The Washington Post reported this week that WJLA, ABC's Washington, D.C., affiliate, has taken a "subtle but noticeable turn to the right" since being taken over by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group. This conservative tilt was on full display this week when the channel ran a news package promoting a baseless conspiracy theory about Benghazi from reporter Sharyl Attkisson.
The Washington Post piece highlighted the concerns of some staff members of local ABC affiliate WJLA, that following the finalization of the sale to Sinclair in August 2014, "some of the stories ordered by Sinclair on a 'must-run' basis don't meet the station's long tradition of non-partisan reporting." One factor in this shift to conservative partisan reporting was announced in July prior to the sale, when Sinclair hired discredited journalist Sharyl Attkisson as an "independent freelance reporter" to "focus on stories that follow the money and waste watch type of investigations."
However, prior to the September 17 opening hearing of the House Benghazi Special Committee, Attkisson ran a dubious report for Sinclair that appeared on WJLA highlighting the unverifiable claims of former State Department employee Raymond Maxwell alleging that some documents were intentionally withheld from the Accountability Review Board investigating the terrorist attacks in Benghazi:
The same day Attkisson's report ran on WJLA, Attkisson appeared on Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends where she reiterated the report's unsubstantiated accusations. Host Steve Doocy lamented that only a handful of outlets such as Fox and the Daily Signal -- the Heritage Foundation website to which Attkisson occasionally contributes -- were covering this latest so-called "Benghazi bombshell." Attkisson concluded the segment by mentioning that her report was also broadcast to "maybe 30 million local news viewers" through Sinclair's affiliate stations.
Although Sinclair's support of right-wing misinformation has been widely documented and criticized for many years, its increasing influence in local media bodes ill for objective journalism at stations like WJLA.
A Media Matters analysis found that four major broadcast television stations in New York City gave disproportionate coverage to crime stories involving African-American suspects over the past three months. The stations' late-night news broadcasts on weeknights covered murder, theft, and assault cases in which African-Americans were suspects at a notably higher rate than the rate at which African-Americans have historically been arrested for those crimes in New York City.
Following news that the Obama administration had captured Benghazi terrorist suspect Ahmed Abu Khattala, Fox's Lisa Kennedy Montgomery (Kennedy) incorrectly claimed that the administration has not called the attack an act of terrorism or the suspect a terrorist. In fact, President Obama labeled the attack an act of terror from the outset, and the Obama administration has repeatedly called Abu Khattala a terrorist.
A Columbus Dispatch editorial revived attacks against the problems associated with the flawed rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which have largely been fixed, to continue to attack the law as a whole. Yet, despite pointing out flaws from early in the process, the editorial neither mentions the thousands who have received insurance coverage through the law nor the other benefits the law provides Ohioans.
The June 12 editorial discussed the confirmation of Sylvia Burwell as the new secretary of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services but immediately pivoted into a discussion of the flawed rollout of the health care exchanges, reviving old issues such as the Healthcare.gov website's initial technical problems. The Dispatch used the launch problems to claim that "The Affordable Care Act remains a deeply flawed law that was an ill-though-out, politically driven document."
Reviving attacks on the initial rollout of the law leaves out 8 months of improvements and stated plans for future fixes. After website issues were addressed, thousands more Americans were able to use the website in November to enroll for health care coverage, contributing to the 8 million people who gained health insurance nationally due to the ACA and surpassing expectations. In addition, as Wired reported, a new group of programmers has been working on "Marketplace 2.0" which will add new features and a simpler interface to the website for the next enrollment period beginning November 15.
