Hey, Dave Mahoney: Apologize and stay retired

We won’t stand for your defamatory attack on one of our writers.
A white envelope spews a black speech bubble filled with smaller speech bubbles in blue, yellow and pink. The image has a splotchy pink background.
Illustration by Maggie Denman.

We won’t stand for your defamatory attack on one of our writers.

Dave Mahoney, if anyone has proven that you are incapable of handling yourself as a public official, it’s you. 

Last week, Tone Madison published a piece in which Dan Fitch argues that you, a former Dane County Sheriff and County Executive Joe Parisi’s nominee to head up a new “justice reform” office, are no reformer. We posted it on our Facebook page, complete with a graphic of your face on the I Think You Should Leave hot dog guy meme. (Dan’s idea, my clumsy Photoshop execution.) 

Earlier this week, you jumped in personally, responding to another commenter on the post: “…now that’s a funny article, these are the same people who burned State St, firebombed the jail endangering the very people they say they care about but really could care less for. Fitch is the very guy that called for more violence against black families.”

Mahoney, retract this comment and apologize to Dan Fitch. Joe Parisi should also formally withdraw your nomination and condemn this bizarre, vicious, and downright defamatory statement. A person who responds to criticism in this way has no business being in a position of power, much less getting a six-figure salary to tell us how to fix the justice system. Your nomination seems to be at a procedural dead end anyway, but Parisi should make it official and state clearly that it is wrong for you to behave this way toward the press, or toward anyone.

You are free to complain, criticize, disagree, respond, and argue all you like. You do not have the right to smear a journalist or anyone else. That is what you have done here. 

Not once, in any form, has Dan Fitch “called for more violence against black families.” This is a completely made-up, vile claim. You are lying, full stop. And you are doing it to personally attack and deride a critic. Take it from someone who knows a thing or two about defamation law: you are on thin ice here. 

Can you back up what you wrote, Mahoney? No, you can’t. Because the extensive, passionate, and deeply researched work Dan has published about criminal justice is all about making our community a less violent, more caring place for everyone. You ascribe malice, violence, and bigotry to a writer and activist who opposes those things with his whole heart and with his actions. 

You haven’t rebutted a single fact, claim, or argument in Dan’s work. As Tone Madison News and Politics Editor Christina Lieffring and I can attest from long hours working with Dan, he does his homework, gathers the facts, questions society’s assumptions and his own. Do you? 

And Mahoney: Who, exactly, “are the same people who burned State St” and “firebombed the jail”? How are these incidents even relevant to the arguments Dan is making about your qualifications and background? Are you implying that Dan Fitch participated in that criminal activity? Can you just not help making wild and hyperbolic claims about the summer 2020 uprising? What would possess you to spread around the blame for crimes for which other people have already been prosecuted and convicted? Do you have evidence against Dan Fitch? Of course you don’t. 

You, Dave Mahoney, are unfit for public life. You’re retired, dude. Please exit the spotlight and content yourself with the retirement you are presumably enjoying at the expense of Dane County’s taxpayers. You don’t have to go around falsely accusing people of crimes when you’re not even getting paid for it! 

Dan can back up the things he says. And really, you are backing up the things Dan says. Your behavior demonstrates that you’re not the right person to lead any kind of reform effort. If you can’t handle criticism and scrutiny from a small local media outlet, how would you handle the difficult, complicated, emotionally charged conversations that would come with the work of creating change in the justice system? If this is how you behave on a publicly visible Facebook page, how do you behave—toward journalists, toward members of the public, toward your colleagues—when there aren’t so many eyes on you? If your first impulse is to engage in crass fearmongering about crime and throw out flailing accusations without evidence, how can anyone trust you, Dave Mahoney, to make our community more equitable, safe, and fair?

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