Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No notes on a scandal

If the media likes a good scandal, then it loves a good sex scandal. More so, it would seem, when that scandal involves prominent politicians. Think back to the veritable media frenzy over President Bill Clinton’s dalliances with an intern, or Sen. Larry Craig’s wide stance in a Minnesota bathroom, Sen. David Vitter’s diaper fetish, or, more recently, Sen. John Edward’s extramarital affair. Why then would Wisconsin media completely drop the ball on a rather well-documented sex scandal involving the chairman of the Brown County Republican party and a minor?

Good question.

Donald Fleischman, said chairman, was charged back in 2007 with two counts of child enticement, two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a child and a single charge of exposing himself to a child. His court date is set for the third day of the upcoming Republican National Convention, September 3. The incidents upon which the charges are based allegedly took place in November of 2006. That leaves a full year between when the police initially intervened and when charges were filed.

Records of the various police visits and the reasons for them were public, but no media outlet picked up on them or the subsequent charges, in open court, until local bloggers began pushing the issue with the help of morning radio host Lee Rayburn.

Let’s take a look at the time-line of events, as provided by the court (view full criminal complaint here):
  • Nov 3, 2006 – ACO (minor 1) moves to Ethan House, a home for troubled boys.
  • Nov 5, 2006 – ACO and second teen, visit Fleischman’s home at 1121 Goodell St.
  • Nov 17, 2006 – Second teen re-visits Fleishman, who offers haven if the boys run away.
  • Nov 18, 2006 – ACO goes AWOL from youth home.
  • Nov 19, 2006 – Green Bay Police find sixteen-year-old ACO, wearing only a tee shirt and underwear briefs, hiding in the walk-in closet in the upstairs of Fleischman’s home at 1121 Goodell St.
  • Nov 22 and 29, 2006 – ACO tests positive for THC, both times. After the second test, ACO visits Fleischman.
  • Nov 30, 2006 – ACO runs away to Fleischman’s 1121 Goodell address, which is literally across the street. Fleischman takes ACO to an Appleton motel, where some of the alleged misconduct occurs.
  • Nov 31, 2006 –Fleischman takes ACO to a family cabin in Goodman for the weekend.
  • Dec 8, 2006 – Green Bay Police officers Reetz & Allen remove the teens from Fleischman’s home.
  • Dec 11, 2006 – ACO gives deposition, stating his recollection of the events and allegations against Fleischman
  • Sept 7, 2007 – Nine months later, one misdemeanor and four felony charges are filed against Fleischman. These include child enticement, giving drugs to children, and sexual activities with children.
  • Sept 28, 2007 – Defense attorney Jeffrey Jazgar enters as counsel. Defense agrees to motions with stipulation that Fleischman move from proximity to the youth home within 90 days.
Despite the court case being open, and details of the various police visits to Fleischman’s home being accessible online, no media outlets reported on the situation during the course of events described above. That began to change in October of ’07, when local blogger goofticket stumbled across court records of the case. According to Daily Page forum poster BobArctor, the following timeline of events then played itself out:

Oct 10, 2007 – 9:59pm, Case is posted on local forum by goofticket. At 9:59 pm, I verified that the information all checks out according to online court and election records. Yes, another Republican officer is being charged with man on boy action. It’s taken as amazing there is no coverage.
Oct 11, 2007 – At 7:20 am, I call in the open line to Lee Rayburn’s show on 92.1 The Mic, our local Air America affiliate. Deliver an on-air rapid-fire bit about the local Republican man-on boy scandal that nobody knows about. At 7:50, Rayburn is referring to it as “alleged scandal” because he can’t find anything online that fast to verify it. Rayburn is doing a promo at the local music palce [sic] that evening. I delivered the hardcopy of court and election watchdog documents. While I’m doing that, forum poster Hawkeye, is emailing the Green Bay Press Gazette, asking why they haven’t covered the story. Forum poster goofticket, has called the Brown Co. Republican Party, who says yes, that Fleischman is the chair of the local party.
Oct 12, 2007 – 7:50 am, Lee Rayburn does several minutes on the story, citing the evidence and hammering the lack of coverage. The Green Bay Press Gazette, gets busy calling the Republican County office during the day, which now says Donald Fleischman has resigned and the know nothinnggg, notthhiinnnggg…
Oct 13, 2007 – The Green bay Press gazette prints the story. Their online post is listed as 9:23 am. The site WisconsinPolitics.com posts a detailed report at 9:36 am. Scribeboy posts it on DailyKos at 10:05 am. The Mic92.1, teases it over the air as a hook for Lee Rayburn’s show, at about 10:20 am.
The WisconsinPolitics.com report can be viewed here.

