After WisconsinEye, a nonprofit public affairs cable channel, released a statement excoriating Planned Parenthood for using its footage in an attack ad against Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, Democrats and progressive groups have struck back at the organization’s leadership, accusing it of straying from its stated mission to provide nonpartisan reporting on the Legislature.
In his original statement, WisconsinEye President Jon Henkes not only criticized Planned Parenthood for using its footage in a political ad thinly disguised as an “educational ad,” but he asserted that the ad was inaccurate.
“The TV ad creates the false impression that Senate debate was inappropriately shut down by Senator Ellis,” he said. “What Planned Parenthood chose to show you was 5 seconds of a 39-minute Senate session, which followed a day-long debate of the issue in question. No one was shut down. All voices were heard.”
Democrats were infuriated by the assertion, which they called patently false.
“The 15 Democrats were totally shut down,” wrote Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, on Facebook.
“Since when is WisconsinEye the arbiter of what interpretation of legislative events is right,” asked Jenni Dye, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, on Twitter.
In response, Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, announced he would be meeting with Henkes to discuss his concerns about the statement.
The meeting apparently did nothing to ease the tension.
“It was two ships missing each other completely,” said Larson aide Justin Sargent. “They talked right past us.”
“We were alarmed that they did not acknowledge or address our concerns,” he added.
Larson released a statement asking the organization to withdraw its “biased, inaccurate press release.”
“When I saw your statement, I was reminded of the horrible Badger-Sun Devil referee call,” said Larson, referring to the controversial end to Sept. 14 football game between Wisconsin and Arizona State. “Unlike those referees, you have the opportunity to rescind your erroneous, biased, judgmental statement and work to restore integrity to WisconsinEye’s reputation.”
Reached by phone, Henkes said his organization had no further comment on the matter, and that it stood by its original statement.
Sargent said that Henkes told Larson that he would take the issue to the organization’s board, which is composed of a number of political veterans from both parties, although it currently appears to tilt Republican. As noted previously, the chair of the board, former Lt. Gov. Margaret Farrow, is a Republican. Her son, state Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Waukesha, was involved in the Senate debate in question.
The board includes billionaire Republican donor Diane Hendricks and Susan Mitchell, a major donor with ties to the school choice lobby.
Sargent expressed optimism that the board would take seriously its commitment to impartiality when assessing the controversy.
“I think this situation where they overstepped is an opportunity for them to show Wisconsin that they will take pains to be nonpartisan and objective,” he said.