The conservative Columbus Dispatch has long been a force in local and state politics in Ohio. But in recent years, the newspaper's parent company has become a virtual media monopoly in Ohio's largest city and state capital, controlling not only the daily newspaper, but two radio stations, a television outlet and a long list of other weekly, monthly, and regional news sources.
"It's a one-newspaper town," said Dominick Cappa, editor of Columbus Business First, one of the few local publications not owned by the Dispatch. "They have the TV station, a radio station. Are they powerful? Hell yeah they're powerful because they have those outlets."
And the Dispatch's owners have used that media muscle to promote conservative causes and candidates, in particular the state's Republican governor, John Kasich. Publisher John F. Wolfe, CEO of parent company Dispatch Printing, and his wife, Ann, have spent more than $100,000 seeking to elect Republicans in state and out, with three dollars out of every ten going to Kasich's coffers.
The Dispatch's news reporting is the pride of Ohio; in recent years the paper has repeatedly been named the best newspaper of its size by the Associated Press Society, and its reporters typically clean up at that organization's annual awards presentation. In 2012, John Wolfe himself was given a special recognition award for "exemplary service to print journalism."
But critics say that the recent expansion of Dispatch Printing has created a near-monopoly in central Ohio, and point to the way the paper's editorial board has shielded Kasich to sound a note of alarm.
The increasing influence of the Wolfes comes during a period in which several right-wing moguls have been seeking to use mainstream media outlets to influence the political debate.
In December Media Matters profiled financier Douglas Manchester, a major Republican Party contributor who purchased the San Diego Union-Tribune and used it to cheerlead for right-wing politics and his own business interests. More recently, David and Charles Koch, major funders of the conservative movement, have reportedly considered buying the Tribune Company's eight regional newspapers -- which include the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune -- as part of their plan to shift the country to the right by investing in the media. Manchester has also considered buying the Tribune Company.
The Kochs also financially support the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a non-profit organization whose websites and affiliates provide free statehouse reporting from a conservative perspective to local newspapers and other media across the country.
The Wolfes' stranglehold on central Ohio's media grew substantially last September when the Dispatch Printing Company took over Columbus Media Enterprises from American Community Newspapers. That purchase added 12 specialty magazines to its arsenal, including Columbus Monthly and Columbus CEO, and Columbus Bride; Suburban News Publications, a string of 22 community weeklies that were subsequently merged with the company's 22-paper ThisWeek Community News group of weeklies; and The Other Paper, a feisty alternative weekly that had been known as a Dispatch watchdog.
Dispatch Printing already owned a variety of specialty publications including Columbus Alive, Columbus Crave, Columbus Parent, and Capital Style, along with two radio stations, the local CBS television affiliate (WBNS-TV), Ohio News Network Radio, which provides regular newscasts and sportscasts to 73 radio stations statewide, and Consumer News Services, a marketing company that distributes insert fliers via direct delivery bags.
Columbus has three other network television affiliates: WCMH, the NBC affiliate owned by Media General; WSYX, the ABC affiliate, and WTTE, the Fox affiliate, both owned by Sinclair Broadcasting.
But critics say that those outlets amount to little more than window dressing. "There is no competition," said Gerald Kosicki, a 26-year professor of communications at nearby Ohio State University. "You do only now have one voice. That is a concern to people."
Climate change deniers should not be given a place in business coverage at a time when industries from agriculture to insurance are making real financial decisions dealing with its impact, according to some of the nation's top business journalists.
Last month Media Matters reported that more than half of the climate change segments on CNBC this year cast doubt on man-made climate change. That network's coverage drew criticism from top business journalists who said such coverage does not serve their viewers.
"It doesn't seem to me at this point to be a point of serious controversy within the corporate establishment," said Paul Barrett a Bloomberg BusinessWeek reporter (Bloomberg BusinessWeek's sister company Bloomberg News is a CNBC competitor). "The insurance industry, which is a key barometer of these things, has reached the conclusion that whatever your politics are on this, the costs of extreme weather are so great and the patterns over the last couple of decades are so distinct that the corporate establishment absolutely must recognize these risks."