The Green Bay Press Gazette appears to be one of the only print outlets to have finally picked up the story (archives require paid membership to read articles), though it was a couple weeks after the charges were initially filed.

The initial trial resulted in all charges being dropped, after Fleischman and his attorney requested that the victim appear in court, which he did not (he’d apparently moved to another part of the state and was attending school at the time). The young man, who had been a minor at the time the alleged offenses took place, was then 18 and so Fleischman’s move made his name public.

The charges were re-filed by the Deputy DA, however, in February of this year. Fleischman has since entered a plea of not guilty, a warrant for the appearance in court of the victim has been issued, and a jury trial date of Sept. 3 has been set.

In the midst of all this, the Brown County Republican Party claimed ignorance of the proceedings. “We just learned about this this morning, and to our knowledge he has resigned his position. We don't know any other details," RPW spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski is reported to have said on Friday, October 12, 2007.

It appears as though the party was as in the dark about events as was the media.

Then, on November 29, the Associated Press reported that the state Republican Party had de-certified the county chapter “following its collapse over the resignations of 2 of its leaders and a lack of volunteers. The county's chairman Donald Fleischman resigned in September after he was accused of child enticement.”

Small notes have since appeared in the Green Bay Press Gazette about the case’s proceedings, but it’s noteworthy that nothing was reported prior to the blogger-raised alarm. Also worth noting is that it took a year from when the alleged activities took place before charges were filed. Why was this? For the media, police and court records were public from the get-go. Why did no one pick up on this, a major scandal involving a prominent, local public official? And why did it take so long for charges to be filed at all?

No one is currently making any answers forthcoming, but the whole episode speaks to the larger issues of both legal and journalistic responsibility. Bloggers and radio DJs shouldn’t have to do the jobs of our professional news sources, but I’m sure glad they keep at it anyway. Certainly the economic situation of many media outlets, especially more local ones, is partly to blame as staffing levels are cut and experienced reporters let go. But there seems to have been a steady decline in the overall breadth and depth of news reporting on the more national level as well, with outlets that enjoy far greater revenue and market penetration dropping the ball just as much. With the rise of 24-hour news channels, you’d think we’d be getting coverage of a wider range of topics. Instead, we see the same three stories recycled again and again, and too often they’re on trivial subjects.

Sex scandals shouldn’t be our national news priority, as they tend to be more personal matters than public. But once they involve legitimately illegal factors such as minors, lies, and non-consensual situations, they absolutely deserve public scrutiny and appropriate punishment. Usually, the media’s all over this sort of thing, but in this instance we have to ask: what gives?

(cross-posted from dane101.com)

16 comments:

Dustin Christopher said...

Niiice scoop. You better believe the media will know about it soon.

Emily said...

Thanks! I wish it was a big scoop (for purely selfish reasons), but other bloggers have beaten me to it. Plus, to be fair, various papers have at least mentioned the charges filed (albeit well after the fact).

It's not that I wish this had been heavily covered and/or sensationalized, mind you, just that I find it odd that it got nothing until bloggers pried it open.

Dustin Christopher said...

Honestly, that's more and more often the way it works lately, for better or worse. Look at the State Journal of late. Their editors follow what flows out on Dane101 very carefully, and if they see something newsworthy, they assign a reporter to it. It has its positives and negatives. The big negative is obviously how shortstaffed the media outlets in town are, but that's another issue entirely with its own roots. But one could argue that bloggers and their changing relationship to the newspapers have democratized the media a lot more.

At any rate, I agree it's strange that there hasn't been more coverage of this to date. That it was a blogger who broke the story signals a major failure on whoever the Press Gazette's court reporter is's part. You'd think he or she would have recognized a name like Donald Fleischman on the daily court intake lists...and I'm going to go out on a limb and assume this is "A Fleischman," related in some way to the Wisconsin northwoods liquor monopoly. But if the blogosphere makes enough noise going into this prelim, it will get media play.

Just, God save us if it turns into a sensation. We'll wish so fast we never even brought it up. Man, bloggers are tough to please.

Emily said...

We are a prickly bunch. ;)

Anonymous said...

I heard you on the radio this morning. I thought i would check out your blog too! Good stuff!!

Emily said...

Anon - Thanks, and thanks for stopping by! Don't be a stranger.

Geroge Hesselberg said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
george hesselberg said...

Geez. Edit thyself, George. This version, please, after deleting previous. Thank you.


