Fitting. Old nemesis AP dubs candidate Arthur Kohl-Riggs an “agitator”.


An Associated Press story written by Todd Richmond last week was headlined, “Political agitator gets enough signatures to challenge Wisconsin governor in recall”. The story first appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Later it would appear in numerous Wisconsin news outlets without an author’s name and with the title “Agitator gets enough names to challenge Walker”.

Arthur Kohl-Riggs is that “agitator”. I asked Arthur how he felt about his new title a couple of days after the article came out. (We didn’t even discuss the fact that Richmond said Arthur has been “prowling” the halls of the Capitol for the last year and a half. ) While I was hung up on “agitator”, he was not. He was more upset about being called a “fake Republican” by Richmond. He says he’s emulating the Republicanism practiced by turn of the century reformer Bob LaFollette. It is fitting that Arthur will use LaFollette’s political legacy to primary Walker. Wisconsin citizens didn’t have access to a direct primary until Bob LaFollette railed against the closed room deals that had been selecting all candidates previous to 1909.

It is also fitting that Wisconsin’s Associated Press staff paints Arthur in a negative light. They already have a negative history with Arthur Kohl-Riggs.

AP’s Scott Bauer and Todd Richmond – the very same author of that “agitator” article – had a hand in expelling Arthur from the ranks of the Capitol press corps, effectively ensuring he would have no ability to videotape the Wisconsin Assembly.

Arthur’s strained relationship with Associated Press and other mass media press covering the legislature began with his entry into the WCCA (Wisconsin Capitol Correspondents Association). Arthur got press credentials through local radio station WTDY in September of 2011. That status gave him the opportunity to be present on the floor of the Wisconsin State Assembly – a privilege that is granted only to the press as defined by the WCCA under the legislature’s rules. But Arthur’s time sheltered by the WCCA was short. When he videotaped arrests of citizens from the Assembly gallery, Arthur lost his press credentials in October 2011 and also lost his freedom to videotape in the entire chamber without constant harassment from police.

We remember the beginning and the end of any experience best. In the end, the Associated Press, through its agents Bauer and Richmond, advocated for expulsion of Arthur Kohl-Riggs from its ranks without even the courtesy of a formal vote.

Emails between Bauer and Richmond from this time are enlightening [below]. The two email notes seen below were sent after Arthur was arrested for filming in the gallery and were made available along with others to Wisconsin Citizens Media Co-op through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Bauer, Scott
Correct. He shows no regard for process and he is putting the entire statewide media’s access to the chamber in jeopardy. We need to act quickly to show some self respect and dignity. The vote is to revoke. Does anyone seriously want to argue otherwise?
Link to screen capture of original
[Scott Bauer is the vice-president of the WCCA.]

Richmond, Todd
I agree with Scott that Arthur, and, by extension, Sly, should have his credential revoked. I’m not sure if we need to be that formal about it. We all know which way the vote’s going to go. Let’s do it by email. The process permits them to appeal to JCLO [Joint Committee on Legislative Organization] anyway. Let them do that and put the legal bail in JCLO’s court rather than ours.

Link to screen capture of the original

Other emails reveal that not all WCCA members agreed and ultimately the matter was put to a vote, showing that at the least, Arthur’s expulsion was put through a process.

It is legal for citizens to record government meetings in Wisconsin by statute 19.90, but it is not permitted by Assembly rules. Arthur Kohl-Riggs was and is convinced that the Assembly is wrong.

The AP did not put out a story about the desire and legal rights of Arthur Kohl-Riggs or any Wisconsin citizen to record the Assembly’s government meetings. The AP did not even do a story on the arrest and removal of 18 camera-wielding citizens from the Assembly gallery even when one of those citizens was of a colleague in the WCCA: the editor of The Progressive, Matt Rothschild. Wisconsin State Journal reporter and WCCA Secretary Mary Spicuzza and Clay Barbour finally reported dismissively about Arthur’s video work. But only after he got footage of Joel Kleefisch voting 3 times [as was eloquently chronicled by Hematite at WCMC]. Mary Spicuzza is Secretary of the WCCA.

