The 2004 TONY Awards

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

from the December, 2004 issue of The Valley Scene

Last July outside his Moscow office Paul Klebnikov became the 11th Russian journalist murdered in a contract-style killing since Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000. The American born Klebnikov courageously exposed corruption in Russian politics and business. In November the Committee to Protect Journalists recognized him posthumously for his refusal to be intimidated by the Russian thug-ocracy

Klebnikov wrote for Forbes Magazine, which in a tribute said about journalism in Russia: “In that country the dissenters and muckrakers have been pushed into the fringes of the media, working, for the most part, on the Internet and with very limited resources.” In an era of the Patriot Act and profit driven media, the situation for American dissenters and muckrakers is hardly healthy. As noted recently by Roldo Bartimole, legendary self-publisher of Cleveland’s muckraking “Point of View,” “Sacred cows, particularly corporate, are rarely the target of conventional media.”

In northeast Wisconsin, the Gannett press along with commercial radio and television place dollars before dissent. The region’s iron triangle of government, big business, and establishment media together marginalize muckraking not in sync with a narrow, corporate view of the world. Questionable development projects (often taxpayer financed) and CEO compensation packages escape rigorous scrutiny while the demands for affordable housing and food assistance increase every year.

This third annual TONY Awards column recognizes a few northeast Wisconsin media activists who in 2004 made some contribution to the cause of muckraking and dissent. The only prize I can offer the recipients is appreciation and the assurance that their work does serve the cause of citizen activism.

*Best Dissenting Television Show: Eye on Oshkosh” with Melanie Bloechl and Cheryl Hentz. For over two years, former Oshkosh Mayor Bloechl and freelance journalist Hentz have produced and hosted this hard hitting, uncompromising look at Oshkosh politics for the city’s public access television channel. Sporting trademark blue-collar denim shirts and politically incorrect vocabularies, these two life long Oshkosh residents shout the voice of the worker in the ear of the establishment. In 2004 Bloechl and Hentz provided the best coverage of local assembly races, providing each candidate an opportunity to make the case to the voters while peppering them with tough questions.

*Muckraking Op-Ed of the Year (Tie): “No Special Interest Left Behind” by Curt Andersen in the Green Bay News Chronicle and “Toxic Jim” by Rebecca Katers in FightingBob.Com In late January Governor Doyle came to DePere to sign the “Jobs Creation Act,” a sorry bipartisan piece of water and air quality degrading legislation opposed by every major environmental organization as well as attorney general Peg Lautenschlager and the Father of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson. Navy veteran Andersen’s piece is a scathing critique of the DePere visit: “It was ironic that Doyle, who referred to himself as an environmentalist during the gubernatorial campaign in 2002, would host the signing of this virulently anti-environmental bill at a paper mill on the polluted Fox River. It boggles the mind that Doyle and his handlers would not catch on to his slap in the face to the environmental community . . . Doyle commented that it was ‘fitting and proper’ that he sign this bill on the shores of the Fox River, which used to be a ‘sewer full of carp, but is now a healthy river.’ I am certain that people as far away as Two Rivers heard my jaw smack the floor.”

Becky Katers, Executive Director of the Clean Water Action Council (www.cwac.net), is a Fox Valley role model of muckraking and dissent. Her essay “Toxic Jim” is a startling expose’ of Governor Doyle’s truly horrid environmental record that is in many ways worse than “Toxic Tommy” Thompson’s. Writing for progressives who might support Doyle just because he is better than the alternatives, she says: “Jim Doyle is no friend of Wisconsin’s environment. He is just a politician. We must hold him accountable for his actions just as we would anyone else.”

*2004’s Vindicated Dissenter: Jeanne Anthony, WHBY radio. For years the establishment northeast Wisconsin press gave softball treatment to Winnebago County District Attorney Joe Paulus. Throughout much of that time, WHBY’s Jeanne Anthony tried, to no avail, to get local media news editors to take seriously the rumors of corruption in the courthouse. Often she felt her own career under threat. Today Mr. Paulus sits in jail, due in large part to Anthony’s persistence and willingness to allow Paulus’ accusers to tell their stories.

*2004 TONY Special Recognition Award: Tom Breuer, The Valley Scene. In July Tom stepped down as editor of the Scene. When last year muckraking Marquette University journalism professor Larry Soley told me he thought the Scene was better than Milwaukee’s alternative Shepherd Express, I gave all the credit to Tom Breuer. Tom’s much too humble to accept accolades, but the fact of the matter is that in his time as editor he rounded up a diverse group of columnists while himself writing a monthly column, News and Notes, and some powerful cover stories. The Scene is a critical space for northeast Wisconsin dissent, and I am forever thankful to Tom Breuer for allowing me to fill some of that space with my media ranting.

In memory of Paul Klebnikov, I proudly award a TONY to the aforementioned northeast Wisconsin dissenters.

[See the 2002 Tony Awards Here. The 2003 Awards can be found Here.]

Tony Palmeri (www.tonypalmeri.com) is an associate professor of communication at UW Oshkosh.