I don't see a conspiracy here, but it's a great discussion on how these decisions are made. It's a news judgment, coverage question, and I tend to agree that it is of little interest outside of GB, Brown County and the Fox River Valley. A county party chair is low on the chart, too. The story has been flogged for quite a while. Sometimes these are passed, sometimes not. At the risk of angering the group of people who write each other complimentary notes and then gang up on anyone filing critical comment, this is not a scoop. (Dustin could look it up.) Just because its news to you, it is not necessarily news.
This could develop into a story, or a brief in the state digest. But a media conspiracy it is not. And, Emily if by "pry" it open, you mean access to public information/records was denied anyone, that could possibly make it of greater importance as a news story. That's a good hook.
I promised myself not to join these discussions anymore, but I like these topics and Emily writes well on them.
If you all could just stop congratulating yourselves all the time, it might be enlightening, too.

August 20, 2008 5:39 PM

Emily said...

George - Oh good, for a second there I thought you'd gone and changed your name. ;)

First, I appreciate that you do still take the time to come around here and comment.

Second, your point is taken. Again, I'm trying to be clear that I don't believe this deserved sweeping, state-wide attention. I do think, however, that it deserved at least a notice in the more local papers when it first happened (either when the police reports, which were public, were first made, or when the charges were first leveled).

The reason I brought it up now, other than the fact that his jury court date was set for the third day of the RNC, is because I believe it speaks to issues of local news coverage, law enforcement, and child protection. A case study, if you will.

Like I said to Dustin, this isn't a scoop by any means, just me attempting to put together a coherent time line for what happened, and to ponder aloud the reasons why things unfolded the way they did. Do I suspect some huge conspiracy? Not really. It's more likely a case of neglect, but I think that's worth discussing, too.

Michael Horne said...

I wrote a couple of posts about the issue at milwaukeeworld.com I sure expected more traction on the story. Thanks for keeping people awake.


Horne

milwaukeeworld.com/blog/2008_05_04_

Madison Guy said...

Emily, congratulations to you and the other bloggers. This is probably the shape of the future. As mainstream media continue cutting staff in the face of declining revenues and the shift to the Internet, we can only hope that bloggers in the aggregate can pick up some of the slack. Experienced, knowledgeable journalists like George are an endangered species, and we're losing a lot with the media layoffs around the country. Worse, media aren't nurturing new talent the way they used to -- probably a big reason some of that talent has turned to blogging. I hope bloggers continue to become more adept in ferreting out publicly available information, as they did here. Something has to fill the emerging media vacuum.

Dustin Christopher said...

G, as the old saying goes, it WAS news to me. And then through my ADD haze, I took a closer look and saw the dates attached to the timeline and felt way out of touch...

Of course, by then I'd already let the scoop genie out of the bottle. Guess I'm as quick on the trigger with congratulations as I am with criticism. Prudence is just an old lady name, as far as I know.

Nataraj Hauser said...

I contacted the Wisconsin State Journal after hearing Lee Rayburn talking on The Mic. After verifying that the records were indeed public, I asked why the story wasn't being picked up. I was told that it wasn't "local news" and "not that big a story". Further, the person responding (sorry, no longer have those emails) told me in no uncertain terms that Lee was a muckracker and tended to assert speculation as fact. My pointing out that the public records pretty well bumped it into the realm of "fact" was ignored.

So, the WI St.J knew about it, and still sat on it. To the best of my ability to search their archives they still have not mentioned this story. It's been raised in the Madison.com forum as well as the Isthmus forum. A google search turns up ONLY blogger coverage (at least through the first 5 pages of results). This story has legs ONLY because of bloggers. TGeorge H., the WI St.J *is* a state-wide paper, not just Madison, and there is a "Wisconsin" page in the front section. Just sayin'.

Yep, I heard you on the radio this morning too.

Nataraj Hauser said...

Should have been more specific. I contacted the WI St. J in October of 2007, not today.

Emily said...

NH - Thanks for the insight. I still don't believe the WSJ had any sort of obligation to print a big story about it. What I'm baffled by, however, is the complete lack of even a simple, short notice in any of the papers in this state. The Press Gazette didn't even touch it until weeks after charges were first brought.

It just seems like either a bad call on someone's part, or a total miss.

George Hesselberg said...

Hmm. I don't believe I made any sort of comment on whether or not the WSJ is a state-wide newspaper, so I don't understand the *is* emphasis of a previous message.

So, ahem, is every blog a "world-wide" blog? And if so, I am shocked that many bloggers ignored the story about the two 71-year-old Chinese women who applied to use a protest park during the Olympics and were sentenced to one-year hard labor for making the application. (This was covered in several Main Stream Media Outlets, but NOT in some of the main blogs here in Madison. The information was available. Clearly a conspiracy.

And,happy tooth-pulling, Emily.

George Hesselberg

The Lost Albatross