Because why not

I wrote yesterday about the Wisconsin GOP's response to UW Madison Professor William Cronon's criticism of them: they requested his emails in an open records request.  One naturally wonders why anyone would be interested in his emails when he has been very upfront about his criticism.  Thankfully, the Wisconsin GOP has provided a reason:

"Like anyone else who makes an open records request in Wisconsin, the Republican Party of Wisconsin does not have to give a reason for doing so.

"I have never seen such a concerted effort to intimidate someone from lawfully seeking information about their government.

"Further, it is chilling to see that so many members of the media would take up the cause of a professor who seeks to quash a lawful open records request. Taxpayers have a right to accountable government and a right to know if public officials are conducting themselves in an ethical manner. The Left is far more aggressive in this state than the Right in its use of open records requests, yet these rights do extend beyond the liberal left and members of the media.

"Finally, I find it appalling that Professor Cronin seems to have plenty of time to round up reporters from around the nation to push the Republican Party of Wisconsin into explaining its motives behind a lawful open records request, but has apparently not found time to provide any of the requested information.

"We look forward to the University's prompt response to our request and hope those who seek to intimidate us from making such requests will reconsider their actions."

The only explanation I can think of for requesting Professor Cronon's (yes, they misspelled his name) emails is to make him and others think twice before criticizing the GOP in Wisconsin.  Intimidation, in other words.  I think this first because Cronon is not exactly a "public official" in any ordinary sense.  He's a public employee doing his job as a historian.  Second, even though the GOP isn't (so far as I know) legally required to offer a justification, given Cronon's status as a critic of GOP ideas, one naturally thinks that the GOP has a moral obligation to offer a justification for changing the subject from ideas to persons.  Finally, the GOP spokesperson here, in responding to obvious and justified queries about their behavior, goes for the full red herring in wondering why we aren't talking about the very intimidating and non-compliant Cronon.  That's the tell.    

3 thoughts on “Because why not”

  1. Prof. Cronon made one point in particular in his blog post about the FOI "request" that was especially striking to me because it was so obvious once he said it, but I had completely missed the problem until he mentioned it: The sweeping nature of the GOP "request" includes emails from his students, which constitutes a direct violation of FERPA regulations. So quite aside from the in principle objections to this blatant attempt at intimidation, there is the enormously practical fact that, were the university to comply, they would be opening themselves up to some fairly devestating lawsuits.
    Wisconsin's FOI laws and national FERPA regulations stand in a very direct contradiction of one another. Yet even a casual acquaintence with the law would seem to indicate that federal laws would take precedence. None of this is likely to matter to those whose only interest is in fabricating this intimidation in the first place; "fabricating" being the operative word, it works just as well when it comes to manufacturing public opinions in defiance of actual facts as it does with anything else.

  2. That's right Gary.  The intimidation isn't directed only at Prof. Cronon–one might imagine others thinking twice before speaking up.  Most people, in fact, have probably been less scrupulous with separating their personal and professional emails–opening them to the ludicrous but completely predictable charge of "abusing state resources."

  3. Wisconsin Rep, Party is making an example of themselves in response to Benjamin R. Barber's article in "The Nation", titled "America's Knowledge Deficit".  Can't even spell Prof. Cronon's name correctly.

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