Over the past week we have heard stories of Wisconsin newspapers disciplining employees for signing petitions to recall Scott Walker. The common excuse for for the newspaper to discipline their employees is that it is a violation of ethical standards. Gannett newspapers posted this when discussing the supposed ethical breach:
We will remain free of outside interests, investments or business relationships that may compromise the credibility of our news report.How is signing a recall petition different from voting? The only unethical behavior I see here is on the part of the employer. Signing a recall petition, putting up a yard sign, signing a candidate's nomination papers or joining a campaign rally are not ethical breaches and they are not even mentioned in the code of ethics above. It is about being a citizen of the United States of America and participating in democracy. I find it shameful that Wisconsin newspapers are hiding behind an ethical wall when what they did was unethical in the first place:
We will maintain an impartial, arm’s length relationship with anyone seeking to influence the news.
We will avoid potential conflicts of interest and eliminate inappropriate influence on content. [...]
A Gannett journalist can’t uphold these principles, and at the same time post a candidate’s sign in the yard, or sign a candidate’s nomination papers, or join a campaign rally, or sign a petition advocating a recall election.
"We were surprised and disappointed," editor John Smalley said of finding the staff members' names by searching a database of signatures at iverifytherecall.com. "We apologize to our readers for the lapse in judgment by several staff members.First off, the General Accountability Board should have never released the recall signatures. They should have been considered the same as a vote is considered, private. Second, why is an employer searching this database, set up by an outside entity no less, for employees who signed the petition? Talk about a breach of ethics. Third, as one of your readers, I would like an apology for your lack of judgment in searching the recall petitions for your employee's names.
What is to stop an employer with right-wing leanings to now go through the recall petitions and fire anyone who signed the petition? Wisconsin is an "At-Will" state so an employer can fire anyone for anything. That is my greatest fear about the release of the petitions and verify the recall putting them online. That someone will retaliate against people who signed the petition. They could do this by firing people, harassing them, disciplining them—all for participating in democracy.
This is not just about what these newpapers did. No employer should be able to dictate to an employee what they do on their off time. No employer should be digging around in a recall petition to see which employees signed a petition and which ones did not. If recall petitions are fair game then what is next? Telling us who to vote for? Telling us we cannot vote?