ThinkProgress claims Wisconsin businesses on the defensive, fudges quote to help 

I go on the RussiaToday network fairly frequently because I like a good debate and the channel offers a variety of forthright leftist politics that makes MSNBC look centrist. On tonight's segment, I encountered Mike Elk, a self-described union organizer who has written for the Huffington Post and now, apparently, is a guest blogger at ThinkProgress.

I was stunned during our segment on the Wisconsin union protests when he said that a leader of a Milwuakee business association had said he refused to take a position on collective bargaining. I said that that was a gross misreading of what the guy said. It was only an informed guess because I couldn't imagine somebody from a local Chamber of Commerce actually backing off taking a stand against how collective bargaining is set up. So after the show, I asked Elk to provide his facts. He quoted in a tweet: "We have no position on collective bargaining" along with a link to his article (relevant paragraph below):

As a result of the protests, the business community is finding itself on the defensive. Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce President Tim Sheehy would not commit to giving support to strip collective bargaining from public employees in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio. Sheehy said “It’s fair to discuss the narrowing of collective bargaining, whether we throw it out the window is not something we take a position on”

On the defensive? Here's the relevant portion of the interview which I transcribed:

…I don't think this is fun or exciting for anybody. This is reality. I give the governor credit for taking leadership here. I mean, we can talk about the details about this, I think there's some flexibility. We've got to stop kicking the an down the road. We've as a state raided every segregated fund we can find. We've taken one-time money to pay down ongoing expense.

And this is an issue that's very difficult. I don't know an employer that hasn't gone through this. It isn't fun but I think it's necessary to get the state on a firm fiscal path. So as your previous caller identified Wisconsin can continue to grow.

Host: And where is the flexibility?

…The economics of asking employees to pay more for their health care I think is always challenging. But I think when people pay for their own health care, we're going to have a better chance of impacting the cost of health care. I don't think it's unreasonable to require some sort of contribution toward a pension. I think where the flexibility here is the whole issue of collective bargaining and whether this is a necessary step for the state to take. It's certainly seems to me that it's gotten the employees and their unions to the table agreeing that they're willing to take some of the health care costs and pension costs on their own.

And over the years I think, I know especially at the local level collective bargaining has spread way beyond wages and benefits. So I think it's fair to discuss the narrowing of collective bargaining. Whether we throw it out or not is not something we've taken a position on.

That's the local chamber official being on the defensive? He just defended the governor, even applauded him, and addressed the issue of needing to narrow the scope of collective bargaining. When I called it a dishonest misquote, this is what he said (I have screenshots, too, should the links magically stop working):

Mike Elk

@JPFreire dishonest is you taking money for union busting from the billionaire Koch bros and trying to pass urself off as a journo #notmywi

31 minutes ago Favorite Retweet Reply

Uh. Oh, and then he followed with this:


@JPFreire ps it's a Friday night what the f*** are u doing at home?

28 minutes ago Favorite Retweet Reply

So I said that I'd transcribe the interview and expose the quote as a fraud.

Look, it's great that Elk is following this issue, even feeling so passionate about it. But he does himself a disservice when he knowingly misquotes someone both on television or on his blog just to win an argument, and then starts making ad hominem attacks. I hope he issues a correction. (Quick addendum: If/when he does, I'll be happy to update this to reflect that he recognized his error and owned it.)

About The Author

J.P. Freire

J.P. Freire is the associate editor of commentary. Previously he was the managing editor of the American Spectator. Freire was named journalist of the year for 2009 by the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). You can follow him on Twitter here. Besides the Spectator, Freire's work has appeared in... more
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