Barrett added, "It's past the point of letting ideology shape the dollars-and-cents calculations that businesses are already making, it is not a question of whether business should do this, business is doing this."
Michael Hiltzik, a veteran Los Angeles Times business columnist, agreed.
"I accept the evidence of climate change," he said. "I don't think I've ever run into a legitimate business leader or business owner in the course of my reporting who doesn't. I think, for the most part, it is settled science and the debate is really over what to do about it."
Hiltzik and others stressed that in business reporting, information is so vital to those running large and small companies that facts have to be on point and disregard political calculations.
"There is no percentage in denying it, there's no point. You can't hold back the tide," Hiltzik said. "It seems to me that denial is basically a political position, it's not a practical position, especially for a business that is in an industry that is going to be impacted by climate change."
With climate scientists in agreement that climate change is occurring and being triggered by human activity, major companies are acknowledging and evaluating the impact of that change on their businesses. Top consulting groups have pointed out that climate change is a major risk to insurance companies, and a 2011 survey found that most investors now consider climate change consequences across their organization's entire investment portfolio.
In spite of this emerging consensus among business leaders that climate change is a real concern for their companies, Media Matters found that 24 of the 47 substantial mentions or segments on climate change in 2013 on CNBC, or about 51 percent, cast doubt on whether man-made climate change even existed. Prominent CNBC figures have claimed that climate change is simple "a scam analysis" by "high priests." More than 14,000 people have signed Forecast The Facts' petition calling urging CNBC's executives to stop their network from promoting climate change denial.
The Texas lieutenant governor's recent threat that statehouse reporters could potentially be arrested and jailed if their behavior is deemed "not respectful" of the legislature is being called "worrisome" and "absurd" by Texas journalists.
Several editors and reporters who have been covering the contentious abortion debate in the state Senate, which drew national interest last week during an 11-hour filibuster that derailed the legislation, said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's threats of potential arrest during an interview Friday raised concerns.
During a June 28 interview with HotAir.com's Ed Morrissey, Dewhurst said that his staff was reviewing security tapes of the Senate gallery to examine the behavior of reporters during the demonstration that occurred as Republican leaders failed to pass the bill before the legislative session expired. Dewhurst explained:
"We have reports and I have my staff taking a look at the video, the internet video that we keep, we store, on the proceedings that evening and if I find as I've been told examples of the media waving and trying to inflame the crowd, incite them in the direction of a riot, I'm going to take action against them. That is wrong. That's inciting a riot. That is wrong. And we have a provision in our rules that if people do not deport themselves with decorum, they're not respectful of the legislative process, one of our rules says we can imprison them up to 48 hours. Of course that was out of the question with that many people, but it is, we take a democratic policy seriously."
Within a day, Dewhurst's office backpedaled from the threat, claiming they had reviewed tapes of the session and found nothing worth pursuing.
Still, several journalists are speaking out with concern that such a threat was even made and the option of arresting reporters even considered.
"As I listened to this, I said, 'what the hell is this, you're going to throw us in jail?'" said Wayne Slater, a longtime political reporter for the Dallas Morning News, who posted video of the HotAir.com interview on his blog. "The first thing I thought of is there are other countries that do this, where they arrest reporters whose work they don't like or who don't report things or act in the way the majority likes. It seemed absurd to me because there are countries that do this and we are not one of them."
After Slater posted the interview video on his Morning News blog Saturday, he said Dewhurst's office called him within hours to backtrack on the comments.
"They saw it and made a decision fairly quickly that they had to pull back from this," he said. "To call and say no media did anything wrong."
But that did not stop other journalists from criticizing the original comments and worrying about what they could mean for future reporting.
"As a newspaper editor, the lieutenant governor's statement I found worrisome," said Steve Proctor, managing editor of the Houston Chronicle. "If any action were taken against a Houston Chronicle reporter, they would be defended vigorously. Any editor is going to consider that worrisome."
