Local media outlets across the country published uncritical reports highlighting a conservative influence group's so-called economic competitiveness report, despite criticism of previous editions of the report over its methodology and findings.
On April 15, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) published the 2014 edition of its annual "Rich States, Poor States" economic competitiveness ranking, which claims to be "a forward-looking measure of how each state can expect to perform economically." For the seventh consecutive year, Utah was given the top spot for future economic outlook in 2014; New York was ranked last, and has never risen past 49th place.
Local media outlets quickly picked up the report and mainly discussed their own state's rankings and the rankings of neighboring states. Conservative radio station WOAI in San Antonio, Texas, published a blog detailing the report; including a quote from co-author and Heritage Foundation economist Steven Moore whom WOAI referred to as an "ALEC analyst":
A conservative group says Texas is tops in the country in economic activity today, but the American Legislative Exchange Council warns that the state's economic performance in the future will be rocky, largely because state government is spending too much money.
"That wasn't the good budget," ALEC analyst Steven Moore told 1200 WOAI news about the budget approved by the Legislature in 2012. "Not withstanding [sic] all of the very good things that are happening in Texas, and with the very big increase in the size of the economy."
ALEC ranks Texas no better than 13th nationally in terms of future economic performance.
Despite the uncritical, often glowing, pick-up by local media outlets, ALEC's competitiveness report has received scrutiny in the past, mostly due to evidence showing that economic data does not comport with the results of their study.
The New Hampshire Union Leader used a widely criticized study to attack the Affordable Care Act (ACA), claiming that insurance premium rates will be increasing exponentially in New Hampshire. However, the study has been panned for its low response rate while the data found in the study is at odds with official data provided by the state.
A Union Leader editorial highlighted a survey first reported in Forbes and conducted by Morgan Stanley which purports to show that premium prices will increase nationally mostly due to the ACA. The Union Leader used one aspect of the survey's findings, that premium prices will increase 90 percent on the individual market in New Hampshire, to attack the ACA and claim it will not bring down premium prices as originally intended:
The stunning news this week was that health insurance premiums in New Hampshire are up 90 percent under the Affordable Care Act, according to a regular survey of health insurance brokers by Morgan Stanley's health care analysts. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, writing in Forbes, relayed that the Morgan Stanley team attributed the increase to four factors directly related to Obamacare: "the age bands that don't allow insurers to vary premiums between young and old beneficiaries based on the actual costs of providing the coverage, the new excise taxes being levied on insurance plans, and new benefit designs."
Despite the Union Leader and Forbes' ringing endorsement of the findings, the study has come under withering scrutiny. The study itself explains that "the trends among the individual insurers" are not as useful as the aggregate trends due to the fact the observations were much smaller. Indeed, for New Hampshire, there was only one registered response to the survey. Only two states produced double digit responses, California with 14 and Idaho with 31.
As a post by local television state WMUR 9 explained, "21 percent of all survey respondents were from Idaho" while in New Hampshire, "they said they talked to one person, who they don't name." The piece went on to explain that because of the study's low response rate for New Hampshire, WMUR did not run the story saying, "it's all based on one anonymous person's opinion."
North Carolina's three largest papers by circulation gave little news coverage to the Medicaid coverage gap, or the number of North Carolinians who make too much for Medicaid without expansion but not enough for affordable coverage on the exchanges, mentioning the gap in only 8 out of 80 news articles since the end of the previous legislative session. 28 percent of uninsured North Carolinans would fall into the gap including 54 percent of people of color.
The Columbus Dispatch has pushed several myths about what health care enrollment numbers mean for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace, falsely claiming that not enough young or previously uninsured people have signed up and that people who have signed up for but haven't paid for an insurance plan will doom the law.
The Baltimore Sun cut ties with their conservative blog after learning of the blog's potential unethical behavior, a Sun spokesperson said Monday.
"The Baltimore Sun's editorial independence is among our most fundamental values and we have a strict separation between advertising and the content we produce," Sun Director of Marketing Renee Mutchnik told Media Matters in a statement explaining the paper's separation from the bloggers.
Late last year the Sun inked a deal with the conservative blog Red Maryland to provide content for baltimoresun.com as well as a weekly op-ed page in the paper's print edition. In a November op-ed, Red Maryland's Mark Newgent explained that their blog was "the premiere source for conservative news and opinion in Maryland" and that he and his colleagues would now have "the opportunity to advance conservative, limited government ideas to a larger audience." While the bloggers would continue to operate their private blog, they would also write content for a Red Maryland blog on the Sun's website.
But questions over the bloggers' ethical behavior surfaced last week when a rival conservative blogger posted what he claimed was an email he received from friends outlining a pitch from Red Maryland urging Republican candidates to advertise on the bloggers' radio show to "get the message out to like-minded conservatives in your upcoming primary election." The email claimed that Red Maryland would use all "our platforms at BaltimoreSun.com, RedMaryland.com, and the Red Maryland network" to introduce candidates to the public, suggesting that candidates who paid for the ads could also expect favorable coverage from the bloggers in their roles as paid contributors to the Sun.
Red Maryland did not dispute the authenticity of the email but denied the conservative rival's pay-to-play accusation in a March 7 blog post on their original website, stating that they had provided platforms to candidates since the site's founding to give these candidates media attention and statewide audiences. However, Red Maryland also formally acknowledged that Newgent, who wrote for both Red Maryland's original site and in the Sun, has been paid by Larry Hogan, a Republican gubernatorial candidate Red Maryland has endorsed:
First, we've never claimed to be "objective." We wear our biases openly on our sleeve, always have. You've always known where Red Maryland was coming from. Newgent has repeatedly disclosed his work for Change Maryland and the Hogan for Governor Campaign. He has performed research work for both organizations. Hardly a "political favor."
