Combining confirmation bias, whereby any uncomplimentary rumor about one’s enemy is assumed to be true, with “ends justify the means” political warfare philosophy, can banish all fairness and honesty from political campaigns. Spreading slanderous falsehoods about candidates for office is as old as the United States, but the internet and social networking sites, along with the increasingly irresponsible news media, allow the unethical tactic to be more effective, and sinister, than ever.
Now, fearing that the vengeance of the public unions, as orchestrated by the Democratic Party, is going to fall short in tomorrow’s recall election in Wisconsin, the foes of Governor Scott Walker grabbed a manufactured smear about Walker fathering a love child 24 years ago, and have made every effort to make it viral. An anti-Walker website called the Wisconsin Citizens Media Co-op [“a group of citizen journalists who began covering the Wisconsin Uprising in February, 2011. We came from different walks of life, different professional backgrounds and different parts of the state to document the dismantling of democratic process and tradition taking place in our state under the right wing onslaught of the Scott Walker regime”] recounted a second-hand story by an anti-Walker classmate of the governor, who purported to have inside knowledge about his efforts to cover-up his impregnation of her roommate while he was running for class president (yes, this is another school days smear, like the Romney prep school episode. If you can’t beat ’em as adults, beat ’em as kids. That seems to be the current philosophy in both political camps. Phew!).
The source was a certain Bernadette Gillick. The site didn’t bother to check with the alleged mother of Walker’s “love child;” all the better to engage in the time-honored staple of the lying rumor-monger, the damning “what if?”. “If Bernadette’s story is true, Ruth – and eventually their child – were just a few of the people who got in the way of Walker’s quest for power,” the “scoop” concludes.
It took Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Daniel Bice a couple of phone calls to prove the story false. He tracked down and talked to Gillick’s freshman-year roommate, and she denied that Walker was the father of her child. She confirmed that she got pregnant as a first-year student, but said that Gillick is confused. Bice also showed that another source of the rumor had confused a family court suit involving a Scott Alan Walker and attributing it to the Governor, Scott Kevin Walker.
But never mind what the facts were; using rumors to mislead voters and steal elections has nothing to do with facts. Multiple sources and a wave of tweets used the fake story to impugn Walker in a desperate, last minute effort to turn the tide of what is looking like an embarrassing defeat for the unions and the Democrats. Among the users of the smear was the reliably unscrupulous Daily Kos, which bleated, “OMFG!!! Scott Walker’s got a love child ?!?!”
The public union assault and vilification of Scott Walker for doing his job as he felt was necessary has been unjustified and unconscionable from the beginning, and the recall has been exposed as a bullying tactic, attempting to undermine the electoral process. Unfortunately for his political foes, but fortunately for Wisconsin, Walker’s policies have improved the financial outlook in the state, though it has weakened the unions. With allies like Wisconsin Citizens Media Co-op, they deserve to be weakened.
Graphic: Games and Junk
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at email@example.com.