A number of people who have read the stories have questioned whether or not the person is really a democratic plant, why I chose to go with the story without having seen the documents personally, and why I haven’t turned him into the authorities. These are all very good questions and I have been addressing these issues through email, but I had to sort out my own thoughts a little before answering them publicly.
The short answer to the first question is: I know this person. He’s a professional acquaintance of mine that I’ve had numerous conversations with and he is a self-proclaimed Republican and TEA Party member. Both groups have denounced his actions and he was not under their direction when he collected the signatures. He told me there is a group of people on Facebook that have been talking about collecting and diverting/burning/destroying petitions. When I asked him about Operation Burn Notice, he said he had never heard of the group and didn’t know about it until I asked him about it.
So how do I know that he’s telling the truth since I didn’t see the petitions? I don’t. But I do know him, his words and his actions – and I can tell you he supports Governor Scott Walker and he laughed at the idea of people calling him a Democratic plant. Still, I wanted to build transparency in the story and let the public know that I asked to see the documents and he denied the request. I felt that was an important aspect to this story. I wanted you to know that yes, I have some doubts too.
But I also felt it was an important story to tell and here’s why. This wasn’t a political story, it's a story about the democratic process. And yes, I know some of you may disagree with that and you have questioned my journalistic integrity, but you can’t ignore the rhetorical implications of a body of people who are talking about undermining the democratic process by breaking the law in a public space like Facebook. So let’s say he’s not telling the truth; that he didn’t collect the signatures, or if he did collect them and really didn’t turn them into the recall committee. Let’s say everyone on Facebook that is talking about burning the petitions and not turning them in is also not telling the truth.
What do their words say about their faith in the democratic process? While I was working on this story, I could tell by the sound of my source’s voice that he was starting to question his decision in keeping the petitions. “How are you feeling about this decision morally?” I asked. There was a long pause. Then he said: “Well, I’m a Christian. And at first, my thought was that we had to play dirty, that we had to make sure the Union thugs didn’t even have a chance. The gloves had to be off.” Then he asked if he could call me back. A few hours later, he called back and said he had changed his mind, and that he would be turning the petitions in.
Why the change of heart, I asked?
Here’s what he said:
"It’s not the right thing to do, we should have known better. The whole thing wasn’t our idea. It’s something we just stumbled on and we did it, 24 hours later we realized that it’s not a good thing to do. I’ve been thinking about it and it’s just not right. But when I think about what’s been going on all year with the protests, and what this has been doing to people, families, and friends…is making normal people do really stupid things and feel stupid things. And it’s crazy. It's absolutely crazy."
I felt this was his most salient point.
So this leads me to my next point, my moral obligation as a journalist. Change of heart aside, he still admitted to me that he either participated and/or has knowledge of criminal activity. But I have no proof that a crime has actually been committed. Still, I am protected under Wisconsin’s Shield Law, which allows me to not disclose the identity of an unnamed source unless I am compelled to do so through the court or law enforcement. I also believe I have a moral obligation to protect his identity because I promised him that I would not disclose his identity. This may not be convenient for the Democrats, but I also believe in the promise that I made to him. If I wouldn’t have made the promise, then I wouldn’t have gotten the story and the story was, in my mind, important enough to bring to the attention of the Government Accountability Board.
Again, I don’t believe this story is about politics, being pro-Walker or anti-Walker. I do believe it says a lot about how polarized we are as a community, and as a state. But this story also serves as a token of how we’re feeling about the political process, what we’re willing to do insure that our political view prevails, how influential our emotions are on our behavior right now, how our conversations about politics have been perceived as failing, and how frustrated we truly are with one another.
So, where does this leave us? I’m still working with my source to see if I can verify that he actually turned the petitions in to the recall committee. And he said he’s willing to work with me to give me insight on how he came about this group of people that also claim they are collecting signatures and destroying/holding on to them. I don’t think this storyline is done by any means. But I hope this helps give you some insight into how I gathered this story, and the questions I’m working with as I move forward.
With that said, I also want you to know my coverage plan on this issue. There have been a lot of allegations pertaining to the recall election that are being made at this time by Democrats and Republicans outside of Caledonia. Please know that our website is a hyper-local news source. Caledonia Patch is committed to covering both sides of this issue as it pertains to our local residents. If you know of any allegations of fraud or any election issues about the recall going on from either side happening in Caledonia, I’m happy to report on it. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.