Prospects appear shaky for a provision that would kick the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism out of its home within the UW-Madison School of Journalism.

A number of prominent figures in media and politics have jumped to the defense of the tiny non-profit news team after Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee proposed barring the organization from using the two offices it occupies rent-free in Vilas Hall in exchange for a number of services it provides the UW journalism program.

As I reported yesterday, right-wing Milwaukee talker Charlie Sykes, a former print man himself, blasted Republicans for the move, comparing it to the Obama administration’s targeting of the Associated Press’ phone records and the IRS’ scrutiny of tea party groups.

Within the GOP, there are only a few things worse than comparing a fellow Republican to President Obama, and an angry Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, turned to one of them.

“It smacks of the kind of tactics you would expect from Vladimir Putin or Hugo Chavez,” said the veteran moderate in an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio, referencing two foreign leaders who have cracked down on the press in recent years.

Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, told the Associated Press that he wasn’t familiar with the provision, but his first reaction suggested he will likely oppose it.

“I don’t know why we would go after any element of a free press, even if we don’t like them,” he said.

The measure could be killed if Ellis and Schultz join all Senate Democrats in voting to strip the provision from the budget. 

The controversy also seemed to energize UW System officials, who have been on the defensive in recent weeks as legislators blasted the system for requesting tuition hikes despite having significant cash reserves.

"Legislators shouldn't be telling faculty who you can and can't partner with," system President Kevin Reilly told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “That’s alarming, to say the least.”

UW-Madison journalism professor Katy Culver weighed in with a passionate post on the PBS MediaShift blog, asserting: "This direct attack on our collaboration with WCIJ is an assault on our academic freedom, as well as on student learning."

And of course, few media outlets have been sympathetic to the attack on their Fourth Estate brethren. The Wisconsin State Journal editorialized against the move, as did The Capital Times, the conservative Wisconsin Reporter, The Progressive, Channel 3000, Milwaukee Magazine and even some out-of-state outlets, such as Esquire and Rachel Maddow’s blog.

Plenty of other updates on the news are listed in a comprehensive article on the subject by the Center itself.

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