To Wisconsin Unions, a Depressed Woman’s Suicide Is Just Another PR Weapon

"Oh, no. Poor ..hey, wait a minute! We just might be able to use this!"

“The ends justify the means,” for better or worse, has always been the modus operandi of the American union movement. Back at the beginning of the 20th Century, this often translated into violence, as union leaders used bombs and murder to counter equally vile tactics—or worse—by their industry foes. Union violence is more common today in the threatening than in the actual execution, but the public unions battling Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin have made it increasingly clear that ethics, fairness and truth are not going to stand in the way of their objectives, particularly the objective of winning the battle for public support.

A new low may have been reached with the effort to blame Walker for the suicide of Jeri-Lyn Betts, a 57-year-old teacher suffering from chronic depression, who apparently committed suicide last week.  The pro-union website The Progressive announced her death with a headline connecting her death to the unions’ struggles with Walker, implying in its story that the governor’s efforts to curtail union bargaining power and increase union member contributions to health care and pensions were “in part” responsible for Betts’ death.

Ironically, the article uses one of the “Six Tell-Tale Signs of Biased News Stories” flagged in an earlier post this weekend, “Implying without saying.” The Progressive headline “Wisconsin Teacher in Apparent Suicide, “Distraught” Over Walker’s Cuts” is a classic example of the device, as it just as correctly could have read, “Wisconsin Teacher in Apparent Suicide, “Distraught” Over Impending Cancellation of Fox Series “Fringe”, or “Wisconsin Teacher in Apparent Suicide, “Distraught” Over President Obama’s NCAA Basketball Picks.” The fact is that people with clinical depression are distraught, period, and suicide is an all too common result of the illness: its is estimated that 15% of all clinically depressed individuals kill themselves, and far higher percentage make at least one attempt. Laying the blame for the suicide of a clinically depressed woman, whom Governor Walker never knew and held no malice toward. on his deficit management efforts is wildly dishonest and cynical, not to mention crass.

But unions have always believed in total war in their labor battles, and exploiting the death of an emotionally ill woman to smear the character of a Governor who was a political foe is consistent with a tradition that is, if not grand, at least consistent.

Maybe Walker should consider himself lucky. A century ago, the union might have just blown him up.

8 thoughts on “To Wisconsin Unions, a Depressed Woman’s Suicide Is Just Another PR Weapon

  1. One might well ask where the teacher’s unions were when this woman, who obviously needed psychiatric help, committed this sorrowful deed? Isn’t providing help for their membership what unions are supposed to be all about? Or, perhaps, does leading riots in the streets take precedence? But Scott Walker- by trying to balance the budget as he pledged to do upon being elected- apparently forced those fine people to act like wolf packs before the entire world. Therefore he- and not they- is to blame. The logic is slightly disfunctional. Senator Wellstone would have appreciated it.

    • One could argue with equal logic—and more justification—that the unions publicly painting a relatively moderate reduction in benefits as equal to slavery, tyranny, and the end of the world caused her to be “distraught” more than anything Walker actually proposed.

      • One could, indeed. But this woman’s mental state, at 57, isn’t likely to have been brought on overnight by any trauma or occurrance. There were likely warning signs that well preceded the last election. Assuming this (and one logically can) why didn’t her peers extend help or comfort? Why didn’t her “shop steward”- or whatever- forward her for counseling? For that matter, why didn’t the principal of her school? It wasn’t just a matter of her mental state, either. She was a teacher! A manically depressed teacher is hardly fit to supervise young people. Now, those young people will, themselves, have to deal with the trauma of an adult authority figure who took her own life. Some might take on a personal sense of guilt for it. That’s not uncommon in such instances. This is how mental illness is actually- in a sense- communicable. I won’t hold my breath waiting for some NEA functionary to acknowledge this.

        • For all we know, they might have done all of this for her, and more. What drugs was she taking? Were there other underlying problems that often accompany depression, like substance abuse, low self-esteem, or bi-polar symptoms? And if so, all the more reason it is utterly despicable to try to law her death off on Walker.

          • All true, Jack. But if she WAS under treatment, then why was she still teaching class? As you say, though, casting the blame for this on Governor Walker is just plain vile and heartless politics. It didn’t begin with Sarah Palin and the Tucson shootings and (I can confidently predict) it won’t end with this. What’s even more troublesome is the apparent willingness of the press to present this story as anything other than despicable.

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