Despite the Dispatch's focus on the initial rollout, the law is much more than a website and has provided tangible benefits to Ohioans that the editorial omitted. According to the Dispatch's own reporting, 155,000 Ohioans selected affordable plans through Ohio's federally run exchange as of May. Moreover, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, 308,000 Ohioans were able to obtain insurance through Medicaid, with 184,670 enrolling as newly eligible through the hard fought Medicaid expansion plan pushed by Gov. John Kasich (R). The numbers reflect the gains in insurance coverage but only provide a small glimpse at the law's overall impact leaving out the myriad benefits the law brought to Ohioans including allowing young adults to remain insured on their parent's plans until 26, barring insurance companies from rejecting people with pre-existing conditions, and ensuring that insurance rates are not going to increase just because of the applicant's gender or that someone would be dropped from coverage because of illness.
This post has been updated for clarity.
An Associated Press article about the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed regulations to cut carbon emissions failed to disclose that Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a source it cited criticizing the proposal, is a front group for the Koch brothers that routinely makes false attacks against clean energy initiatives.
A June 2 AP article reported that Colorado could serve as a model for reducing carbon emissions while handling its energy needs, following comments from the Obama Administration and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO). The article cited Dustin Zvonek, the Colorado director of Americans for Prosperity, which the outlet described as a group "which warns the EPA's rules would cost billions and lead to higher energy costs," but failed to mention the organization's oil industry funding:
"There's still a lot to be clarified," said Dustin Zvonek, Colorado director of the group Americans For Prosperity, which warns the EPA's rules would cost billions and lead to higher energy costs. Zvonek said Colorado's action to cut carbon emissions may have only prompted an even lower bar to meet.
"Are we going to be penalized or punished for the fuel-switching standard and therefore take an even bigger hit? That's not clear," Zvonek said.
Among AFP's major supporters are brothers David and Charles Koch, their charitable foundations and their company, Koch Industries, Inc., which has significant operations in oil and gas exploration and coal supply and trading. A 2012 report by the International Forum on Globalization explained that the Koch brothers have used their wealth to attempt to block legislation or rules aimed at mitigating the damage climate change is causing.
Greenpeace reported that AFP has received nearly $6 million from Koch-affiliated groups from 2005-2011.
Editorial boards across the country continue to use the Chamber of Commerce's study to claim that the Environmental Protection Agency's new carbon pollution standards will cost jobs and increase electricity bills, even though that study incorrectly assumed that the standards would be stricter and would require expensive technology.
A Columbus Dispatch editorial claimed the IRS was attempting to punish employers for sending their employees to Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges instead of providing employer-based insurance. However, the rule would ensure that employers don't get a special benefit for sending their employees to the exchanges, which they are still allowed to do, while preserving the employer-based health care system.
The May 30 editorial criticized an IRS rule first reported in the New York Times that claimed the rule meant that the IRS would stop "any wholesale move by employers to dump employees into the exchanges" by subjecting certain businesses to a tax penalty of $100 per day for each worker that is sent to the individual marketplace instead of provided insurance by the employer. The Dispatch, which has often used its editorial page to mislead about the ACA, extrapolated this claim to float the theory that "the move is an acknowledgement" by the administration that people don't like the exchanges and the law is making things worse for "millions of Americans":
In this context, a report in The New York Times over Memorial Day weekend takes on greater meaning. The story revealed that the Internal Revenue Service has issued a rule that punishes employers that end company-sponsored health plans and dump employees onto the new government health-care exchanges.
The move is an acknowledgement that many who have gone to the exchanges have found the policies more expensive and less desirable than expected. The law has made things worse for millions of Americans in the name of extending coverage to a relatively small number of people.
The Dispatch's theory that the new rule is an effort to shield people from the exchanges and the purported ill effects of the law is not accurate. The IRS rule is actually an effort to ensure that certain companies can't take advantage of a loophole allowing them to take tax deductions for moving their employees to the exchanges. As Modern Healthcare explained, the rule is intended to prevent companies from "double-dipping" by "threatening massive fines against companies that offer employees tax-advantaged money to help them buy federally subsidized health plans on the Obamacare insurance exchanges." The article continued:
The need for the new IRS rules came about because tax consultants have been aggressively hunting for ways to combine the tax write-offs that come with traditional group coverage with the federal subsidies available to buy individual coverage through an insurance exchange, said Joel Ario, a managing director at Manatt Health Solutions and a former HHS director over insurance exchanges.
