The Washington Post's editorial board has adopted the right-wing fixation on the interruption of White House tours while ignoring cuts to critical services in both of its sequester-related editorials since cuts took effect on March 1. The first lauded the decrease in federal support for remote, small-town airports while the second decried the halted tours on Pennsylvania Avenue -- odd priorities for outrage given the devastating effects sequester cuts are having on basic government services like paving roads and caring for seniors, the unemployed, and schoolchildren.
In its most recent editorial, the Post described the cancellation of White House tours as "bureaucratic hostage-taking," and opined that the media backlash against the Obama administration was "proper comeuppance":
The popular tours have been suspended indefinitely as part of the response to the so-called sequester that went into effect March 1, mandating across-the-board spending cuts of $85 billion. The decision - coming just as Washington readies for the busy part of its tourist season, when cherry blossoms bloom and school groups on spring break descend on the nation's capital - prompted an immediate outcry.
Administration officials, The Post's David Nakamura reported, said the decision was made by the Secret Service, which estimated that ending the tours would save $74,000 in weekly overtime costs. Why overtime is needed for the self-guided tours that are plotted out with plenty of advance notice is anybody's guess. But even accepting the explanation by a Secret Service spokesman that the decision involved a broader reassignment of officers to minimize furloughs, is the $2 million that's estimated to be saved through September really worth the price of shutting Americans out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?
The Post's criticism ignores the plethora of budget cuts to critical government services that have taken effect since March 1. While the paper's news coverage has reflected the harm these cuts have on the country's most vulnerable populations, the editorial board has turned a blind eye to them.
The Post isn't the only media outlet focusing on White House tours in the wake of sequestration. As ThinkProgress pointed out, major cable news networks like Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC have mentioned the tour cancellations 33 times as often as other effects.
Meanwhile, regional newspapers have picked up on some of these real sequester impacts overlooked by many national media outlets: cuts like reductions in military tuition assistance, decreased funding for volunteer programs like VISTA and Americorps, and slashes in healthcare spending.
Local officials from across the country are in the Post's backyard this week, lobbying Congress to pay attention to the devastation being wrought on municipal governments' ability to provide basic services like paving sidewalks, mitigating damage from natural disasters, and providing school lunches to students.
When will the Post's editorial pages accurately reflect the effects of the sequester storm?
Fox News' Sean Hannity followed up two days of attacks on Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) by trying to link the Muslim congressman to Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam. The attack was just the latest in Hannity's long history of anti-Muslim attacks on Ellison.
On the February 28 edition of Hannity, host Sean Hannity tried to link Ellison to Farrakhan:
Hannity's allegations follow a long line of smears that he and his peers at Fox News have leveled at Ellison and the Islamic faith. The attacks began as far back as 2006, when Hannity attacked Ellison's intention to take the oath of office on a Quran. Hannity suggested that using the Muslim holy book for a swearing-in was comparable to using "Hitler's Mein Kampf, which is the Nazi bible."
Days after Fox News began deceptively cropping President Obama's comments regarding automatic spending cuts, a similar attack emerged in an ad by the Republican National Committee. Like Fox's manufactured attack, the ad is being criticized for taking Obama "wildly out of context."
Media Matters originally found that Fox News had taken a 2011 speech by Obama out of context in order to claim that he threatened to veto any replacement for looming budget cuts. The unedited version of his speech, however, clearly shows that the President was calling on Congress to reach an agreement that would avoid it. Shortly after Fox aired its attack, the RNC released an ad that followed Fox's playbook, accusing the president of standing in the way of any agreement to avoid the spending cuts:
After employing the same tactics as Fox, the RNC ad is being subjected to similar criticism. Buzzfeed posted the video under a headline that accuses the ad of taking "Obama wildly out of context."
As government scientists and policymakers attempt to safeguard disappearing populations of Atlantic Cod off of the New England coast with stricter catch limits, state and national media continue to ignore the role of anthropogenic climate change in displacing cod from their longtime habitats.
For over four hundred years, New Hampshire has maintained a thriving commercial fishing industry, reliant to a large degree on groundfish like the cod. Cod are now disappearing from the New England coast, and scientists are attributing this disappearance in part to warmer and more acidic waters -- driven by industrial emissions of carbon dioxide -- that are driving cod northward into preferred cold-water habitats.
