Last week, the hall monitors who run Gannett’s 11 newspapers in Wisconsin brought the mean end of the ruler down on the wrists of 25 journalists for signing petitions to recall Governor Scott Walker.

Kevin Corrado, publisher of the chain’s Green Bay Press-Gazette, spoke the company line in a Mar. 24 column in which he stated that signing the petition constituted a “breach of Gannett’s principles of ethical conduct.” Promising “disciplinary measures” and additional “ethics training” for the signatories, Corrado continued:

A number of the journalists told their editors that they did not consider signing the petition a political act. They equated it to casting a ballot in an election. But we do not make that distinction.

According to Corrado, the Gannett 25 violated six of the 32 principles of ethical conduct in the company code of ethics, even though none of the busted journalists were covering politics. (It appears that the journalists were swept up in a dragnet that Gannett investigative reporters knit to capture the circuit court judges who signed petitions, not journalists. They bagged 29 judges, 12 percent of the state’s county-level judiciary.)

The jurist in me thinks that the Gannett 25 could easily beat the charges – which vary from not being impartial to being prey to potential conflicts of interest – in traffic court. To begin with, voting for a candidate – a grossly political act by any measure – displays much more partiality than signing a petition calling for a new election. When you vote, you declare for one candidate over the others. But signing a recall petition makes a more subtle statement, something along the lines of: “How about a do-over of the election?” If it’s all right for journalists to vote, surely it should be all right for journalists to express their view that there should be a new vote. The quantity of activism here is almost unmeasurable!