The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Police Chief Ed Flynn will meet with the Common Council’s Public Safety Committee to discuss the much-debated crime data. This comes after a very public dispute between Flynn and the paper over its reporting of misclassifications of more than 500 serious assaults.
The crime data is not the only area of contention between Flynn and the paper. He has also taken issue with their coverage of the way his officers handled the investigation of teenager Darius Simmons’ shooting.
Flynn had a prickly dispute with a Journal Sentinel reporter that was captured on camera. He then turned to a friendly venue to vent his frustrations. Speaking with conservative radio host Charlie Sykes, not exactly a supporter of the “mainstream media,” Chief Flynn went on a bit of a tirade.
"I believe there is an effort to mislead the public about crime in this city, but it's not us,” Flynn said. “It's the Journal Sentinel.” He added, "They (The Journal Sentinel) are doing everything they can to misrepresent the work of this police department to its community."
His anger is not surprising and Flynn is hardly the first prominent city official to spar with the media. It is safe to say that Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is no fan of the Journal Sentinel.
An acrimonious relationship with the media is not limited to law enforcement. Milwaukee Public Schools has not always been pleased with its media coverage. In fact Flynn and MPS probably see eye-to-eye when it comes to complaints regarding media coverage of their respective institutions. It feels like only negative stories receive any attention.
There are some who believe the Journal Sentinel is unfairly attacking Flynn. Urban Milwaukee’s Bruce Murphy penned a piece earlier this week titled "The War Against Chief Flynn." He writes that “the newspaper has lost all perspective on Flynn, and is engaged in gotcha journalism that’s intended to undermine him.”
The Journal Sentinel claims it is serving a vital function as a community watchdog when reporting on issues such as crime data errors. They are right. Its readers can make up their own minds regarding the seriousness of misclassified data and crime rates. They can decide whether or not the police were insensitive while investigating the Simmons shooting.
What’s important is having media outlets that scrutinize powerful institutions. Think about what New Orleans is going through at the moment. Their venerable newspaper, the Times-Picayune, cut one-third of its staff and will limit printing to three days per week. In 2006 it received two Pulitzer Prizes for its reporting on Hurricane Katrina, for public service and breaking news coverage. Going forward will it be possible for them to continue serving as a vigorous community watchdog? If they are unable to, who will fill the void?
No one is ever going to be completely happy with any media outlet’s reporting. No matter how uncomfortable it makes Flynn or Clarke or MPS, the local media needs to ask tough questions, investigate contentious issues, and not worry about their popularity. In fact, when angry rhetoric is heaved in their direction, it probably means they are doing something right.