The Capitol press make their primary mission the protection of their own access to the legislative chamber.

Consider that this occurred in the same year that the Wisconsin state legislature received a 2011 Black Hole Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Is it time to use the adjective “complicit” here? Or was the AP just steering clear of trouble? If you think it was the 2nd act, then I will need to ask you one more question: when the hell did journalists decide it was their mission to steer clear of trouble?

There are no “inside agitators”.

I went on an admittedly amateurish google quest to figure out why I felt so sure that the adjective “agitator” casts a negative light.

I found that often “agitator” appears with the world “outside” as in “outside agitator”. This title was frequently applied to organizers from Northern states who traveled south to register black voters in the 60’s. According to SNCC volunteer Peter de Lissovoy, “outside agitator” was a hold-out term from the 1930’s. Lissovoy says “outside agitator” was just 1 of the titles ferociously flung at him by white southerners along with “communist”, “niggerlover”, and “freedom rider”.

Searching “outside agitator” also led me to the genius organizer Saul Alinsky- – the man Newt Gingrich recently popularized as he sought to turn him into a liberal boogy man and mentor of Barack Obama. How fitting it is that Newt would introduce me to Alinsky.

In an interview with Studs Turkel (below), Alinsky explained that his frightening reputation with the white establishment always assisted him as an organizer of the disenfranchised. Alinsky tells the story of when the KKK met him in their full regalia as his plane touched down in Houston. Because the KKK came out to threaten Alinsky with such vigor, the black community knew that Alinsky was their ally and they immediately welcomed him as a friend.

When Terkel introduces Alinsky as a “professional agitator”. Saul quickly corrects him:

You left off one word, Studs. Professional _outside_ agitator. You gotta be an outside agitator to begin with because agitators very rarely come up from the inside cause if you come up from the inside one of two things usually happen to you: either you get knocked off or you get co-opted.

By Alinsky’s reasoning, maybe AP has simply done Arthur a favor by introducing him to the state of Wisconsin with that alarming word: “agitator”.

Wisconsin agitators

Within Wisconsin, the term “outside agitators” has been used by anti-Walker folks. We’ve used it to describe the “troublemakers” that David Koch suggested Scott Walker add to the protest crowds [the man making that suggestion was really Ian Murphy]. When Walker said that many protesters were bused in from out of state, he did not use the phrase though many of us have accused him of calling us “outside agitators”. When conservative groups flew in Andrew Breitbart and Sarah Palin to speak to the Tea Party members on the Capitol square, I for one took mischievious pleasure in turning the tables. I called those paid mouthpieces “outside agitators”.

As dumb as you may think Scott Walker is, he is smart enough to avoid the loaded word “agitator”.

Is he an “agitator” because this primary thing is illegal? No.

Arthur Kohl-Riggs turned in 20% more signatures than were required to run as a Republican in the primary recall election against Scott Walker. In Wisconsin there is no formal registration or litmus test to prove you are in fact a Republican or Democratic Party member – not when you run for office or when you vote. In addition, there is nothing to stop a former Dem. voter from voting GOP in a primary in Wisconsin. Thus, a Wisconsinite can change political directions at a moment’s notice.

Some of Arthur’s supporters worry that he will not escape the title of “fake Republican” and he’ll suffer a penalty. They worry because on Thursday Dem. Party lawyer Jeremy Levinson filed an election fraud complaint with the G.A.B. and against the Republican party for entering fake Democratic candidates in the state senate, as well as the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s race. A similar complaint against 6 GOP-affiliated fake Dems went nowhere last year.**

Because I do approve of Jeremy Levinson in all other regards, I do not cherish writing this next statement: Levinson’s complaint is a confusing and pointless piece of pomposity that will go nowhere.

What is the point of Art’s run?

