Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Tim Michels’ response to Sentinel piece reveals troubling attitudes toward free press

Trump Republicans demonstrate consistent hostility toward legitimate journalism, free press
Cait Gibbons

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a story Aug. 31 revealing the donation history of Republican governor candidate Tim Michels’ personal foundation. Some of these contributions included charity toward anti-abortion and anti-gay organizations.

In an inflammatory response, Michels said the article is a misrepresentation of his donation history.

I believe people should just, just be ready to get out on the streets with pitchforks and torches with how low the liberal media has become, Michels said in his response.


Nov. 8, Michels will challenge Gov. Tony Evers in midterm elections for an opportunity to form a unified government alongside the long-standing Republican legislature. Understanding the danger of this possibility requires a characterization of Michels as a political figure in general.

Michels values his identity as a businessman rather than as a politician, pointing to his experience owning a large construction company in Wisconsin. Deeply conservative, Michels has explicitly expressed anti-abortion stances and disapproval of same-sex marriage. He opposes stricter gun laws and wants to prioritize economic rather than social issues.

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But the most telling aspect of Michels’ political background? An endorsement from former President Donald Trump. And admittedly, the parallels between the two are impossible to ignore. 

Both figures tout a “political outsider” perspective that apparently places them in the ideal position to serve hard working, everyday Americans that career politicians can’t relate to. This argument is something of a fallacy, considering Michels does have experience in politics and has lost an election by a significant margin while using the “outsider” strategy.

An outsider platform also lends itself to skepticism of important democratic institutions, often to a dangerous extent. Trump called for efforts to “drain the swamp,” a failed initiative to improve the integrity and honesty of politicians in Washington. Michels has parroted this phrase, claiming an earnest responsibility to serve the public.

False claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election also represent skepticism of vital democratic institutions. After certifiably losing the presidency to Joe Biden, Trump refused to concede. Michels echoed Trump’s assertions of victory, casting doubt on the results despite having no evidence of significant fraud.

Trump’s view of the government is mirrored in his distrust of the media, even displaying hostile behavior toward publications, reporters and journalistic endeavors in general. Michels’ response to the Journal Sentinel piece reflects similar attitudes. Their consistent distrust conflates any negative media coverage with libelous attacks, delegitimizing the efforts of genuine journalism.

The media plays an important role in bridging the gap between politics and democracy. Simply put, free information encourages civic engagement. Quality journalism inspires mobilization, not only through education, but through explaining the stakes and giving people reasons to care about political issues.

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Journalists have a responsibility to investigate and inform. But what makes journalism an essential aspect in democracy is its ability to add something valuable to the news people consume on their own. Journalists also contextualize and analyze to provide information that means something in people’s lives.

Michels’ conservatism was no secret before the Journal Sentinel published its piece on his donation history. But they did reveal tangible, political moves Michels has made, shedding light on the reality of his political platform and what his governorship might mean for Wisconsin. 

Recent polls reveal that the majority of Wisconsinites support abortion access and same-sex marriage, two key points of contension from Michels’ charity history. Because these issues are important in Wisconsin’s political landscape, donations Michels has made that oppose such causes are relevant to many voters. 

Since much of the general electorate has conflicting interests with these donations, Michels’ reputation may suffer. Reporting on this is not an attack on Michels, he just doesn’t like it. 

Regardless, the incitement of retaliation against the media is entirely unjustified. Politicians cannot simply dismiss an important facet of democracy because it reveals truths that don’t suit their interests.

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Unfortunately, Trumpism has ravaged the political rulebook, redefining acceptable behavior within the context of a democracy. Disagreement, within reason, can balance competing interests and motivate engagement. But this is only the case if Americans can find common ground in valuing democracy enough to respect the outcomes it produces.

The legacy of the Trump administration is still being written as he continues to influence politics from the sidelines. With many Americans still infatuated with his populist antics, he has the power to disseminate undemocratic beliefs across the country as he handpicks candidates like Michels in state and national elections.

Trump’s undue influence has made him into something of a cultural phenomenon. But Americans have the ability to take away that power. He is not a deity but he is becoming increasingly untouchable.

Honest people with the best interests of the public in mind have no reason to fear an informed electorate. So we have to stop handing elected offices to Trump loyalists who seek to sabotage fair processes. Instead, we must support journalistic efforts to report on politicians’ controversial beliefs and let democracy run its course.

Celia Hiorns ([email protected]) is a sophomore studying journalism and political science.

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