Scott Walker's Conservative Posse Goes After Gail Collins

The Wisconsin governor gets back-up from conservative writers.

Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, speaks during a panel discussion at the American Action Forum in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Jan. 30, 2015.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The New York Times's columnist roster is full of writers who drive conservatives to annoyed distraction, including Paul Krugman, Charles Blow, and Tom Friedman. None of them rankle quite as much as Gail Collins, a reporter and popular historian whose preferred column style is a bloggy, gee-whilikers stream of thoughts about something in the news. In 2011 and 2012, Collins snuck in near-weekly references to Mitt Romney's old dog Seamus—specifically, the fact that Romney had once parked the dog on the roof of the family car. "I’ve made a kind of game of trying to mention Seamus every time I write about Mitt Romney," she admitted. "This is because the Republican primary campaign has been an extremely long and depressing slog, and we need all the diversion we can get."

You can detect a kind of (earned) glee in the way conservatives pummeled Collins into a retraction over her last column. In "Scott Walker Needs an Eraser," Collins interviewed a teacher, Claudia Felske, who was named Wisconsin Teacher of the Year in 2010. In many of his speeches, for years Walker had been claiming that a woman named Megan Sampson won that prize, when in fact she won a (similar) award for outstanding teaching. Walker's point was only that union rules forced Sampson to be let go, and Collins wanted to debunk this.

"In a phone interview," wrote Collins, "Felske said she still remembers when she got the news at a 'surprise pep assembly at my school.' As well as the fact that those layoffs happened because Walker cut state aid to education."

Weekly Standard reporter John McCormack, a Wisconsin native who had written many on-the-ground stories about Walker, immediately spotted the mistake. Walker had been elected in November 2010. The entire point of his 2011 union reforms, as he said in the Sampson speech, was that he preferred upping teachers' pension contributions and changing their health plans to firing any teachers.

McCormack wasn't the only conservative who had fun with this howler. Bloggers at Powerline, doubly inspired by a tweet from National Journal writer Ron Fournier ("This is @nytimescollins; she'll be keeping you real"), chided Collins for the error. "The Democratic Party press is pulling no punches," wrote John Hinderer. At HotAir, Ed Morrissey greeted the Times's eventual correction -- noting that Walker took office in 2011, with more mockery.

"It treats this as though the date of Walker’s inauguration and the layoffs were incidental to Collins’ column, and were merely overlooked," wrote Morrissey. "In fact, that was the entire point of the column."

And the small point of this conservative fightback is that the media-watchers proved the columnist wrong. There would be no repeat of her weekly Romney jokes. Walker was worth defending and telling the truth about; they did so and the paper grudgingly recoiled. There is no such conservative enthusiasm for protecting Jeb Bush from the "Democratic press." This says something about Walker's appeal, and where it's rooted.