In the middle of the night a key committee of Wisconsin's Legislature did something petty, vindictive and un-American.
No, I am not talking about the budget committee's decision to reject federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage, meaning Wisconsin taxpayers will pay $119 million more to provide 85,000 fewer people health insurance. To those 85,000 the committee essentially said "tough luck." But when the lobbyists for the hospitals squawked about how rejecting the federal health insurance expansion would end up harming their bottom line, the budget writers promptly added $73.5 million to the spending plan to compensate them.
That was done during waking hours.
When most everyone in our fair state was sleeping, the committee added language to the state budget that simultaneously assaults both press freedom and academic freedom.
The amendment prohibits the UW Board of Regents from permitting the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism to occupy any university facilities, and prohibits UW employees from working with the Center.
The Center is doing award-winning watchdog journalism and has broken numerous important stories, including the physical altercation between two members of the state Supreme Court. At a time when the Capitol press corps is shrinking and the journalists are vastly outnumbered by the swarm of lobbyists prowling the halls on behalf of special interest clients, Wisconsin needs innovative nonprofit news organizations like the Center for Investigative Journalism now more than ever.
The Center is being attacked because it is doing a good job of serving the public's need to know what is going on in our government. The Center is being attacked because there are people in high places at the Capitol who don't want media scrutiny of their actions.
In addition to the Center's reporting, it has forged a terrific partnership with the UW's School of Journalism to help train the next generation of journalists. The Center provides paid internships to J-School students and gives them practical experience and mentoring. Some of those students are among the Center's award winners. Telling the UW it can have nothing to do with the Center is not only another creepy attack on the university and the academic freedom of its employees, it is a huge disservice to the students.
This past week has been a bleak one for democracy in Wisconsin. First, legislation was put on a fast track to make it harder to vote and easier for special interests to influence elections and easier for the governor to stack the agency charged with overseeing elections and ethics. Now this attack on press freedom and the training of future journalists.
Is anyone awake out there? Does anyone understand what's being done here?