Rising ocean temperatures pose a challenge for fish and wildlife managers attempting to protect these cod populations (and, by extension, the fishing industry in New England). From The Boston Globe (emphasis added):
Warming waters and an evolving ocean ecosystem possibly related to man-made climate change are contributing to the anemic populations, not just decades of overfishing, government officials say.
"While we are not blaming fishermen, this is not good news,'' said John Bullard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's regional chief. "We can control overfishing -- it's hard but we can do it -- but how do you control this?"
The only option, Bullard and other regulators say, is to dramatically restrict fishing to give the bottom-hugging fish any hope of a comeback.
On the February 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, New Hampshire Republican and noted "climate change skeptic" Sen. Kelly Ayotte attacked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) attempts to protect U.S. cod populations by implementing stricter catch limits. No one during this segment mentioned climate change:
And in Ayotte's home state, New Hampshire's largest newspaper -- the Union Leader -- has been following suit.
Ohio media reporting on Gov. John Kasich's (R) new education funding plan neglected to inform readers that the plan funnels millions of dollars in increased spending to private schools and charter schools whose operators have donated millions in campaign contributions to Kasich and Republicans in the state legislature.
The Akron Beacon Journal reported on the Kasich plan's significant enrichment of private school operators and the charter school management industry (emphasis added):
The $8.5 million expansion in the first year represents a 7 percent increase in allocations for vouchers. Based on the average voucher cost of $5,997, the additional funding could afford scholarships for more than 2,800 children by the end of the budget cycle in 2015.
The budget also expands funding for charter schools, adding an additional $100 per pupil for facility improvements at the privately operated alternative schools. That's an additional $11.9 million for charter schools based on the Beacon Journal's projection of 2011-2012 student enrollment figures.
The Beacon Journal didn't mention that the additional $11.9 million for charter schools represents a significant return on the investments of for-profit charter school operators who have helped fund Republican campaigns in Ohio for years. One such operator is David Brennan, whose White Hat Management is among the largest for-profit charter school operators in the state. Brennan and his immediate family contributed over $430,000 to Ohio Republicans in 2010, including $46,000 to Kasich's gubernatorial campaign, according to a Plunderbund.com review of state campaign disclosures. Brennan and another for-profit charter school operator, William Lager, have reportedly funneled over $4 million to Ohio Republicans since 2001.
Ohio's largest print news outlets -- including the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dayton Daily News, Toledo Blade, and the Beacon Journal -- not only ignored the financial connections between Kasich's charter-friendly plan and his campaign donors, they also failed to note that the charter school industry is receiving this boon despite consistently performing well below Ohio's traditional public school districts. Recently released report cards for the 2011-12 school year indicated that "while 92 percent of the state's public school districts scored effective or higher...only 26 percent of charter schools did."
Brennan's White Hat Management has a particularly poor record of academic success, according to reporting by NPR.org. NPR's examination found that for the 2010-11 school year, no White Hat school in Ohio earned higher than a "C" on the state report card, and most received a rating of "D" or "F." White Hat was also sued by the schools it manages for pocketing "at least 95 percent of the schools' tax funding."
Nevertheless, White Hat stands to benefit from Kasich's new plan. Unfortunately, Ohio's parents and students are not benefitting from adequate media focus on Kasich's continued financial conflicts of interest.
As Republican lawmakers in Virginia moved to further tighten the state's voter ID requirements, the state's two largest newspapers abandoned the larger factual context of the debate by failing to report the scarcity of voter fraud and the state's history of voter disenfranchisement.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch and Norfolk's Virginian-Pilot reported that both a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee and the Senate Privileges and Election Committee approved separate bills that would further tighten Virginia's voter ID requirements. The newspapers each employed a he-said/she-said presentation of the debate and failed to inform readers of the fact that in-person voter fraud -- the kind of fraud ID laws are supposedly meant to mitigate -- is extremely rare.
From the Times-Dispatch, which characterized the arguments for and against the proposed photo identification election bill in shallow back-and-forth fashion:
Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, the sponsor of Senate Bill 1256, has said it would help ensure integrity in elections and deter voter fraud, while critics said it would further disenfranchise poor, elderly and minority voters.
