It’s time to bitch about stuff and today WKOW, the Madison-based ABC affiliate, is the object of my derision. They missed their mark when they covered the shortcomings of Wisconsin’s Consumer Protection Agency. Now, their story is about 2 months old which is around 10 years in internet time, but this has been bothering me ever since. Be sure to read their supplementary story about Consumer Protections internal e-mails. Really riveting. Now on to the bitching.
This article seems to be nothing more than some abrasive “gotcha” journalism that really bothers me. I get the whole idea of hooking readers by proving how Consumer Protection is not paying attention when you complain. But that just isn’t the story.
There’s a human element to this story that is only glossed over and hinted at. The fact that this department has faced some budget cuts is thrown in near the very end of this story but that fact is where the real story begins. I know this because my brother-in-law was an investigator for this department.
There used to be fully staffed Consumer Protection offices located around the state, but with budget cuts, they all got closed and the investigators were given the option of losing their jobs or taking some openings at the Madison office. My brother-in-law chose to work at the Madison office, leaving his wife and two young kids in Appleton, two hours away.
He commuted back and forth a couple times per week and spent many nights in the spare bedroom in my apartment so he could keep his job. A lot of his friends were doing the same thing, and maybe still are, except they had to stay in motels, which is not a cheap thing to do.
I’ve met some of these guys. They were smart, realistic people who loved their job. They were paid to be the good guys fighting the bad guys. It was rewarding. They cared.
After a few months, my brother-in-law accepted a job near Appleton with the Department of Workforce Development. He never intended to uproot his family. His wife had a decent job and there was a great family support system from both sides of the extended family. That came first.
But deep down he hated leaving that job. It was obvious in his tone when he announced to me one night that he got a new job. It grew more apparent even as we paid lip-service to the benefits of taking the Appleton job. He was a crimefighter helping people who got screwed over by assholes. He didn’t want to leave that. Who would want to? But he had to.
I asked him one night when he got to my apartment, back when he was still working in Madison, what effect the economy had on his work itself, aside from the state cutting a lot of the department’s money. He talked to me about how the amount of shysters had increased greatly. With jobs becoming scarce, more people were willing to lie and cheat to get cash–to feed on the desperate or to ease their own desperation.
Basically, just when the people of Wisconsin needed their heroes the most, their rip-off sleuths, the state was clipping their wings.
It is this complete disregard for the real tragedy at Consumer Affairs that pisses me off about the WKOW story. The purpose of their story seems to be to outrage the public about the department’s handling of cases. If there’s outrage to be had, it’s against a state that can’t prioritize where its funding should go. Of course, cuts to services had to be made by the state, but they needed to put more thought into where those cuts came from.
And the supplementary story about the department’s internal e-mails is just a huge joke. Really. Of course two people in an office are going to crack jokes about some asshole reporter aggressively trying to screw them. There have been a lot of cuts so of course they are going to be less than thrilled about spending their time putting all their records together.
Oh, I’m sorry. You thought they’d be thrilled about it? Mike McCabe can say what he wants about responding to public records requests being a part of their job, but the fact remains that doing so does take them away from the actual service they try to provide. Plus, using Mike McCabe for a quote is just lazy reporting. I covered Madison news for just 2 short years, but even I know that when you want a sensational quote about anything regarding government, you go to Mike McCabe. He’s ust a quote machine and if you get past the sensational tone of his quote it doesn’t really add anything of substance to the story.
Plus they describe some claim in one of the e-mails and refute it like it’s some lie made up to fool the public. The problem is that the e-mail was intended for a co-worker and was not meant for the public. Who was this person trying to fool? No one.
Lastly, consider this–who doesn’t send informal, relaxed e-mails to coworkers? I’ve seen the shit my dad and his coworkers send to each other and it is just vile. The communications director for any public department works with the rest of the department to plan the best way to handle the media and the shit WKOW published is pretty run-of-the-mill and is going in all governmental departments. I know this because I do this for a living right now.
Here is the e-mail my brother-in-law sent me on his last day as an investigator for Consumer Protection. You cannot convince me this comes from someone who doesn’t care.
“My BIG case finally gets filed on my last day:
These sob’s were running a travel club membership scam 1st in Milwaukee and then in Grand Chute. WI Consumer Protection received $250,000 in complaints from victims, so far. Check out the Complaint in the link. Then find the Funseekers BBB report. Then find the Bailey & Associates BBB report. Then google “Funseekers Vacation Club scam” or “Phoenix Vacation Club scam” or “Castaways Vacation Club scam”. Positive posts will be plants. Multiple states. Been at it for years. Millions(!) of $’s in total losses. I got ’em though. Me. Bastards.”