Bratwurst fest in Wisconsin: You never sausage intolerance

(Rubbing eyes) This is the New York Times, isn’t it? They’re being nice to conservatives and not so nice to liberals!

Madison, Wisc., is known for at least two things: a liberal, accepting mindset, and an annual brats-and-beer festival. But this year, according to the Times, organizer Tom Metcalfe added a new ingredient. Two, actually. Christian music and Bob Lenz, a motivational speaker on teen suicide.

What’s not to like? Wellllppp ….

But this month, a local newspaper noted that Mr. Lenz had ties to anti-abortion groups, particularly one called Save the Storks, which parks buses in front of abortion clinics and offers ultrasounds to pregnant women, a practice that some people consider harassment. Many liberal-leaning residents of Madison (and there are a lot of them) publicly said they would rather skip the Memorial Day weekend festival and its four-day extravaganza of bratwurst and beer.

“My reaction was, this doesn’t have a very Madison feel to it,” said Lisa Subeck, a member of the City Council, who declined to attend. “It really will turn many people off.” With Mr. Lenz appearing as a speaker, she said, “you really have to think, this isn’t reflective of our values.”

Within days, Mr. Metcalfe called Mr. Lenz to deliver a message: You are no longer invited.

Yep, guilt by association again. Just like when residents of Portland, Ore., announced a boycott of a grocer for his anti-gay views. And when HGTV canceled a planned show because the creators had voiced disapproval of gays and abortion.

Each case amounts to speech police: punishing people who dared voice unpopular socio-political views — views that had little relationship with their jobs.

The Times writer is sharp-eyed about the furor in a city — indeed, a state — that prides itself on its liberalism. First, she appears to mourn the way they were:

Some longtime residents said they missed the time when Wisconsin seemed more politically easygoing, a place where voters kept a Republican governor, Tommy G. Thompson, in office from 1987 to 2001. (Mr. Thompson might not fit in with today’s Republican Party, given his dreams of high-speed rail and his embrace of health care for the poor.)

These days, being utterly divided feels like the new normal.

Then she takes snapshots on the way things are:

“People have gotten way too sensitive,” said Ruth Agnew, a 56-year-old secretary who said she leans conservative. She was one of the first people to stream onto the festival grounds on Friday on the first morning of the event.

“Whatever happened to freedom of speech?” chimed in her companion, Bea Hernandez, a retired nurse.

The reporter also summarizes the crossfire of opinion, with conservatives calling liberals intolerant and liberals standing on their right to protest. I especially liked this picture of the paradox:

The opposition to a stage devoted to Christian music prompted Chris Rickert, a columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, to wryly suggest parsing what he considered the misogynistic lyrics of other musicians appearing at the festival, like Bret Michaels of the band Poison.

For all its acumen, the Times article lacks some precision. It mentions objections to the planned Christian rock concert, but it doesn’t show a clear link with the anti-abortion views of Bob Lenz. The two are probably linked in the minds of liberals who didn’t want to see either at the brat festival. The article should have clarified.

The story is vague also about Bob Lenz’s relationship with Save the Storks, saying only that he has “ties” with the anti-abortion group. Does he hold office? Did he make a donation? Is he married to someone in it? Did he attend a rally?

Finally, the Times lapses into a bit of selective labeling:

Other people attending Brat Fest were exasperated that the organizers would take a secular event and introduce a religious element. “This isn’t the venue for that,” said Angie Ouverson, who was at the festival celebrating her 49th birthday, sipping a local Ghost Ship ale from a plastic cup. “We’re here for the fun and the food. It’s not about religion.”

Remember Ruth Agnew, quoted above? Her conservative leanings were specified. But Angie Ouverson gets to be just Angie Ouverson.

Perhaps my gratitude overflows for a story that shows some actual insight and sympathy for Christians who saw their motives suspected. Even more, for baring the hypocrisy of liberals being illiberal. Looks like Madison’s tolerant image has taken a turn for the wurst.

About Jim Davis
  • MDevlin

    Sorry if this is a double post — I was having some tech trouble. I read the first gray block quote twice before reading further and I have to agree with you. I can’t believe the piece didn’t specify what the “ties” to Save the Storks were. When I took journalism, I was to taught to prioritize specificity over vagueness — for instance, you write someone’s exact height rather than saying that they’re tall. That was just shoddy.

  • Ray Ingles

    The “ties” do seem to be disclosed by linking to the article in the Wisconsin State Journal that the Times says “started” the “debate over Brat Fest”. That article says:

    Lenz… just completed a 40-day tour on behalf of Stork Bus in which he spoke at 25 rallies.

    Readers in the print edition (if this in fact appeared in the print edition, I dunno) would have been left in the dark, though, I agree. Wouldn’t have been hard to add a clause like “Lenz is a frequent speaker at Stork Bus rallies” or something like that.

    • Jim Davis

      Whoops, I missed that link myself. I was working with a text-only copy. Thanks for mentioning it.

  • Kevin Spencer

    Pretty juicy links in that post. On reading, however, this NYT article simply didn’t cut the mustard.

    • wlinden

      Frankly, your comments leave a sauer taste.

  • PalaceGuard

    Madison? Madison who?

  • Debby Oney Klarich Petty

    I fail to see how “offering” FREE ULTRASOUNDS to pregnant women is not medical but somehow religious. They do not, drag the women into the bus, do they?


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