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  • "Do Your Job": Editorials Implore Senate GOP To Rise Above "Obstruction" And Act On Merrick Garland

    ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS & TYLER CHERRY

    Newspaper editorials roundly urged Senate Republicans to stop obstructing the nomination process of Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court vacancy. The editorials chastised "obstructionist" senators for their "stupendous show of political malfeasance" and warned that the obstruction is "out of sync with the nation's best interests," among other criticisms.

  • Here Are The Big Players In The Inevitable Smear Campaign Against Judge Merrick Garland

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    As President Obama reportedly prepares to announce Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, media should be prepared to hear from several right-wing groups dedicated to opposing the nominee, no matter who it is. These advocacy groups and right-wing media outlets have a history of pushing misleading information and alarmist rhetoric to launch smear campaigns against Obama's highly qualified Supreme Court nominees, using tactics including, but not limited to, spreading offensive rumors about a nominee's personal life, deploying bogus legal arguments or conspiracy theories, and launching wild distortions of every aspect of a nominee's legal career.

  • Ahead Of SCOTUS Hearing, TX Media Highlight Negative Impacts Of "Dangerous" Anti-Choice Law

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    On March 2, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a "landmark case" that is challenging strict anti-choice Texas provisions, commonly known under its bill name HB 2, that medical groups say only serve to "reduce women's access to abortion." Many Texas media outlets are highlighting the negative impacts of restrictive abortion access, noting that Texas' anti-choice law is making abortions more "dangerous," "confusing," and "unattainable," specifically for rape victims, low-income women, Latina and immigrant women, and service women.

  • Newspaper Editorial Boards Overwhelmingly Urge Senate To "Do Your Job" And Vote On Obama's SCOTUS Nominee

    ››› ››› KATE SARNA

    Newspaper editorial boards are overwhelmingly urging GOP Senate leadership to hold hearings and vote on President Obama's Supreme Court nomination to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. A vast number of the boards have called GOP pledges to block a nomination "outrageous," "irresponsible," obstructionism rooted in "partisan self-interest" which "deeply damages the operation of the Judiciary Branch" and "represents an act of disrespect to Justice Scalia."

  • Major State Newspapers Failed To Cover The Higher Cost Burden Assumed By States That Opted Out Of Expanding Medicaid

    ››› ››› MAKENZIE MURPHY

    An October 15 Kaiser Family Foundation study highlighted the increased health care cost burden for states that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet, in the three non-expansion states with the highest number of individuals who would benefit from expansion, the highest-circulating state newspapers failed to mention the increased state cost associated with the lack of expansion.

  • New Anti-Choice Video Attempts, And Fails, To Smear Texas Planned Parenthood

    ››› ››› RACHEL LARRIS

    The Center for Medical Progress attempted to smear Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas by releasing a new undercover video that it falsely claims shows a clinic doctor discussing how she might conduct illegal abortion procedures for "harvesting intact fetal heads," and affirming a price for the specimens. But experts say the procedures she describes are legal, the footage actually reveals that the doctor specifically said she does not do fetal tissue donations at her clinic, and the undercover actors are the only ones who discuss procedure costs.

  • Austin American Statesman Editorial: Texas Is Putting "Politics Before Public Health" In Planned Parenthood "Witch Hunt"

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL LARRIS

    The editorial board of the Austin American Statesman has called the decision by Texas "lawmakers and state officials" to investigate Planned Parenthood for Medicaid fraud part of a "witch hunt" that won't stop until the health care provider "is completely dismantled in Texas."

    An October 28 editorial by the Austin American Statesman discussed the state's plan to stop reimbursing Planned Parenthood with state Medicaid funds for treating low-income patients and its issuing of subpoenas to three clinics for detailed patient records as part of an investigation into alleged Medicaid fraud. The editorial board correctly pointed out that the state "has not yet produced any evidence to support its allegation that laws or policies were broken aside from the heavily edited videos taped in secret and released by an anti-abortion group" -- videos which have been thoroughly debunked by independent experts but are still being characterized as factual by right-wing media. The editorial added that "the timing of the investigation" suggests that the state is attempting to "validate its decision with a retroactive investigation." And it warned that "the apparent willingness of Texas leaders to put politics before public health bodes ill for them and for the state.

