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.
In the wake of the January 25 shooting at the Columbia Mall in Columbia, Maryland, that claimed the lives of two victims, the Baltimore Sun's recently acquired conservative political blog made a series of inaccurate statements on firearms and firearms laws to attack supporters of stronger gun laws, including recently enacted measures strengthening firearms laws in Maryland.
In a blog post on the Baltimore Sun's Red Maryland blog, Mark Newgent criticized a statement by Vinny DeMarco, the president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence and a supporter of a measure strengthening firearms laws in Maryland, who explained that without Maryland's new firearms law -- which banned assault weapons and limited the purchase of high-capacity ammunition magazines -- the shooting could have been worse. However, in his criticism of the release, Newgent got several points wrong:
The Baltimore Sun recently signed a deal with Maryland conservative blog Red Maryland to provide content for its website. But one of the site's editors, Mark Newgent, has worked for organizations that receive funding from fossil fuel companies to attack climate science.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal misleadingly attacked a proposal to increase the minimum wage by incorrectly claiming that doing so would hurt job growth and do little to reduce poverty.
In a January 12 editorial, the paper attacked a recent push to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10, arguing that Democratic proposals were little more than distractions "from the party's Obamacare debacle." The paper misleadingly claimed that raising the minimum wage would increase unemployment, especially for workers under the age of 25, before concluding that, given other so-called "broken promises" from President Obama, the public should be skeptical of claims that higher wages would reduce poverty.
But comprehensive studies of the employment effects of the minimum wage don't back up the assertions laid out by the Review-Journal, which has used this tired line of attack -- or allowed anti-minimum wage increase lobbyists to do so -- in its opinion pages before. One analysis by economists Paul Wolfson of Dartmouth and Dale Belman of Michigan State looked at several studies published on the effects of the minimum wage since 2000. Wolfson and Belman found that, while some studies showed slightly positive employment effects and others slightly negative employment effects, across all studies there was no statistically significant negative impact on employment. A similar report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research on the employment effect of the minimum wage also concluded that, "employment responses generally cluster near zero, and are more likely to be positive than negative."
It's no secret income inequality is on the rise nationwide. Research from economist Emmanueal Saez of the University of California, Berkeley shows inequality at its highest level since 1928. In Nevada, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities release, income for the poorest 20 percent of residents remained stagnant from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s. That stagnation led to the richest 5 percent of households having average incomes 13.0 times larger than the bottom 20 percent of households. A report by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Center for Democratic Culture found that 16.8 percent of Nevada's population lives in "poverty areas," with African-American, American Indians, and Latino populations all having more than 20 percent of their populations living in poverty.
Late last year, The Baltimore Sun inked a deal with conservative blog Red Maryland to provide content for a new blog and weekly column. But save one piece from Red Maryland's Mark Newgent, the paper has yet to explain this decision or how it plans to deal with potential issues with writers' conduct and conflicts of interest.
On November 19, Red Maryland's Mark Newgent published a piece in the Sun announcing that the paper "approached [Red Maryland] about providing quality conservative content for baltimoresun.com and The Sun's op-ed page in print," ending his post with "welcome to the resistance!" On their radio show, Red Maryland editors Brian Griffiths and Greg Kline further explained how the paper noticed conservatives in its comment section rebutting the opinion page and decided to approach Red Maryland with a partnership. Talks began in the summer of 2013, and the two reached an agreement in mid-November to begin publishing content on both a dedicated Red Maryland blog as well as a weekly column in the Friday edition of the Sun.
Red Maryland began as a political blog almost six years ago and boasts that it was named "one of Maryland's best political blogs by The Washington Post." Its staff also contributes to other conservative blogs such as Red State and WatchdogWire.com, the latter of which is run by the Franklin Center, a group known for its shadowy right-wing mega donor funding sources.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review cited deceptive statistics from the Heritage Foundation to attack the immigration reform effort, falsely claiming that the Obama administration is not enforcing current laws and arguing that it would continue this practice under a comprehensive immigration reform law.
A December 15 editorial by the Tribune-Review cited a post by the Heritage Foundation to claim that "the deportation of illegal aliens, in fact, has sunk to its lowest level in 40 years" and that the Department of Homeland Security has accepted 81 percent of 580,000 applicants for provisional legal status under a program called the Deferred Act of Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The Tribune-Review argued that these numbers show that the Obama administration is not committed to border enforcement and therefore should not be trusted to roll out a comprehensive immigration reform plan.
But the Tribune-Review's analysis should be taken with a grain of salt since its Heritage Foundation numbers come from "secret numbers" obtained by the anti-immigrant nativist Center for Immigration Studies, which is known for fabricating information and pushing misleading studies.
Ignoring the dubious source of the numbers, the editorial still fails to take into account the nearly 2 million people the administration has deported over the course of President Obama's tenure. The pace of deportations under Obama's administration is actually faster than the previous Republican administration. Even with possibly decreasing deportations -- which could also be a result of lower numbers of undocumented immigrants due to alternative enforcement measures coupled with the administration's priority of deporting high-risk individuals given its finite resources, the cost of deportation, and the current backlog of cases -- the Obama administration has prosecuted a record number of undocumented immigrants in 2013.
Newly released documents have exposed the agenda of the conservative North Carolina-based J.W. Pope Civitas Institute showing that the organization is seeking funds to engage in a campaign to decimate Medicaid funding in the state. North Carolina media should take care to disclose these revelations to ensure readers know what's really behind the Civitas Institute's forthcoming Medicaid attacks.
