Sunday, July 10, 2005

A Tale Of Two Cities(' Newspapers)

It's true that I write an awful lot about F. Jim Sensenbrenner. Is he my congressman? No, thank goodness. The FBI would probably be living at my house, especially if I made a habit of going to his town hall meetings.

But this is also another in my continuing series on why the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sucks. Give a news organization a monopoply, and this is what you end up with, folks: anemic reporting, and cluelessness in the editorial boardroom.

Check out today's front-page story by Craig Gilbert:
Iron will brings perils, payoffs for Sensenbrenner
He defends leadership style by showing results

When Jim Sensenbrenner is making news, it often means one thing. Somebody is ticked off. Sometimes it's him. Sometimes it's the Democrats. Sometimes it's his own side. But to the powerful House Judiciary Committee chairman, that isn't all bad.

"It is very hard to make a difference and actually change things if you have a reputation of 'going along to get along' for everything," said the Wisconsin Republican in a long interview about his event-filled chairmanship.

"People who cave too early simply because they like to see more 'smiles' end up failing at actually making the changes I think everybody who runs for office wants to accomplish," Sensenbrenner said.
And so begins a relatively flattering piece on F. Jim. Really--I read the whole thing looking for the promised "perils." Seems the only "peril" is that he makes people mad. The story even includes a number of Democrats who must have been lined up at Craig Gilbert's door to praise the pompous jerk. "Oooooh, he's so even-handed," they say. "Aaaaah, he's so good at what he does."


Compare, now, the front page story in this morning's Chicago Tribune*:
Lawmaker prods court, raises brows
Demands longer term in Chicago drug case

In an extraordinary move, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee privately demanded last month that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago change its decision in a narcotics case because he didn't believe a drug courier got a harsh enough prison term.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), in a five-page letter dated June 23 to Chief Judge Joel Flaum, asserted that a June 16 decision by a three-judge appeals court panel was wrong. [. . .]

[Jay] Apperson, who is chief counsel of a House Judiciary subcommittee, argues that Sensenbrenner is simply exercising his judicial oversight responsibilities. But some legal experts believe the action by the Judiciary Committee chairman, who is an attorney, is a violation of House ethics rules, which prohibit communicating privately with judges on legal matters, as well as court rules that bar such contact with judges without contacting all parties.

Further, the letter may be an intrusion on the Constitution's separation-of-powers doctrine, or, at least, the latest encroachment by Congress upon the judiciary, analysts said.

David Zlotnick, a law professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island and an expert on federal sentencing law, said, "I think it's completely inappropriate for a congressman to send a letter to a court telling them to change a ruling."

However, Stanley Brand, a Washington, D.C., attorney and former House counsel, said: "I don't think it's appropriate, but I don't know if it rises to the level of an ethical violation. It's unseemly. It's not something members ought to do, but they do it. . . . The context is troubling."
The story goes on for three web pages, providing solid reporting and thoughtful and varied analysis--as opposed to Gilbert's puff piece. The Trib notes that the appeals court issued a revised ruling specifically to explain why F. Jim was legally wrong on the issue, and how F. Jim the whined to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the matter. The Trib also provides a long and disturbing section on the context of F. Jim's interference--the long list of Republican's efforts to poke their noses in from Congress on judicial matters over the last several years.

I wonder if maybe Craig Gilbert should re-think the flattery: He notes that F. Jim gets compared to a rottweiller or pit bull. Jackal is more like it.

[* Login to the Trib: kos@dailykos, dailykos]


Anonymous said...

Peg Lautenschlager (the drunken Wisconsin AG for those who don’t know) decided that the SCOTUS was wrong on the eminent domain case – she has scolded them as have several Wisconsin Legislators. They have committed the same evil sin as Congressman Sensenbrenner (who is also angry with the SCOTUS).

They should all shut-up and live with it – right? They have no right to speak, they represent nobody. Only the courts do… oh wait…. That’s not right… hmmm….

How dare they…. Err.. uhhh….

Jay Bullock said...

Mr. (or Ms.) Anonymous, if that is your real name, which I doubt, you'll note that there is nothing anywhere in the above text about eminent domain. There is nothing in there about matters of broad judicial and legal philosophy. You had better save some of that straw for some other liberal blog you plan to troll!

This is all about Republicans--including a drunk (on his own power, natch) F. Jim--meddling in petty court cases concerning individuals either because of their power fetishes or their political showboating. F. Jim almost certainly violated Wisconsin Bar ethics rules in his ex parte with the appeals court and was rebuked by them--in a specially issued revised ruling just for the occasion--for citing bad precedent in his letter.

Instead of writing about this kind of sophomoric viciousness, his hometown paper instead chose to emphasize his steadfastness. Therein lies the true injustice.

Anonymous said...

Troll - Me? No. Of course not.

Matt said...

The Tribune article was an interesting read; thanks for the link. It's a shame that in Milwaukee we have a monopoly on our media -- the only outlets which do any type of research at all are all owned by the Journal Communications Group.

Ironically, I doubt that Charlie Sykes was complaining about the "liberal bias" of the Journal in the terms of this story!