Numerous local newspapers failed to identify the fossil fuel funding behind Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, while allowing him to publish op-eds across the country misleadingly attacking a potential tax credit for wind power, while ignoring subsidies for the oil and gas industries.
The Columbus Dispatch borrowed from a Wall Street Journal editorial to forward the unproven assumption that the Obama administration delayed the employer mandate in an effort to prop up the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) individual market. But evidence shows the market was considered stable prior to this delay.
In a February 21 editorial, the Dispatch, which is no fan of the ACA, cast the Obama administration's decision to delay the employer mandate -- which, when enacted, will force companies with more than 50 full-time employees to provide subsidized health insurance -- until 2016 as a bid to save the law from failing and "to shore up the fiscal underpinnings of the health-care exchanges," a theory it pulled from a Wall Street Journal editorial that advocated for the repeal of the health care law:
And what's behind this latest change? Many immediately saw it as another move to protect Democratic lawmakers who are up for re-election in November from the fallout of the health-care mess.
The Wall Street Journal last week offered another reason for the delay: to shore up the fiscal underpinnings of the health-care exchanges. The Journal points out that "people are supposed to be eligible for subsidies (to buy insurance on the exchanges) only if their employers don't offer insurance. Since the White House is releasing many more businesses from the mandate's obligations, many more people will suddenly qualify to join the exchanges."
This would improve the demographic balance needed to ensure that the health-care law is fiscally sound, because the law relies on charging healthy people more for health insurance in order to subsidize the costs of those who are sicker.
However, experts considered the insurance market stable at least a month before the Obama administration issued the delay. As The Washington Post's Wonkblog noted on January 14, the risk of a "death spiral" was over:
The risk of a "death spiral" is over. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that if the market's age distribution freezes at its current level -- an extremely unlikely scenario -- "overall costs in individual market plans would be about 2.4% higher than premium revenues." So, in theory, premiums costs might rise by a few percentage points. That's a problem, but it's nothing even in the neighborhood of a death spiral.
A New Hampshire Union Leader editorial attacked the gender pay gap as "complete hooey," ignoring several studies that show a clear discrepancy in wages between men and women while dismissing the benefits of equal pay.
The February 9 editorial criticized New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan's decision to back an equal pay bill being considered by the state legislature, saying the gender wage gap is "complete hooey" and that "no serious scholar believes it." The editorial instead claimed women's' life choices were the biggest reason for the gap:
A 2009 Labor Department study of the issue reached "the unambiguous conclusion that the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action."
That "multitude of factors" consists largely of life choices -- work hours, number of children, etc. For instance, Bureau of Labor Statistics data on full-time employees show that never-married women earn 95.8 percent of what men earn, but married women with children under 18 earn 76.3 percent.
The legislation would disallow pay secrecy policies that keep employees from discussing their pay with co-workers, making it easier for women to ensure they are being paid equally. Currently, employers are required to pay equal wages to men and women but can prevent employee discussion of compensation. As the National Women's Law Center explained last month, pay secrecy policies "can keep women in the dark about their pay, making pay discrimination nearly impossible to detect." States like Vermont, New Jersey, and New Mexico have recently enacted this type of legislation, strengthening women's and workers' rights in their states.
The Baltimore Sun's conservative blog Red Maryland published a misguided defense of Texas' draconian anti-choice legislation, attacking Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis in the process.
The January 30 op-ed authored by Red Maryland's Brian Griffiths used recent comments from Maryland Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley about protecting of "the dignity of every Marylander" to not only defend harmful anti-choice laws passed in Texas earlier this year, but to also attack Davis' filibuster of the legislation last June:
In Texas, State Sen. Wendy Davis was made a national hero for unsuccessfully filibustering against greater regulations on abortions. While such standards don't meet the goal of eliminating abortions, these amendments to Texas law protected the rights of the unborn and ensured that women were not subject to unsanitary and unsafe medical conditions. Far from being extreme, the changes included prohibiting the killing an unborn child after 20 weeks, recognizing the concept of fetal pain, requiring abortion clinics to meet minimum surgical medical standards and requiring medical oversight for the use of abortion-causing drugs.
Ms. Davis' filibuster and vehement opposition, while completely unpopular in her home state, made her such a national hero that facts about her political resume were conveniently discarded. But what about Wendy Davis' opposition to this bill was heroic?
But the legislation in Texas doesn't protect women from "unsanitary and unsafe medical conditions." Rather, it seeks to accomplish what Griffiths calls the "goal of eliminating abortions." Texas' laws have made it increasingly more difficult for pregnant women to seek reproductive services with doctors at 34 of the state's women's health clinics failing to win admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (as mandated by the law), forcing "at least 12 abortion clinics to stop providing abortions and other clinics to scale back their services," though three have since reopened. However, as the Dallas News explained, in 2011, not a single woman died of abortion-related causes in the state, but 116 died of pregnancy-related complications.
Following an announcement that House Republican leaders will unveil a set of "principles" for guiding debate on immigration reform, conservative media urged Republicans to reject these and any attempts to pass immigration reform legislation this year. This is the latest in a series of conservative media attacks against the immigration reform effort that began in 2013.