"There are two mutually exclusive worlds, and there are people who keep trying to figure out how to use money from one in the other," Ario said. "That's what the IRS is trying to prevent."
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review criticized the renewal of federal tax credits for wind energy, claiming the credits "would blatantly waste taxpayer dollars on a manifestly unsustainable industry that's wholly dependent on government subsidies." However, other energy industries also receive billions of dollars in federal subsidies and tax breaks to keep them competitive, which the editorial did not mention.
In a May 13 editorial the Tribune-Review noted that the Senate Finance Committee recently approved a two-year renewal for wind energy projects, slated to cost $13 billion over 10 years. It called the renewal a "waste" of taxpayer dollars and advocated for "more reliable coal and nuclear plants" to meet electricity demand:
The last renewal, for 2013, allowed tax credits for projects under construction. The credits previously applied only to finished projects. American Wind Energy Association figures show installations rose sharply as 2012 ended and spiked again in 2013's fourth quarter as the industry took advantage of that change. It all prompted Erika Johnsen to write for the website Hot Air: "Could the wind industry's utter dependence on ... taxpayer help ... be any more apparent?"
There are better uses for taxpayer dollars than subsidizing wind energy, which "undercuts" more reliable coal and nuclear plants that are critical for meeting electricity demand, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., writes in The Wall Street Journal.
The example provided in the editorial of the spiking number of wind installations shows an industry attempting to increase production in a climate of uncertainty, something the fossil fuel industry does not have to contend with. As DBL Investors pointed out in a 2011 paper on the differences in subsidies different energy sources receive, unlike many other energy incentives, specifically for the oil and gas industry, which are permanently in the tax code, wind energy support has been allowed to expire several times since the creation of wind's primary incentive in 1992:
Some energy incentives, like the depletion allowance for oil and gas, are permanent in the tax code. Wind energy's primary incentive, the PTC, has been allowed to expire multiple times since its creation in 1992, and has been consistently reinstated for only one or two year terms.
Due to the series of shorter-term, 1-to-2-year PTC extensions, growing demand for wind power has been compressed into tight and frenzied windows of development. This has led to boom and bust cycles in renewable energy development, under-investment in manufacturing capacity in the U.S., and variable in equipment and supply costs. Recent work at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab suggests that this boom-and-bust cycle has made the PTC less effective in stimulating low-cost wind development than might be the case if a longer term and more stable policy were established.
The Columbus Dispatch incorrectly claimed that an effort by the Census Bureau to achieve a more accurate health care picture will eliminate the ability to gauge whether the law has achieved the goal of insuring the previously uninsured.
The April 28 editorial criticized a decision by the Census Bureau to alter the way it measures who has insurance coverage in an effort to achieve clearer results, claiming instead that the change "will make it impossible to get an apples-to-apples picture of how many Americans reported having health-insurance coverage before and after the law."
On April 15, the Census Bureau announced it would change the way it determines who had or did not have insurance coverage in the Current Population Survey (CPS) in an effort to obtain more accurate results. This process began under the Bush administration and, according to the Census Bureau, is "the culmination of 14 years of research." A statement released by the Bureau explained the reasoning behind the change:
The recent changes to the Current Population Survey's questions related to health insurance coverage is the culmination of 14 years of research and two national tests in 2010 and 2013 clearly showing the revised questions provide more precise measures of health insurance through improved respondent recall.
This change was announced in September 2013 and implemented because the evidence showed that reengineering the questions provides demonstrably more accurate results. The Census Bureau only implements changes in survey methodology based on research, testing, and evidence presented for peer review.
Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, reinforced this when he told The New Republic that the Current Population Survey (Census) was never really an accurate way to measure the uninsured. That's because the question asked by the Census measured the insured as a point in time, "but it's of course always been ambiguous what point in time."
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.