Unequal “Watchdog” Coverage of U.S. Senate Race at Journal Sentinel

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s so-called “watchdog” coverage of Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race this year has offered disparate and unequal treatment of the candidates to say the least. Under the “Wachdog” banner, self-described columnist Dan Bice probes for more in-depth scoops on politics and government, but since January of this year his coverage of the matchup between former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) and current Sen. Ron Johnson (R) has heavily scrutinized Johnson and mostly given Feingold a free pass.

At least ten stories about the U.S. Senate race or the contenders in that race have appeared in the Watchdog section of the Journal Sentinel since January 2016. Only two of those stories have focused on Democrat Russ Feingold, two of the stories focused on both candidates, and six of them focused on Republican Ron Johnson.

The two stories that mentioned both candidates were written early in the year; one mentioned the various donors supporting each candidate and the other discussed each candidate’s attendance at Senate committee hearings while in office. But even in discussing committee hearings attended – or not attended – by each candidate, the Journal Sentinel spent a significant amount of time criticizing Johnson and just giving a passing mention to Feingold.

“If you’ve seen U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson on TV or at a town-hall meeting recently, you’ve probably noticed something about him. Wisconsin’s senior senator has become Mr. National Security,” columnist Bice snidely quips in the story.

An April story on Feingold pointed out that the former Senator was the biggest beneficiary of his own Progressives United PAC, and the only other story that focused primarily on Feingold explained that the charge that Feingold was benefiting from a dark money group originally came from the Johnson supporters.

In June, the Journal Sentinel mocked Johnson for defending vaping and suggesting in the story that the real motive behind Johnson’s position wasn’t his commitment to free market principles but rather his relationship with a well-known talk radio host. “Republican Johnson, a nonsmoker who has appeared on McKenna’s show 35 times in the past year (twice as many appearances as his second favorite interviewer — conservative talker Charlie Sykes), said he was put on the vaping issue by a column on The Wall Street Journal’s website,” the paper reported.

Other stories, mostly penned by Dan Bice, criticize Johnson’s perspective on funding federal regulators, question Johnson’s work to figure out how the Orlando terrorist used Facebook to prepare for his attack, complain about a selfie someone took with the Senator, express astonishment that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would give a max contribution to Johnson, and briefly mention that Johnson’s office was going to release a report on mismanagement at the Tomah VA.

Not once has Dan Bice reported on Feingold’s contribution to Bernie Sanders in the months leading up to the tumultuous Democratic presidential primary, or Feingold’s name appearing in private e-mails released by Secretary of State Clinton, or Feingold’s remarkable flip-flops on national security issues in the wake of domestic lone wolf terror attacks, or his receipt of campaign cash from a pro-Iran deal political action committee shortly after he praised the deal as a great accomplishment of the Obama Administration.

As a columnist, Bice isn’t necessarily constrained by the same journalistic ethics that bind other reporters at Wisconsin media outlets, which perhaps explains his unwillingness to cover both sides of the U.S. Senate race.