Democrats, voting groups and civil rights organizations accuse Republicans of attempting to suppress the vote.
Meanwhile, the Virginian-Pilot balanced a pro-voter ID anecdote from a House panel witness who found "that someone else had voted under her name in 2008" against "a variety of other speakers -- representing groups from the League of Women Voters to the NAACP," who opposed the ID requirement "as costly and unnecessary, saying it would disenfranchise minority, elderly and low-income Virginians."
The Times-Dispatch and the Virginian-Pilot ignored objective realities about the kind of "voter fraud" Sen. Obenshain claimed to be fighting. According to NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, in-person voter fraud is "more rare than getting struck by lightning." Investigations by The New York Times, News21 and Demos have all found little or no evidence of in-person voter fraud, and there are no credible claims that voter fraud swayed the outcomes of any major election in 2012.
The editorial board of the Times-Dispatch acknowledged the scarcity of voter fraud in an editorial on January 17, describing voter impersonation as "virtually nonexistent" and noting that "the evidence of need for [tightened voter-ID requirements] is almost as scant as the evidence of Bigfoot." Yet this fact remained absent from the newspaper's January 30 news coverage of the voter ID debate.
Furthermore, both newspapers missed an opportunity to inform readers about Virginia's history of race-based voter disenfranchisement -- a history that remains procedurally relevant thanks to the Voting Rights Act, which (via Section 5 of the Act) requires states like Virginia to receive approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court before they may finalize changes to their electoral system.
Virginia media followed in the footsteps of the Associated Press, which failed to note the importance of the VRA in a similar story about a Republican voter ID push in North Carolina earlier this month. While the Virginian-Pilot acknowledged the existence of the VRA in the lawmaking process, it failed to explain the state's history of voter disenfranchisement, which is why the VRA Section 5 applies to Virginia. The Times-Dispatch failed to mention the Act at all.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli proposed an agreement with power companies that would repeal state incentives for clean energy programs and save the companies money, but the Associated Press and the Richmond Times-Dispatch failed to note that Cuccinelli, who is running for governor in 2013, recently received major contributions from Dominion Power, Koch Industries, and other companies that could directly or indirectly profit from the proposed agreement.
From the Times-Dispatch:
Customers of Virginia's two big electric power companies likely will save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 12 years under an agreement worked out between the state Attorney General's Office and the utilities.
The proposal would repeal the state's bonuses for renewable energy programs and building fossil-fuel power plants. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said in a report in November that the bonuses have not produced intended environmental gains or encouraged power plant construction.
The article noted that the proposal would "reduce Dominion Virginia Power's revenue requirements by $38.5 million," and provide the following benefits to the power companies:
• expanding the financial performance limits defining when the companies "overearn" or "underearn" compared with their state-authorized rate of return; and
• allowing utilities to recover the costs of catastrophic natural events and early power plant closings, because of new environmental rules or factors beyond the companies' control, during the biennial review period they occur for financial reporting purposes.
A Dominion Power statement called the proposal "another step forward for Dominion Virginia Power's customers."
Neither the Times-Dispatch nor the Associated Press mentioned that Cuccinelli has recently received $10,000 in campaign contributions from Dominion Power's political action committee and another $50,000 from the Koch brothers, who are deeply invested in the oil and gas industry. Other large contributions from the fossil fuel industry have been recorded, including Alpha Natural Resources, a coal company notorious for its dangerously poor safety record.
Right-wing rhetoric on potential gun control measures in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, continued to come unhinged as right-wing radio host Mandy Connell (Kentucky's WHAS-AM) compared a proposed firearms policy to the Nazi practice of forcing Jewish Germans to wear yellow stars.
Louisville radio station WFPL described the exchange between Connell and Congressman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) which took place on January 10:
In a tense exchange over gun control, WHAS radio host Mandy Connell told Congressman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., some regulations could be the first step in total citizen disarmament.
Yarmuth has co-sponsored a bill that would ban high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and is a proponent of other regulations in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre.
In an on-air interview with Yarmuth on Thursday, Connell said responsible gun owners should also be concerned about further regulations, and compared attempts to register legal gun owners to the Nazi regime tagging Jewish Germans.