He said even a hint of such action can be negative to reporters' work: "I want to be able to cover the news without interruption or interference, so you are always worried when there is interference on the information."
Gary Kleck, a Florida State University criminologist who is the source of a debunked claim that critics say dramatically exaggerated the frequency of defensive gun use, recently served on a committee tasked by the federal government with creating a potential research agenda focusing on ways to minimize gun violence.
The committee, formed by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response to an executive order President Obama signed in January following the Newtown school shooting, recently issued its report, titled "Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence."
The committee of 14, led by Alan I. Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was tasked with developing "a potential research agenda focusing on the public health aspects of firearm-related violence-- its causes, approaches to interventions that could prevent it, and strategies to minimize its health burden." The report calls for a research program to be implemented by the CDC and other agencies and private foundations and "designed to produce impacts in 3-5 years" that focuses on the characteristics of firearm violence and risk and protective factors, among other issues.
Kleck is best known for his 1995 study with Marc Gertz that claims that up to 2.5 million incidents of defensive gun use occur every year. Media figures and the National Rifle Association frequently cite this study to bolster their claims that owning firearms makes people safer.
But critics point to the study's "serious methodological difficulties" -- it extrapolates a very rare event, the slightly more than one percent of respondents to a survey that said they had used a gun in self-defense over the past year, to the entire population of 200 million adults. This means that even slight deficiencies in the accuracy of the survey, whether due to false positives or a sample that is not perfectly indicative of the overall population, can lead to large differences in the result. Harvard Injury Control Research Center Director David Hemenway has labeled Kleck's result "an enormous overestimate" and pointed out that the results require one to believe, for instance, that "burglary victims use their guns in self-defense more than 100% of the time."
Contra Kleck, data from the National Crime Victimization survey produced by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics suggests that there are roughly 100,000 instances of defensive gun use per year.
Right-wing media have pointed to the report's citation of Kleck's research to claim that it proves that "guns actually save lives." In fact, the report's treatment of the criminologist's work is more complex, typically contrasting his results with other studies that show dramatically different results. For example, the report states (emphasis added):
Estimates of gun use for self-defense vary widely, in part due to definitional differences for self-defensive gun use, different data sources, and questions about accuracy of data, particularly when self-reported. The NCVS has estimated 60,000 to 120,000 defensive uses of guns per year. Based on data from l992 and l994, the NCVS found 116,000 incidents (McDowall et al., 1998). Another body of research estimated annual gun use for self-defense to be much higher, up to 2.5 million incidents, suggesting that self-defense can be an important crime deterrent (Kleck and Gertz, 1995). Some studies on the association between self-defensive gun use and injury or loss to the victim have found less loss and injury when a firearm is used (Kleck, 2001b).
Similarly (emphasis added):
Defensive uses of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed (Cook and Ludwig, 1996; Kleck, 2001a). Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year (Kleck, 2001a), in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008 (BJS, 2010). On the other hand, some scholars point to radically lower estimate of only 108,000 annual defensive uses based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (Cook et al., 1997). The variation in these numbers remains a controversy in the field. The estimate of 3 million defensive uses per year is based on an extrapolation from a small number of responses taken from more than 19 national surveys. The former estimate of 108,000 is difficult to interpret because respondents were not asked specifically about defensive gun use.
A spokesperson for the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council would not comment on Kleck's controversial presence on the committee, but explained that the committee was selected by staff based on "folks that are nominated" with an eye toward providing "enough expertise to address all of the questions" at issue as well as "these different perspectives and points of view with the expertise." She stressed that the slate was approved by the president of the National Academy of Science and that all members must sign off on the report before its release.
Kleck and Leshner did not respond to requests for comment.
Fears that David and Charles Koch will buy Tribune Company's major regional newspapers sparked a lively discussion at the National Press Club today among those who worry the conservative billionaires would misuse the influential properties.
