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When You're Wrong, Be Strong

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When You're Wrong, Be Strong

CREATED Jun 26, 2012

I swear that I don't understand what constitutes news any more.

A  week before the election, the local newspaper did a hit piece on Beloit businesswoman Diane Hendricks.  Mrs. Hendricks is the owner of ABC Building Supply, a true Wisconsin success story.  Mrs. Hendricks is also a huge supporter of conservative causes in general and Governor Walker in particular.

In a particularly ham-handed hatchet piece, the newspaper reported that Mrs. Hendricks paid no State of Wisconsin income tax in 2010 after paying boatloads in prior years.  In all likelihood, this was because the corporate structure of ABC Supply changed and the taxes previously directly paid by Mrs. Hendricks are now paid by the corporation.

In any event, no one suggests that Mrs. Hendricks has done anything improper in calculating her tax obligations.

As I have said before, it's pretty clear that the first article was as much about trying to embarrass Scott Walker a week before the election as it was about Mrs. Hendricks.  Any injury to her reputation just happened to be collateral damage. 

Not content with smearing one prominent Wisconsin businesswoman however, the newspaper has now doubled down. 

In a story that ran Sunday, the paper regurgitated the stuff on Diane Hendricks and added that Helen Johnson-Leopold also paid no State taxes in 2009 and 20120.  Mrs. Johnson-Leopold is part of the S.C. Johnson family and is the CEO of Johnson Outdoors.

As with Mrs. Hendricks, there is no evidence to suggest that Mrs. Johnson-Leopold has done anything improper with regard to her tax liability. She's not under civil or criminal investigation.  The paper has produced no evidence suggesting that there is anything improper with her tax returns.

So, what's the issue?  Good question!

When I sit down to prepare my taxes (yeah, I still do my own), I enter all the various sources of of income that my wife and I have into the TurboTax program.  I then start claiming all the deductions and credits that I'm allowed.

Charitable contributions?  Property taxes?  Taxes paid to other States? Contributions to qualified retirement plans? Contributions to the HSA?  Money we put into educational accounts on behalf of my niece and nephew?  The list goes on and on.

The point is, if I'm legally allowed to take a credit or a deduction, I do so.  My guess is that reporters and editors at the Journal Sentinel do the same. 

Just like Diane Hendricks and Helen Johnson-Leopold.

If I had to speculate, I'd say that both women sustained huge investment losses during the past couple of years which served to eliminate their tax liability in 2010.  They most likely took deductions and credits they were entitled to -  just like anyone else would.  In other words, nothing to see here.

It's the classic "Absence of Malice" situation - a non-story that's accurate but not true.

The first story was a classic example of a media drive-by shooting.  To write a second story going after another respected Wisconsin employer though is just unbelievable!  And disgraceful.

When it comes to media hit pieces though, don't expect an apology.  After all, the philosophy appears to be "when you're wrong - be strong"!

And never say you're sorry!