Sunday, January 27, 2008

Somehow, we have to put an end to Milwaukee's zero-sum culture

John S. Shiely has on op-ed in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the local business climate. As an example of the problem, he recalls the 1990s "corporate campaign" against Briggs & Stratton Corporation,
which was designed to insult and harass Briggs' executives, banks, directors, customers and other constituents. ...

If this mind-set was limited to an economics teacher [Michael Rosen of MATC] and a radical unionist [Laura Drake of the union at Briggs, and Rosen's sister], the harm would be limited, but the campaign against Briggs was supported by Milwaukee community leaders at the highest levels. The mayor excoriated Fred Stratton by name on Labor Day. Milwaukee's religious community ran a negative campaign against our company, including a vicious stealth attack by our local Catholic archbishop that was well chronicled in an article I wrote, which was published in The Wall Street Journal. These counterproductive initiatives just don't happen anywhere else we do business.

The article he refers to was Weakland's Strong Hand: My encounter with the former archbishop and his tactics, in The Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2002.
Not long after, Briggs & Stratton filed a libel suit against the National Catholic Reporter and began taking depositions. Lo and behold, we discovered that the archdiocese was a prime mover in the attack, as a reporter's notes revealed. A top archdiocesan official had spoken with the writer in an extensive interview that included polemical comments about Briggs & Stratton's layoffs and noted my Catholic affiliation. Under oath, the official denied recollecting that the interview had anything to do with Briggs & Stratton. Moreover, NCR's editor testified under oath that, in the wake of the lawsuit, Archbishop Weakland offered him advice about handling the media.

In another letter I confronted the archbishop with the depositions. He responded in a curious way. "I do hope you don't find yourself dragged into more and more unpleasantness . . .," he wrote to me. "The diocese has taken no personal stances concerning Briggs & Stratton and its executives and I do hope that we will not be forced to do so in any way." I construed the letter as a threat to attack us personally if any of this came out.

For which our former Archbishop remains unapologetic.

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