The event, titled, "Should the Koch Brothers Own the Tribune Newspapers?" was sponsored by the Newspaper Guild and drew an audience of about 60 reporters, union leaders and concerned media observers.
"In just 2011 and 2012, more than 6,000 U.S. newspaper workers were laid off or accepted buyouts," Guild President Bernie Lunzer said in a statement at the event. "This not only affects workers; it dramatically affects communities and their access to information via qualified, experienced journalists. With the appearance on the scene of the Koch brothers, many people and organizations are raising new concerns."
As Tribune Company emerges from bankruptcy, it has indicated plans to sell its eight regional daily newspapers. Charles Koch has indicated an interest in the brothers' company, Koch Industries, acquiring media outlets, and the company reportedly may bid on the Tribune papers, which include the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Charles Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), Morning Call (Allentown, PA), and the Daily Press (Hampton Roads, VA).
The Kochs are major funders of the American conservative movement, funneling tens of millions of dollars every year to build a right-wing infrastructure geared toward reducing the size and impact of government.
As The New York Times detailed earlier this year, at a 2010 convention of like-minded political donors, the Kochs "laid out a three-pronged, 10-year strategy to shift the country toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes." Part of the strategy called for investing in the media.
Charles Koch recently told the Wall Street Journal that their company would seek to purchase newspapers to provide a "focus on real news, not news with an agenda or news that is really editorializing." But current and former staffers at the Tribune papers told Media Matters in April that a purchase by the Kochs "scares people" and puts the credibility of those outlets at risk.
Those concerns were on display at the National Press Club event.
Christopher Assaf, a multimedia editor at The Baltimore Sun who is also the paper's guild leader, said the Kochs' past history of political influence through PACs and other outlets is a concern as it could affect the newspapers' standing in the community.
"We have goodwill and we have credibility and if people start leaving in droves and they see changes...they will know and the goodwill will help to kill it," said Assaf. "The Sun will become something else, it may become a mouthpiece, a national mouthpiece, but it will lose that credibility. Credibility plays a large part in what a newspaper does and we have to protect that credibility."
"The Kochs very explicitly have a mission to influence public policy, that's what they do," offered Tia Lessen, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and producer of Citizen Koch, a documentary that had been slated for PBS broadcast but was dropped. "If the question is will David and Charles Koch influence how news is covered? I think the answer is yes."
Some of the country's top news editors are criticizing a new Louisiana law that punishes journalists who publicly identify gun owners with concealed weapons permits.
At the American Society of News Editors annual conference being held this week in Washington, D.C., several major newspaper editors spoke out against the law during interviews with Media Matters, with some saying that it appears unconstitutional.
"It seems absurd on its face," said Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman said. "In fact, it seems to me on the surface it is a prior restraint issue."
"Prior restraint" is government action that prohibits speech, and with few exceptions has been found by the Supreme Court to violate the First Amendment.
The Louisiana law, signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal on June 19, sets penalties of fines of up to $10,000 or six months in jail for those who publish "any information regarding the identity of any person who applied for or received a concealed handgun permit." The law includes exceptions for cases in which the concealed handgun holder is charged with a felony offense involving the use of a handgun.
The law stems from the controversial decision by The Journal News of White Plains, N.Y., to publish names and addresses of those who had conceal carry permits in their area last year. The information was obtained legally through open public records; in Louisiana, such records are closed to the public.
Journalists in the state have spoken out against the bill, arguing that it chills and criminalizes journalists for doing their jobs. That argument found support at the ASNE convention.
"The reporting of factual information in the public interest is something I support," said Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, who added that it must be handled carefully, but should not be outlawed.
Martin Baron, editor of The Washington Post, also said he would not necessarily publish such information, but opposes legal restrictions.
"I don't think media organizations should have to pay a price," he said. "It is up to the news organization to decide if it should be published. I think that is for every individual news organization to make that decision on their own."
Margaret Sullivan, public editor of The New York Times and former editor of The Buffalo News, said "I am not in favor of punishing newspapers who serve the public by getting information out there."