On December 5, The Guardian released documents noting that conservative groups across the United States "are planning a co-ordinated assault against public sector rights and services in key areas of education, healthcare, income tax, workers' compensation and the environment." The Guardian explained that the "proposals were co-ordinated by the State Policy Network, an alliance of groups that act as incubators of conservative strategy at state level." Indeed, according to a report by the Center for Media and Democracy, the State Policy Network (SPN) and its member organizations "work together in coordinated efforts to push their agenda, often using the same cookie-cutter research and reports, all while claiming to be independent and creating state-focused solutions that purportedly advance the interests or traditions of the state." The report added:
Although many of SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, our in-depth investigation reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, ALEC-backed agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders, all while reporting little or no lobbying activities.
Among the groups cited in the Guardian papers was the Civitas Institute. The organization requested funding for a campaign to try to sway politicians into reducing the amount of money North Carolina gives to the state's Medicaid program, which it characterized as "failed," and if successful, export their messaging to other SPN affiliates around the country:
In the wake of growing pressure on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) -- a shadowy right-wing group dedicated to pushing a conservative agenda at the state level -- and the exposure of its agenda and tactics, will local media finally acknowledge its influence on state politics when reporting on new legislation?
The Guardian reported on December 3 that ALEC has lost the membership of "almost 400 state legislators" and the funding of "more than 60 corporations" due to the organization's connection to controversial "stand your ground" laws, which received scrutiny following the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. In an effort to rebuild those relationships, ALEC is holding its States & Nation policy summit in Washington, D.C., this week. The event includes Republican legislators such as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), as well as several governors.
Legislators and businesses from around the country will gather to discuss this year's model legislation, which, as the Center for Media and Democracy has highlighted, will run the gamut of policy areas including legislation "opposing U.S. consumers' rights to know the origin of our food," "undermining workers' rights," "stripping environmental protections," and "limiting patient rights and undermining safety net programs." The last category includes legislation to turn Medicaid into a block grant program, similar to the proposal that Ryan has offered in his budget proposals.
State and local media outlets in the past have often neglected to identify ALEC-influenced legislation and failed to report on their state legislators' involvement with the group. A new wrinkle proposed this year by ALEC, however, directly affects state legislators. The Kansas City Star highlighted a document that was published by The Guardian that, although not adopted, would have required state chairs to take a loyalty oath: "I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first." As Star columnist Barbara Shelly wrote:
What? These are elected officials. They are to put the interests of their states and constituents first. Apparently at some level people realized that, because the draft job description was never adopted. But the very suggestion demonstrates ALEC's eagerness to control these lawmakers.
As legislative sessions begin next year, will state media outlets begin to question legislation offered by their state representatives, especially those who are known to be members of ALEC? Will state media outlets question their ALEC state chairmen about the loyalty oath and whether they are putting the interests of ALEC interests above those of their state and constituents?
ALEC's renewed push has essentially given local media a second chance to identify ALEC's influence in their states and potentially identify the corporate interests behind several pieces of legislation affecting their readers.
The Columbus Dispatch claimed that unemployment insurance [UI] benefits create a disincentive to work to attack President Obama's recent call to extend them into 2014. However, multiple economists have found that unemployment benefits are not disincentives to work during economic downturns, and that not extending them will hurt the economy and result in job loss.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch said Republican "political arguments" should not be blamed for the initial failures of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), despite the GOP's goal of obstructing of the law, hindering its rollout.
In a November 25 editorial discussing the ACA's rollout, the editorial board claimed that "political arguments" and "Republican boilerplate against the ACA" did not contribute to the failures of the rollout. From the Times-Dispatch:
Although President Barack Obama has accepted responsibility (sort of) for Obamacare's disastrous start, he continues to point fingers at others.
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank notes that Obama has whined about Republicans and the press. He has implied that GOP demands to repeal the Affordable Care Act have undermined the program's efficiency. Oh? Political arguments have no bearing on the mechanics of running Obamacare. Republican boilerplate against the ACA did not contribute to the fiasco. Conservatives may be reveling in the aftermath, but they did not cause the systemic failures.
The editorial fails to note the multiple instances of Republican obstructionism that have led to some of the problems with the law's implementation. As a November 1 Politico article noted, one of the causes of the flawed rollout was "calculated sabotage by Republicans at every step." The piece continued:
From the moment the bill was introduced, Republican leaders in both houses of Congress announced their intention to kill it. Republican troops pressed this cause all the way to the Supreme Court -- which upheld the law, but weakened a key part of it by giving states the option to reject an expansion of Medicaid. The GOP faithful then kept up their crusade past the president's reelection, in a pattern of "massive resistance" not seen since the Southern states' defiance of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.
The opposition was strategic from the start: Derail President Barack Obama's biggest ambition, and derail Obama himself. Party leaders enforced discipline, withholding any support for the new law -- which passed with only Democratic votes, thus undermining its acceptance. Partisan divisions also meant that Democrats could not pass legislation smoothing out some rough language in the draft bill that passed the Senate. That left the administration forced to fill far more gaps through regulation than it otherwise would have had to do, because attempts -- usually routine -- to re-open the bill for small changes could have led to wholesale debate in the Senate all over again.