Praise Where It’s Due

Flip around late-night cable some day and you’re likely to come across the film, and more importantly, the story which inspired a generation of people like myself to get into journalism. “All the President’s Men,” won numerous Academy Awards for chronicling The Washington Post’s efforts to cover the Watergate scandal which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

We’ve spoken to UW-Madison Professor Emeritus Stanley Kutler about the topic multiple times as he remains the foremost expert on Nixon today. In his book, “The Wars of Watergate,” he disputes the role of the media in bringing Nixon down, writing:

“As more documentary materials are released, the media’s role in uncovering Watergate diminishes in scope and importance. Television and newspapers publicized the story and, perhaps, even encouraged more diligent investigation. But it is clear that as Watergate unfolded from 1972 to 1974, media revelations of crimes and political misdeeds repeated what was already known to properly constituted investigative authorities. In short, carefully timed leaks, not media investigations, provided the first news of Watergate.”

However, to a slew of those of us who saw something magical in that story/book/film and in learning about Thomas Jefferson, who once wrote, “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost,” the Watergate story stands as the greatest example of journalism in modern memory.

Yet, I’m here to also tell you its by-products have not always been pleasant. You see every journalist since has entered into the profession seeking their own Watergate, whether it’s at the city, county, school board, homeowners association, state or federal level. They are sure there’s graft, there’s  corruption, there’s a misappropriation of taxpayer dollars and their careers will be defined when they find it.

What’s happened is that the industry as a whole has begun to see the proverbial cup as half empty and not half full. We seek out the negative  rather than celebrating the positive.

This is a long set-up to the purpose of today’s post which is to highlight something going very right in Wisconsin. According to data from fiscal year 2010  gathered by the Pew Center on the States, “states were $1.38 trillion short of having saved enough to pay their retirement bills” and even more importantly for us, the non-profit reported, “In 2010, only Wisconsin had fully funded its pension plan.”

Now, this information came out a few months ago and that, by definition, contradicts the root of the word news, that being “new.” But still, that fact continues to be celebrated throughout the global financial community, with insights, in theory, to be gleaned from the what we’ve done right. Wisconsin’s success is celebrated in the cover story of Institutional Investor this month with the reporter writing:

“It turns out that the Midwestern state best known for cheese and beer also has the best-designed and best-governed pension system in the U.S. The WRS’s ability to balance employer and employee gains and losses has sheltered Wisconsin from the pension problems that are running rampant in other states.”

I know it’s not the sexiest of stories and that it won’t bring down a public official like during Watergate, but for the 424,000 people who use the Wisconsin Retirement System, or one in roughly every 6 people in this state, that ought to be worth a little more than a mention. Sorry, I’d been delinquent in not pointing that out sooner in this space.


To those of you who may have followed my, at times tangential, musings over the last couple years, I thank you. This will be my final post on this blog as I’m taking a position running a newly formed Investigative unit at WISC-TV, the CBS affiliate in Madison.

The goal there will be the same as it’s been here: to make a difference where we live. I’d like to think we’ve accomplished that by traveling across the state over the last couple years to find out what’s on the mind of Wisconsin residents and in the more than a dozen Fact Check workshops we hosted at libraries around the state to teach people how to investigate the claims from those seeking their votes.

It’s been my pleasure to work for you here at Wisconsin Public Television and I will remain faithful to that cause as I go forward in the future.