Fox News host Brian Kilmeade's praise of a British nationalist hate group leader as doing "great" work is being criticized by that nation's journalists, who call the group "thuggish" and "unsavory."
Kilmeade drew criticism after he praised English Defence League co-founder Tommy Robinson during a June 10 interview on his Fox News Radio program. Kilmeade told Robinson "we got your back" and said, "it's great what you're doing."
Numerous U.S. outlets, including Fox News, have previously detailed the violent and fringe nature of the EDL, which has clashed with police during anti-Muslim protests.
Kilmeade's treatment of a group known for its anti-Muslim hatred did not sit well with those in the United Kingdom who have reported on EDL and Robinson.
"No great surprise but still disturbing that a Fox News extremist will cuddle up to a British hate extremist with a number of convictions for violence and who served time behind bars after he was caught trying to enter the U.S. with a false passport," Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Daily Mirror and a political columnist, wrote in an email.
Robinson (whose real name is Stephen Lennon) used a false identity document to enter the United States to attend an anti-Islam event with anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller. Robinson pleaded guilty and was jailed in January and released in February. His offense was not his first brush with the law.
"So we may add hypocrisy to the charge sheet against Fox," added Maguire, "when the channel demands America's borders be secure yet hails a violent man who tried to sneak into the US with somebody else's ID."
Maguire described Robinson as "thuggish" and his supporters as "Nazi-saluting followers."
Fiona Hamilton, a crime reporter for The Times of London, which is also headed by Rupert Murdoch, said of Kilmeade and others who offered supportive comments or favorable interviews to EDL, "I think they should take a closer look at what they stand for, definitely. This is a man who said he would ban the future building of mosques."
She said the group is "viewed as extremists" in the U.K., adding, "I don't think you would find a majority of Britains who would agree with the English Defence League."
John Higginson, political editor of Metro -- a free London newspaper owned by the Daily Mail parent company -- said Kilmeade's comments were a mistake.
"The BBC wouldn't say 'I've got your back.' If he is saying that, he is condoning these extremist views," Higginson said. "The EDL, some of what they're preaching is to get rid of people just on religious grounds, just being a Muslim. To be saying that, it is bad."
Tom Whitehead, security editor at The Telegraph of London, has covered the EDL and called them "a fairly extreme right-wing group" that engages in "threats and incidents of violence." He said that if a British journalist echoed Kilmeade's views, "it wouldn't be seen very favorable to all. Personally, I certainly would not condone that at all."
Gun Owners of America Execuive Director Larry Pratt is happy to appear on talk shows hosted by conspiracy theorists who believe 9/11 was an inside job, think white Christians should arm themselves for the coming race war, or want to shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina.
Pratt told Media Matters in a lengthy interview this week that outlandish, discredited claims by the likes of talk show hosts Alex Jones and Pete Santelli do not bother him as long as his interviewer "has an audience and he provides a microphone for us to reach that audience."
"As long as I have a chance to present what Gun Owners of America is doing ... ideally seek support for Gun Owners of America, get [people] on our alert list, receive the alerts, then that's all good," Pratt said.
In the interview, Pratt also defended conspiratorial claims he had made on extremist programs, including his suggestion that the government might have been involved in the 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
Pratt's organization has become an important player in the gun debate, with The New York Times in April heralding their role as an "increasingly potent group" that was "emerging as an influential force" over then-pending Senate gun legislation. This high-profile role has come in spite of Pratt's long record of extremism.
As Media Matters has documented, discredited conspiracies and outlandish and offensive statements are the stock-in-trade of several radio talk show hosts whose regular guests have included Pratt, as well as gun advocates Ted Nugent and former NRA President David Keene.
Among the radio shows that Pratt has frequented are those hosted by Jones, Santelli, and Stan Solomon and Gary Franchi.
Solomon, a race-baiting host who is convinced a war between a "black force" and a "white resistance" is set to break out at any moment, also believes the December 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school was a "programmed event" designed to help pass gun legislation.