He does have a campaign statement at this link, but in my words: When Arthur set out to run as a Republican he did so with the dual purpose of educating Wisconsin about the roots of the Republican party in Wisconsin – where it began – as well as to stop the GOP from working the open primary system and possibly electing a fake Democratic party challenger named Gladys Huber.

Because Arthur Kohl-Riggs is running as a Republican for Governor, the Republicans will now have more reason to vote in their own primary instead of crossing over to vote for Gladys Huber in a Dem primary that appears to have 5 candidates [2 of them being serious contenders followed by a very strong 3rd]. With the entry of a candidate for Gov. in the GOP primary, there is reason to keep self-identified Republican votes on the Republican ticket. I know that the chance for Art to force Scott Walker out of his job on May 8th is slim and might arise only if, for example, particularly damning pieces of evidence emerge from the John Doe investigation that surrounds Scott Walker. If Art were to win on May 8th, on June 5th, Arthur Kohl-Riggs would be the lone GOP candidate appearing on the ballot to run against a Dem candidate in the general election.

In the AP’s eyes perhaps Arthur Kohl-Riggs had and still has absolutely zero standing. Perhaps they have no knowledge of the community of close to 30,000 Wisconsin facebook activists that share his page. Perhaps it was inconceivable to the WCCA that Arthur could come up with a team to collect over 2,000 signatures to run for governor of Wisconsin within 7 days and have his name exposed to an electorate of some 2 million people.

Arthur Kohl-Riggs decided he would not be put down and he would not be co-opted. Associated Press still needs to explain what they decided to do.

Facebook page Art for Gov

Main website of Arthur Kohl-Riggs

*On getting on the ballot: Arthur Kohl-Riggs turned in 20% more nomination signatures than needed to run for Governor of Wisconsin with only 7 days to collect the signatures. A fellow contender for the position could still attempt to file a legal challenge with the G.A.B. against the validity of the signatures but would need to do so before 5PM tomorrow Friday April 15th.

**Huber, Junkermann, Weix, Church, Buckstaff, and Smith

***Definition of agitator: agitator according to Merriam Webster is “one who stirs up public feeling on controversial issues “. Some admired Americans have been called “agitator”. Samuel Adams was considered an agitator by the British. Ralph Nader agitated for the safety standards we now take for granted in our vehicles. The abolitionist Frederick Douglass was an agitator who was also a Republican.


  18 comments for “Fitting. Old nemesis AP dubs candidate Arthur Kohl-Riggs an “agitator”.

  1. Joe Rogo
    April 16, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    Not only is this the best blog post on media ethics I’ve read in memory, but the comments here are outstanding, too.
    Add to that one of my favorite journalists, Studs Terkel, interviewing one of the greatest political activists/organizers/analysts, Saul Alinsky. It is fitting that if you Ixquick Saul Alinsky today, over half the hits are from right-winger websites. Their fear shows, and for good reason.
    Thanks for this entertaining and uplifting venture into the history and current state of journalism.

  2. Todd Endres
    April 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Carol…great piece, thank you!!!

    • April 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm

      Todd-Thanks for the praise and for reading the blog. 🙂

  3. Giles Goat Boy
    April 16, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    Think of all the stories that have come out of the Wisconsin legislature in the past 15 months. How many of them were broken by the AP? That would be zero. How many instances of corruption and unethical behavior have Arthur and other citizen journalists revealed? At least a dozen. The AP is a dinosaur.

    Bloggers are biased, but so are AP reporters. The difference is bloggers admit their biases and put them out there front and center for everyone to see. We know we must do that, because we know that everything we write about can be independently verified on youtube, facebook, twitter, and hundreds of thousands of sources of raw data. Reporters like Richmond and Bauer still haven’t accepted the fact that their method of illusion-building is obsolete. With all the new technology, bloggers and activists have pulled back the curtain. Citizens can do their own fact checking. We don’t need the AP.

