Journal Sentinel story attacking Burke used source who called Obama an anti-gay slur

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

A source who was quoted this morning in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel cover story claiming that Democrat Mary Burke was fired from Trek Bicycle has posted bizarre and offensive rants on his Facebook page, including accusations that Barack Obama is a “homo” and First Lady Michelle Obama is a man.

MJS, which has endorsed Gov. Scott Walker in the past, ran the story in which former Trek employees blasted Burke’s alleged incompetence under the headline “Conservative ex-execs say Burke forced out at Trek.” The story appeared in a prominent position under the masthead and above the newspaper fold.

The three accusers are not only die-hard Republicans but also former Trek employees. The article did not state whether they were disgruntled with Trek, but one of them apparently was fired by Trek and another, Tom Albers, now works for a major Trek competitor and has donated to Republican campaigns.

Joe Fadness, the third Burke accuser, is also a Wisconsin GOP operative.

Gary Elllerman, who posted the Facebook rants, is a known Republican dirty trickster who compared Obama’s 2008 “hope and change” slogan to a swastika. The chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party, Ellerman ran as a fake Democrat in the 2012 recall elections.

“It’s disgusting that the state’s largest newspaper would run a sleazy tabloid hit piece based on blatant lies, but it’s even more reprehensible that their ‘source,’ a Republican Party insider who was fired from Trek for poor performance, is publicly espousing his racist, homophobic beliefs,” said a Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokewoman. “Unless they agree with him, Scott Walker and his Republican Party should immediately denounce Gary Ellerman and call for him to resign his Party leadership post.”

Journal Sentinel blogger Daniel Bice was one of three bylined writers of the story. He posted a blog this afternoon claiming that the writers tried without success to reach Ellerman before publishing the story, which was based on an article that previously appeared in the right-wing publication Wisconsin Reporter. According to Bice, that newspaper is funded by the conservative Bradley Foundation, which is headed by Walker campaign chairman Michael Grebe.

In his blog post, Brice did not defend the decision to present the incendiary story based on personal accusations made by partisan opponents so close to the election. In fact, he presented the extent of bias among his sources under the headline “Democrats pounce on Burke critic’s extreme Facebook posts.”

John Burke, Mary Burke’s brother and current Trek CEO, denied the charges made against his sister by the company’s former employees. He said Mary Burke left her job as head of overseas operations as part of a corporate restructuring.

Burke flatly denied the accusations as “complete lies.”

“Scott Walker is not going to stop at anything,” she said during a Port Washington campaign stop today. “He is a career politician who will do anything to win an election, including lies and smears, dragging a great Wisconsin company through the mud. … This type of lies and allegations frankly shouldn’t be part of politics.”