Franchi is an avid conspirator who drew unwanted attention when NBC News highlighted his history of promoting conspiracy theories, including his extensive involvement in the "9-11 truth" movement and his belief that the government is secretly building FEMA concentration camps to round up American citizens.
Jones believes the government actively carried out or was otherwise involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the mass shooting in Newtown. (He also recently suggested a government "weather weapon" could possibly have created the devastating tornado in Oklahoma.)
Santelli in recent weeks has been in the news for repeatedly expressing his desire to shoot Hillary Clinton "in the vagina" over her supposed treasonous acts.
Asked if he agrees with these hosts or finds any problem with their views, Pratt stated, "If they will provide an audience, we're happy to speak to their audience."
ABC's Jonathan Karl is drawing criticism from journalism veterans and media ethicists who say his recent reporting on talking points related to the September attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya has been "sloppy" and "highly problematic ethically."
The conservative media and Republican politicians have claimed for months that the Obama administration had for political purposes edited references to terrorism out of a set of talking points used shortly after the attacks.
On May 10, Karl gave those claims new life with an "exclusive" online report that found, based on what appeared to be direct quotes from the emails of White House and State Department aides, that "the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department."
Karl's muddled account reported both that "White House emails reviewed by ABC News" and that "summaries of White House and State Department emails" led to that conclusion. He also repeatedly produced quotes from what he described as "emails," suggesting that he had personally reviewed the original documents. In on-air reports, Karl and his colleagues subsequently claimed he had "obtained" the emails.
But after CNN produced the full text of one of the emails Karl had cited and reported that the version in Karl's article had made it "appear that the White House was more interested in the State Department's desire to remove mentions of specific terrorist groups and warnings about these groups so as to not bring criticism to the State Department" than was actually the case, Karl acknowledged that he had actually been "quoting verbatim" an unnamed source "who reviewed the original documents and shared detailed notes," and had not seen the emails himself. Observers have suggested that Karl had been burned by his source, given the discrepancies between what Karl reported about the email and what it actually said in full.
The slippery language Karl and ABC News adopted in describing the emails has drawn fire from media ethicists and veteran journalists.
"At best, it's extremely sloppy. At worst, it's a deliberate attempt to conceal the secondhand -- and possibly distorted -- nature of the information ABC was relying on so as to put its shoulder to the wheel of a highly prejudicial reading of the affair," said Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Miami Herald columnist. "Whether best or worst is true, it's highly problematic ethically, and the failure to acknowledge and correct is even worse."
Tim McGuire, journalism professor at Arizona State University and former president of the American Society of News Editors, criticized Karl for failing to adhere to basic standards of ethics.
U-T San Diego, a California daily newspaper which has been criticized for promoting the pro-business and hard-right political activities of new owner Douglas Manchester, is under review by state election regulators for allegedly giving discounted political ad rates to conservative campaigns and Republican candidates it favored.
Manchester, a local developer with a history of conservative political activism, purchased the paper, then named the San Diego Union-Tribune, in late 2011. Since then, he has come under fire from local media observers and U-T employees for using the paper to benefit his corporate and ideological interests.
The state inquiry comes amid reports that another pair of corporate titans who are major funders of the conservative movement, Charles and David Koch, are among those interested in buying Tribune Company, owner of the nearby Los Angeles Times and other daily newspapers.
The U-T San Diego's alleged practice has sparked a review by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, an independent body which oversees campaign violations and can issue fines.
The outlets explain:
inewsource and KPBS audited ads in the U-T every day between Labor Day and Election Day 2012 and compared the list with campaign finance records. The results show varied payments for ads, indicating the U-T may have offered bargains to [a group opposing the campaign of Democratic Mayor Bob Filner] and to other candidates and issues the newspaper endorsed.
According to their report, U-T San Diego may have offered discounted ad rates to local, state, and federal Republican and conservative campaigns that the paper endorsed. Unless such discounts were reported as in-kind contributions to the recipients, they could violate election laws, experts told inewsource and KPBS.