The Brawler has long admired Milwaukee Magazine Editor Bruce Murphy's journalism. Indeed, it's ironic that Murphy got his start there under Sykes, given that he has far surpassed his boss in accomplishment.
So, the Brawler was looking forward to seeing what Murphy would say regarding the disclosure that Jessica McBride had an affair with Milwaukee police chief Ed Flynn. Murphy published it today. A few thoughts.
- If the timeline as Murphy presents is correct (i.e., no affair until after the story ran, big questions the the MJS as to when it happened) -- and the Brawler has no reason to question it -- then Dan Bice did Milwaukee Magazine and Murphy a great disservice in his characterization of the magazine's response in his original story. (Jessica McBride could have clarified to the JS when the affair first started -- i.e., after the story was published -- but she chose not to. Which didn't do Murphy any favors.)
- I don't see a compelling reason for Milwaukee Magazine to distance itself from the story if in fact the affair started after the story was written and published.
- I don't think Murphy had any compelling reason to believe that anything untoward was going on (though I think he puts undue weight on her pushing him to include "negative" quotes as proof she wasn't smitten at the time of writing. Jessica has shown a willingness to compartmentalize over the years. Trying to make a story stronger by including negative quotes doesn't contradict having a crush on the object of the story. She could be trying to overcompensate. Or she could think the attacks make him seem more noble, etc.(And this assumes there was no communication going on between Flynn & McBride that Murphy doesn't know about.)
That said, I think Murphy's response falls short on some counts.
- "It’s always tempting to publish something like this – if there is a public policy issue at stake. Bice, however, offered no evidence the affair has in any way detracted from Flynn's performance as police chief." That's true, but that doesn't make it less newsworthy. At a minimum the affair made him a blackmail risk (paging Archbishop Weakland). Given the job of cops is to find stuff out and it's a gossipy bunch, it's quite likely the dalliance could have come to light internally and become a sort of wink-wink nod-nod bit of gossip that corroded his moral authority. And the fact that someone was aggressively pushing news of the affair likely suggested to the MJS that this was going to be a story, one way or another. this revelation surely meant that someone was trying to actively undermine him -- something the JS no doubt had to weigh. A month-old affair may not have detracted from his performance, but it ultimately and quite realistically could have (not that Bice tried to make that argument.) Or should journalists ignore stuff like this until it completely blows up with wide-ranging implications.
- "Typically, once Milwaukee Magazine does an in-depth story on someone like Flynn, we’re unlikely to ever feature him again. McBride, of course, would have been honor-bound to disclose her relationship with Flynn had we ever asked her to cover him again. That’s when the issue of a conflict of interest would have arisen." This doesn't pass muster. While MM may have been unlikely to "feature" Flynn, it quite likely would cover a crime issue in the future in which the chief or the MPD would play a role or have a stake. And McBride would potentially be given that story. And, as the Brawler noted earlier, McBride's May 30 column for the Waukesha Freeman denounced legislation requiring the collection and reporting of traffic stop information -- I'm betting Flynn's not a fan of that. As for "honor-bound," I don't think that enters the picture.
- "Back when I started running McBride’s stories, I heard from liberals who were upset, as McBride is a conservative commentator. My only concern, I told them, is how good a reporter she is." When McBride did a story about Gary George's connections to a Hmong group charged with planning terrorist attacks in Laos, my concern was that McBride had publicly advocated for the plotters on her blog and in her Waukesha Freeman column (not disclosed in her story). My concern was that she whitewashed Vang Pao, the anticommunist Hmong leader who was charged in the case, as some noble hero when there's more than credible evidence suggesting he was a war criminal,a drug trafficker and a scam artist -- shoot, Murphy just had to ask his buddy Marc Eisen about that! My concern was that she smeared the reporting (as opposed to honestly contest and engage) of Arthur McCoy, who risked life and limb during the Vietnam War to report on Vang Pao's connection to the heroin trade. None of these concerns had anything to do with the fact she was a "conservative." They had to do with my concern that she was an unethical journalist. (Yes,the Brawler realizes Murphy may be talking about other "liberals."
Murphy asks readers whether he should cross her off his list. I'm suspecting he's already made a decision.
Just in: Illusory Tenant offers Jessica McBride a journalism lesson.