    Richmond and Bauer don’t like Arthur and it shows in their reporting. They resent that he has scooped them time after time by exposing the hypocrisy of the Kleefisches and Walkers, and they resent that he has exposed the rampant laziness and willing compliance displayed by too many members of the WCCA.

  4. Gareth
    April 16, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Mary Junck is the Chairman of the Board of the Associated Press. She is also the Chairman of Lee Enterprises, the right-wing newspaper chain that owns the State Journal. Mary Junck was recently awarded a $500K bonus by Lee for her successful work in union busting and the dismantling of healthcare and pensions for Lee Enterprises’ retirees. Both the State Journal and Lee Enterprises have a lot of skin in the game when it comes to supporting Walker’s antiworker crusade.

    Our local AP reporters know who they are serving and how to spin their stories so as keep their jobs in a profession with an increasing unemployment rate.

  5. Edward Kuharski
    April 16, 2012 at 5:32 am

    The WCCA is an organization that attempts to put a veneer of respectability over its actual nature and purpose. This is a group consisting of staff from the largest media outlets in the state, which has agreed to work within the confines of self-censorship as dictated by the Senate and Assembly leadership. In this respect they are no different than any other group of “embedded” journalists, which I would argue in every case honestly translates to “discredited” journalists. No different than the 15 compromised sell-outs on the Rmoney media bus, or those who agree to aid and abet the war effort as embedded stenographers under Gen. Patraeus. or the current sorry state of the White House press corps.

    These cowards claim to fulfill the role of the Fourth Estate by occupying the Capitol Press Room and seats in the legislative chambers by PERMISSION, not by RIGHT. They shame the profession and they fail the people of Wisconsin, our outstanding State Constitution and the Federal Constitution as well. Their fear of “losing access” is pathetic. We all have a right in this state to full and complete access to observe, report and participate in our government. The WCCA in its present form and with its present membership amounts to a criminal conspiracy to shield our elected officials from those “Outside Agitators” known as the citizens of Wisconsin.

    Thank you, Blue Cheddar for an excellent piece on this highly pertinent topic.

    • April 16, 2012 at 12:48 pm

      Edward K.-Thank you for adding your scathing summation. For a few years now, I have assumed that journalists are not “the Fourth Estate” and that citizen journalists and bloggers fulfill that role in a manner sometimes sloppy and sometimes refined but mostly sloppy. To my eye it’s sloppy like a beautiful geyser or a waterfall and just as natural, it being a response to the environment around the citizen. The poor amateur has the free tools to do it and sees the risk of not doing it as leading to the loss of something vast and priceless – freedom, democracy, the environment, etc. To do something for nothing makes you either insane or an activist by default in our culture. It’s suspect [“agitator”, “prowling”]. The professional is developing a career and a life that rests on a job and can pay off student loans, mortgages and the like. In the best of times this just makes the professional a bit more conservative. But these ain’t the best of times and in a post-Walker Wisconsin, “a bit more conservative” sounds like “a bit more pregnant”.

      • April 16, 2012 at 3:44 pm

        Blue, your comment very aptly explains is why I blog, why I’m proud to be a blogger in Wisconsin during these times that “ain’t the best.” I know you were talking about monetary remuneration, but still, blogging for free isn’t doing something for nothing. It’s doing something for democracy. It’s an expression of hope and longing in times when there’s so much at stake and professional “journalism” just doesn’t cut it. It’s an aspiration toward the Fourth Estate.

  6. Rich Eggleston
    April 16, 2012 at 1:15 am

    I just got finished writing my remarks for the memorial service Monday aor Art Srb, who headed the AP bureau in Madison, and for whom I worked for over 20 years. Some of the words I used were integrity, hard work and professionalism. Looking back, I don’t think Art would have used the word “agitator.” “Activist” would work just fine, without any of the negative connotations. Scott Bauer and Todd Richmond are young, and perhaps haven’t had the time to learn the lessons Art taught me. One of those lessons was don’t use judgmental words. Give the facts, and let the readers be the judge. Another lesson is that editors have an almost unlimited ability to screw up facts, not to mention language, and words that appear under a reporter’s byline are sometimes not the reporter’s words at all. This is a variation of “I don’t write the headlines.”

  7. Katrina
    April 16, 2012 at 1:08 am

    I seriously am having a hard time deciding who to vote for. Art is a great choice but I really like Vinehout and Lafollet. I wonder though, where were these great candidates in 2010? We were stuck with Barrett who still isn’t very enthusiastic. Had Vinehout or Lafollet thrown their hats in the ring in 2010, what would have happened?

  8. Jason
    April 16, 2012 at 12:53 am

    WCCA: Wisconsin Corruption-Continuance Association.

  9. April 16, 2012 at 12:42 am

    I find Blue Cheddar to be a fine, very progressive blog that does justice to its Wisconsin roots. Because it is a blog, I expect a more personal tone than I would were it an actual journalistic effort. Nonetheless, I must make note of a slight aimed at Doug La Follette that I am sure was deliberately intended. To wit: “the Republicans will now have more reason to vote in their own primary instead of crossing over to vote for Gladys Huber in a Dem primary that appears to have 5 candidates [2 of them being serious contenders followed by a very strong 3rd].” I get your point. Secretary La Follette stands at best an outside chance of winning the upcoming Primary. I must say, however, that La Follette’s candidacy is certainly less frivolous than that of Arthur Kohl-Riggs. I believe that I speak for a good portion of the statewide mass of citizen activists who garnered a million signatures in the Recall Walker petition drive when I say that many of us have serious problems with the “strong contenders” i.e. Falk and Barrett. A lot of us outsiders mistrust party machine-backed politicians intent on clawing their way up the notoriety ladder. To us, the two strong contenders are Vinehout and La Follette, not coincidentally the two with Ph.D. degrees. Perhaps Blue Cheddar has a mistrust of proven intellect. I make no secret of the fact that I back Secretary La Follette. He has held office since 1987 with the support of Democrats, Republicans and independent voters. He has the best qualifications by far when it comes too his knowledge of environmental preservation. He eschews the solicitation of large donors as did both Bill Proxmire and Lee Dreyfus. He, more than any other Democratic contender, has said he will seek to reunite the various political factions here in Wisconsin. Do not be put off by his age. Doug is an elder statesman, a status that should engender respect in the more mature members of our society. Perhaps Blue Cheddar would do well to actually communicate with Doug La Follette and find out what he is really about. Thank you for providing this opportunity to comment on your blog.

    • April 16, 2012 at 1:21 am

      I didn’t want to name names when I wrote that. I left it for the reader to infer. It comes down to the fact that Doug is not to my knowledge campaigning in a manner that is as competitive as the others are. I didn’t mean to reflect either positively or negatively on any one candidate when I wrote about the vote being split on the Dem side.

      • April 16, 2012 at 11:01 pm

        Blue Cheddar is a fine blog by a very astute citizen journalist. I respect your work a great deal. And, as one other commentator said, the dialog that ensues from your posts is worthy reading as well. I appreciate your responses.

  10. sue
    April 15, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    Did you see Arthur’s posting on Friday at Art For Gov that Scott Bauer requested a copy of his Statement of Economic Interests from the GAB? I sense a hit piece coming on Arthur’s lucrative past in the food service world.

    • April 15, 2012 at 11:49 pm

      Really? You mean there’s no George Soros money? 🙂

  11. dave
    April 15, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    Perhaps the most despicable aspect of the entire story is Scot Bauer’s use of the terms dignity and self-respect when describing himself and Richmond; they lost those characteristics long ago when they decided to join use the John Stossel journalism technique. That’s the one where corporate marketers tell the stenographer what to write and they do it.

    Can anyone remember the last time a serious person described modern journalism as having dignity and self-respect?

    • April 15, 2012 at 11:46 pm

      Dave- I may have to write rap lyrics to fully expound on the “dignity and self-respect” of modern journalists.

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