As the Wisconsin State Journal reports, Graeme Zielinski is no longer the official voice of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. He was removed from his position as communications director and docked a week’s pay after three of his tweets last week compared Gov. Scott Walker’s legal defense to that of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
Many online continue to voice disbelief that Zielinski remains employed, apparently as a “media adviser.”
“I would like to know, along with many other people, why they think that our member dues should still be used to keep him on the payroll,” wrote Doug Cvetkovich, a Democratic activist and blogger who has clashed with Zielinski in the past.
Cvetkovich’s feelings are not unusual in Democratic circles. Elected officials and party operatives have regularly voiced their frustrations with Zielinski’s antics over the past three years to reporters, though usually not on the record. Progressive bloggers and activists were more open with their criticism, much of which provoked even more outrage from Zielinski, who often seemed eager to engage in online wars of words with the very people the party depends on to win elections.
Indeed, unlike other flacks who have gotten in trouble for an unwise utterance on social media, Zielinski seemed intent on provoking outrage with nearly every tweet he sent.
But Zielinski certainly had his defenders in the party. Jud Lounsbury, a former state party communications director, says Zielinski’s style is consistent with that of the “bad cop” flack who makes attacks that candidates for office don’t have to make themselves.
“In my opinion, Graeme has his faults, but overall he's been a great communications director for the party,” he says.
"And somewhere, high above the sky in an airplane far away from Wisconsin, Scott Walker is smiling," wrote Lounsbury on his blog.
Perhaps Walker is smiling, but not because Zielinski's firing means he has disposed of a significant political opponent. If anything, Republicans used to egg Zielinski on, believing his rants to be little more than self-inflicting wounds.
The media, which regarded Zielinski’s behavior with a mixture of bemusement, puzzlement and outrage, will miss him at least a little bit. On one hand, he could be counted on to deliver a much more interesting quote than the typical flack. However, after at least two appearances on TV and radio programs where he was reprimanded by hosts for refusing to respect rules, Zielinski found his air time limited by some irritated station managers.
And of course, media outlets will not miss the bullying they endured from Zielinski, who regularly accused journalists of incompetence and bias. After I wrote a story about him that he didn't like, he barred me from official party events and repeatedly falsely alleged that I had not tried to reach him for comment.
Robert Mentzer, editorial page editor for the Wausau Herald, summarized the conflicted feelings of many in the press in his column responding to Zielinski’s demotion.
“I don’t think there’s any good defense for Zielinski’s behavior but I also dread the boring political communiqués that are sure to follow in his wake,” he writes. “But I contradict myself. I dreaded Zielinski’s communiqués, too, because when everything is worse than Jeffrey Dahmer it is impossible to know which outrage to take seriously.”
Many will say the last straw was Zielinski’s tweet about Dahmer, a reference that is not taken lightly in Wisconsin — particularly not in Milwaukee. The real last straw, however, was the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s decision to run a story on the tweet. Finally, Zielinski’s behavior was summarized by a headline that didn’t simply annoy political insiders and amuse reporters, but shocked and outraged readers of all political stripes.