Well, this is ballsy with a heaping side order of awesome sauce. Buffalo, N.Y. blogger Ian Murphy has gone viral for his prank phone call to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. The governor is currently embroiled in a battle over a bill that would strip unions of their bargaining rights in the name of cutting the state budget, and Murphy got ticked when he read that Walker wouldn’t take phone calls from state Democrats or unfriendly media types. So he called up the guv himself, impersonating billionaire conservative activist David Koch. The Buffalo Beast web site has been off and on all day due to high traffic, but the audio of their phone conversation is here:
There really isn’t that much incriminating stuff here as liberals might like to think. While large numbers of the Madison protesters think the Koch brothers are evil incarnate, the call actually proves that Walker doesn’t know Koch intimately, or he would have seen through the ruse immediately. Walker’s intransigent stance on the protesters and the bill tallies pretty well with everything he’s said in public, a point that the governor himself made at his press conference responding to the phone call. Murphy-as-Koch suggests that Walker plant thugs among the protesters to stir up trouble, and while Walker’s response is troublesome (“we’ve thought about it”), there’s no evidence in the phone call or anywhere else that he’s actually done it. It’s tempting to imagine all sorts of corruption from Murphy-as-Koch’s offer to fly Walker to California after the bill is passed and show him a good time. (Courtside seats at Laker games! Golf at Pebble Beach! Cocaine! Porn stars!) Yet it’s far more likely that Walker said yes because that’s what you say if a crazy billionaire calls you up and unloads his latest crack-brained ideas on you.
Still, this audio does reveal Walker’s strategy for tricking the state Democrats into coming back for a meeting in his office while the bill is being passed in the chamber. Some Democrats think this whole incident may have hurt Walker’s standing with his fellow Republicans. Walker also makes himself look vain by comparing himself to Ronald Reagan firing the air traffic controllers in 1981. National Review has an illuminating piece about Walker’s history as a mid-level state official, which taught him that unions eventually cave and media attention eventually goes away. It looks like he’s finding that things are different when you’re operating on a nationwide platform.
Effects elsewhere are already being seen. Indiana Republicans are dropping a similar anti-union bill, saying now is the wrong time. (No kidding.) Also in Indiana, a deputy attorney general has been fired for tweeting that live ammunition should be used on the protesters. Anger management counseling, dude.
If you’re wondering, journalists impersonating other people is an ethical gray area. Some editors would undoubtedly have a problem with Murphy’s actions. Then again, the Times of London organized an elaborate sting last October (with its reporters pretending to be crooked Americans offering bribes) to uncover corruption at the recent World Cup voting. With politicians and institutions increasingly taking the attitude that “we only talk to people who write only nice things about us,” this might be another way to hold public officials accountable. Oh, and Tom Scocca points out on Slate that the savings in the Wisconsin bill will only make a small dent in the budget deficit. His solution: Sell the Green Bay Packers to L.A. There’s an idea that can unite Wisconsinites! In opposition, that is.