The battle between the spokesman for the state Democratic Party and an online news organization escalated this week when one of its reporters was booted out of a party meeting in Madison.
Kirsten Adshead, a writer for the Wisconsin Reporter, said she attended a Democratic-sponsored training meeting on Tuesday night regarding the attempt to . The state Democratic party is holding meetings across the state to prepare for the circulation of recall petitions on Nov. 15.
Adshead told Patch that she signed up for the leadership training session online, gave her name and used her wisconsinreporter.com e-mail address. When she arrived at the meeting, she told volunteers that she was a reporter. After signing in, she entered the meeting unimpeded.
However, volunteers soon told her she had to leave and when she asked to speak with the person who made the decision, she was confronted by Democratic Party Communications Director Graeme Zielinski.
Adshead said Zielinski yelled at her to “Get out!” and to not “come to our party functions anymore.”
She said she planned interview attendees about their plans, why they were getting involved in the recall effort and what they had learned from the state Senate recalls this past summer. She said the registration form for the meeting said nothing about the session being closed to the media.
She’s correct, there is nothing stated barring the press, but Zielinski says that just proves Wisconsin Reporter is not a legitimate news organization. Instead, he refers to them as a mouthpiece for the Walker administration and the Republican Party.
“No legitimate journalist with a reputable news agency would even consider attending a political party training session,” Zielinski said. “The GOP would never allow the press to attend their meetings and we don’t allow the press to attend our closed meetings.”
He said if a journalist had called to inquire about attendance, he would have told them no. However, he would have arranged for the writer to speak to party officials, volunteers or potential petition canvassers about the recall process and many of the issues Adshead noted.
“I didn’t shout. I asked her to please leave, told her she was acting unprofessional and that members of the (Capitol Correspondents Association) would never behave this way,” Zielinski said.
Wisconsin Reporter State Bureau Chief Matt Kittle said this is not the first time Zielinski has attacked or threatened the organization or its writers. Nor is it the first time Zielinski invoked the name of the capitol reporters organization in his conversations with Kittle.
In August, Zielinski threatened to contact that 18 newspapers across the state that reprint Wisconsin Reporter content and tell them about biased reporting by the agency.
Zielinski said that wasn’t a threat and that the party is in the process of contacting the Kenosha News, the Wausau Daily Herald and other newspapers to let them know Wisconsin Reporter is a front for conservatives and funded by donations from The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the Sam Adams Alliance and others.
Zielinski denies telling Adshead that he would try to get her or her employer’s credentials pulled by the Capitol Correspondents Association, a group of journalists covering state government. Instead, he repeated that no legitimate journalist or member of the association would behave as Adshead did.
Zielinski added that the Wisconsin Reporter is biased against progressives and Democrats, considering who is funding it and the supposed “employment test” its writers have to pass to be hired.
“They ask about the journalist’s political beliefs, they ask about public policy opinions,” Zielinski said. “No legitimate news organization would ask that of its employees. I’ve was a journalist for 17 years and never heard of such a thing. They always write unflattering stories about progressive and Democrat issues. They are just trying to co-opt the mantel of legitimate news organizations.”
Adshead said she has been a working journalist for the past decade after receiving a print journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield.