Trust is critical in all professions. So are appearances.

But two developments in 2012 raise shocking concerns about trust and appearances in the rule of law and quality of journalism in Wisconsin.

Why? It appears in Wisconsin you can’t get a fair trial in nearly three dozen courts, and you can’t get objective reporting from a major news media company.

Lawyers are traditionally the butt of jokes. Now, 29 circuit court judges risk being similarly stigmatized in Wisconsin.

Fake news

For decades, journalists have been accused of having a liberal bias, AKA “fake news.” Now, there’s lots of evidence that tends to confirm the perception at least in Wisconsin – involving 25 Gannett Wisconsin Media journalists, including seven at the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

What do the judges and journalists have in common?

The 29 circuit court judges and 25 Gannett journalists signed political petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker. (He’s the former two-term governor, who was narrowly defeated for a third term in 2018.)

Yes, you read the sentence correctly. Twenty-nine circuit court judges and 25 journalists signed petitions that would lead to the recall of the governor.

Admittedly, I’m not a legal expert regarding the ethics of judges in Wisconsin. But as a lifelong journalist,  including broadcast journalist and later a media columnist (see my bio), I’m very familiar with the principles surrounding these disgusting acts of the journalists.

We’re not talking about just citizen journalists and bloggers. It’s an outrage and does harm to the professional image of journalists.

Good news

The good news is that the newspaper realized the dangerous implications from such actions of its journalists.

“It was wrong, and those who signed the petition were in breach of Gannett’s principles of ethical conduct,” wrote columnist Kevin Corrado on March 23, 2012.

“Our journalists are expected to provide you with the clearest picture of the news as it develops – with objectivity and impartiality,” he added. “And, as readers, you must be able to trust that your newspaper is providing you the most complete picture, without bias of any kind.”

Strangely, many of the journalists told their bosses they saw nothing wrong – that signing the petition was tantamount to casting a ballot on Election Day. Great, the journalists can’t connect the dots.

Further, the problem is much bigger than the ethics violations in signing recall petitions. People are consistent. If so-called professionals display questionable judgment and behavior in one area of their lives, they are guilty of similar behavior in other ways. Count on it.

So the petition signings raised questions about the cultures in Wisconsin courts and newsrooms.

Admission of Gannett ethics violations

Mr. Corrado indicated that the Gannett journalists violated six of 32 company policies:

» We will remain free of outside interests, investments or business relationships that may compromise the credibility of our news report.

» We will maintain an impartial, arm’s length relationship with anyone seeking to influence the news.

» We will avoid potential conflicts of interest and eliminate inappropriate influence on content.

» We will take responsibility for our decisions and consider the possible consequences of our actions.

» We will be conscientious in observing these Principles.

» We will always try to do the right thing.

Actually, the six principles are transferable and applicable for any sector or industry.

But questions remains: What about the 29 biased judges? What’s been done about their bias?

If Gov. Walker hadn’t won the recall election so convincingly, his opponents would have filed all kinds of legal objections. What then? The governor had the last laugh.

From the Coach’s Corner, here are trust-related resources for business:

“I never trust people’s assertions, I always judge of them by their actions.”

-Ann Radcliffe

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Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.