state any money.
That statement was, of course, contrary to a number of Walker’s claims made while trying to get his budget repair bill through the Wisconsin state legislature. So for him to admit that a prominent element of the legislation – which opponents had dubbed a “union-busting” provision – was not actually meant to be a budget-balancing measure amounted to a stunning admission on his part.
But there was just one problem with AP’s claim: it was flat-out untrue.
Here’s what the AP reported on Friday, regarding Walker’s testimony before a House committee last week:
Democrats at Thursday’s hearing were combative.
Just how much did weakening government workers’ collective bargaining rights save the state of Wisconsin? demanded Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.
“That particular part doesn’t save any,” Walker replied. Earlier in his testimony, he told the committee the changes would save local governments in Wisconsin more than $700 million a year.
The pivotal difficulty with this story line is that it isn’t simply slanted or misconstrued; it is totally inaccurate! What Kellman describes never happened. The Walker quote itself is accurate, but it’s Kucinich’s quesiton that Kellman completely misrepresented.
Kucinich was not, in fact, asking about collective bargaining rights at all. The inquiry he was actually proffering was about the amount of money that would be saved if unions were required to hold regular votes in order to maintain the status quo of representing their members, as is clear in this video and transcript:
Kucinich: Your proposal would require unions to hold annual votes to continue representing their own members. Can you please explain to me and members of this committee how much money this provision saves for your state budget?
Walker: That, and a number of other provisions we put in because if you’re gonna ask,…if you’re gonna put in place a change like that…we wanted to make sure that we protected the workers of our state so that they had a right to know what kind of value they got. It’s the same reason we gave workers the right to choose, which is a fundamental American right…the right to choose whether or not they wanted to be part of a union…
Kucinich (interrupting): Would you answer the question? How much money does it save, governor? Just answer the question.
Walker: That particular part doesn’t save any.
If this is a mere mistake, devoid of any willful forethought, at the very least, the Associated Press owes a correction to all of its readers and to Scott Walker for its misrepresentation of the facts. Did Kellman even watch the short video of the segment in question before reporting on the exchange? It would seem that even a lackluster attempt to gather the facts would have dispelled the notion that Kucinich had asked about the collective bargaining provisions of the budget repair bill.
It may well have been an honest mistake on Kellman’s part, but David Stein of CounterContempt.com opines that something more sinister at play here. As Stein notes, there are a number of tricks in the Old Media playbook that are fairly routine. These include sleight of hand maneuvers such as devoting a vastly greater percentage of print lines or broadcast minutes to a liberal source over a conservative one, then blaming the resulting imbalance on a paucity of space or time. Stein observes that such tactics occur rampantly among Old Media types, but he clearly feels that this particular instance comes under a more overt heading.
Eight brief months ago, after Helen Thomas involuntarily vacated her plum front row seat in the White House briefing room, the AP beat three leading contenders to replace her. If recognition at high levels is any indicator of respect, then based on this promotion, the Associated Press has room to boast of the esteem in which it is held. Thus, is it not incumbent upon a news organization that has been awarded such a substantive measure of what passes for mainstream credibility to police their reporting on key figures in the news with closer scrutiny?