"Every country in the world that has taken and de-armed its citizenry started with incremental gun measures," she said. "This is not unprecedented in history and anybody that pays attention is right to be concerned of an overly intrusive government. Things like Diane Feinstein requiring gun owners to register if they're already a legal gun owner. Why don't we make them wear yellow stars as well? Why don't we tag everybody?"
Connell's statements aren't isolated. Right-wing media figures ranging from Matt Drudge to personalities on Fox News have dipped into the Nazi analogy pool in recent days. Drudge linked to a report about a potential executive order regarding guns by placing photos of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin adjacent to the headline. A variety of Fox News' guests and contributors, as well as other right-wing pundits, have made similar comparisons.
As conservative legislators in nine states renew the push for restrictive voter ID laws, their efforts have been aided by state media outlets that continue to ignore or misinform readers on the issue.
Republican lawmakers in several states -- Alaska, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin -- have stated that new or more restrictive voter ID rules will top their agendas in 2013. (Republicans control both houses of the legislature in all those states but New York and West Virginia. In Virginia, the GOP controls the House and maintains a 50/50 split with Democrats in the state Senate.) These proposals come just weeks after the 2012 election, in which there was no evidence of massive voter fraud.
A Media Matters analysis of the largest newspapers in each state found that coverage of these new voter ID initiatives has been largely devoid of context about the overstated dangers of voter fraud or of the significant influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadowy organization dedicated to pushing a homogeneous conservative agenda state-by-state. Only four of the nine newspapers covered the 2013 initiatives at all, and only one mentioned ALEC.
The Charlotte Observer failed to connect the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to an attack on North Carolina's successful green energy mandates, which is being led by state Republican majority whip -- and ALEC member -- Mike Hager. From the December 31 article:
The N.C. House's new Republican majority whip believes he has the votes to stop North Carolina's green-energy mandate - the first in the Southeast when it was enacted in 2007 - in its tracks.
The law says electric utilities have to derive rising amounts of their retail sales from solar, wind or biomass sources, beginning at 3 percent this year and ending at 12.5 percent by 2021. Separate, smaller targets for solar energy took effect in 2010.
Senate Bill 3, as the law is commonly known, is widely credited with creating markets for renewable energy - especially solar power - that didn't exist in North Carolina before it was adopted. Advocates say it has produced thousands of jobs despite a slumping economy.
But Rep. Mike Hager of Rutherford County views the mandate as the government unfairly "picking winners and losers" in the marketplace. As chairman of the Public Utilities committee, Hager would like to freeze it at the current 3 percent level.
The article misses an important point -- that Hager is a member of ALEC, an organization described in the Observer (in an article re-published from the Anchorage Daily News) only a week earlier as a "secretive legislation mill that combines conservative thought with corporate interests." Hager's agenda regarding North Carolina's green energy mandates parrots one of ALEC's current nation-wide priorities. From The Washington Post (emphasis added):
The Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank skeptical of climate change science, has joined with the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council to write model legislation aimed at reversing state renewable energy mandates across the country.
The Electricity Freedom Act, adopted by the council's board of directors in October, would repeal state standards requiring utilities to get a portion of their electricity from renewable power, calling it "essentially a tax on consumers of electricity."
The previously-mentioned Anchorage Daily News piece expounded upon ALEC's energy agenda as well, describing the efforts ALEC has taken in Alaska and other states to try to "roll-back" the renewable energy mandate by painting it as a "tax." From the ADN:
Nick Surgey, staff counsel for Common Cause, said one hot ALEC issue is an effort pushed by the coal industry and other traditional energy sources to roll back renewable energy targets and mandates adopted by some 30 states, including Alaska.
Backers of the roll-back call the targets a "tax" on power consumers who might have to pay more, at least in the short term, because the capital costs can be expensive. But supporters say they will reduce carbon emissions, establish 21st-century industries in the United States and make the country less reliant on imports.
The Washington Post noted that ALEC and Heartland "accept money from oil, gas and coal companies that compete against renewable energy suppliers." In fact, Hager has individually received campaign contributions from Duke Energy (his previous employer), Progress Energy (now merged with Duke Energy) and Dominion Resources, all of which are corporate members of ALEC.
While the Charlotte Observer provided balanced discussion of the mandates' costs and benefits, the paper's readership could benefit from an expanded vetting of special interest influences on North Carolina's state legislators.