    Texas is gearing up for a full-fledged witch hunt.

    The target is women's health provider Planned Parenthood, and it is clear that lawmakers and state officials will not stop until the 94-year-old nonprofit is completely dismantled in Texas.

    Last week ended with Planned Parenthood being put on notice that the state intended to strip the nonprofit of its ability to receive Medicaid reimbursement for health services, alleging that Planned Parenthood had "committed and condoned numerous acts of misconduct captured on video."

    Interestingly, the state has not yet produced any evidence to support its allegation that laws or policies were broken aside from the heavily edited videos taped in secret and released by an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress. The controversial fetal tissue program that has dominated the national headlines doesn't even exist in Texas.

    [...]

    The timing of the investigation certainly gives the impression that the state is trying to validate its decision with a retroactive investigation.

    [...]

    Ultimately those who will suffer are the low-income Texas families who rely on Planned Parenthood for contraception and medical care. They deserve the same access to care and the same ability to choose their own medical providers that the rest of us have come to expect.

    When it comes to women's health care, Republican leaders seem determined to score political points at the expense of the state's public health and individual freedom of choice that extends far beyond the ability to decide whether to have an abortion.

    [...]

    We fully understand the politics of abortion. However, the apparent willingness of Texas leaders to put politics before public health bodes ill for them and for the state.

  • Dallas Morning News Editorial Writer: Correctly Identifying Transgender People Is "Confusing"

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    An editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News offered an embarrassing defense for not bothering to correctly identify transgender people, arguing that widely accepted journalistic guidelines for talking about the transgender community are "confusing" and  "misinform[s] the public."

    In a May 4 column in The Dallas Morning News, editorial writer Tod Robberson criticized The New York Times and Associated Press for recognizing "the gender preference of transgenders in news copy." According to Robberson, identifying trans people using the pronouns they prefer "distort[s] the truth" in order to embrace "the politically correct transgender language of the day": 

    The New York Times and Associated Press, among other news organizations, have decided that they will recognize the gender preference of transgenders in news copy. Which is to say, when a male who has yet to undergo gender reassignment surgery nevertheless calls himself a female and is the subject of a news story, he will be identified as a female in all references.

    [...]

    See how confusing that gets? What is the actual, at-birth gender of the person we're talking about? And what gender will the person be identified as, once reassignment surgery is completed? Who knows?

    There is a serious ethical discussion in this issue that we in journalism never really had. The orders came down from on high one day, and everyone just sort of jumped on board without questioning the implications. The first ethical issue is whether we journalists distort the truth by embracing the politically correct transgender language of the day.

    [...]

    Like it or not, the use of he/she, her/him, his/hers in print is a grammatical and journalistic necessity. We can't avoid it. But in doing so, choosing the correct word shouldn't be an option selected out of a sense of inclusion or demonstration of open mindedness about sexual identity. Our only choice must be to use the correct words to accurately and truthfully report the news.

  • 5 Years After Citizens United, Newspapers Fail To Cover Its Impact On Judicial Elections

    ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    Five years after the Supreme Court opened the floodgates of campaign spending with its Citizens United decision, top newspapers in the three states with the most expensive judicial campaigns, Ohio, Alabama, and Texas, have largely failed to connect Citizens United with major changes in these races. The influx of money into state judicial elections following the decision has accelerated negative advertisements and campaign financing that may influence judges' decisions.

  • Texas Journalists Urge National Press To Take Perry Case More Seriously

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    While many national outlets are dismissing the indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry as political payback, Texas journalists warn that such claims are misguided, incomplete, and the product of a "rush to judgment." 

    On August 15, news broke that Perry was being indicted for "abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant," both of which are felonies.

    The charges relate to Perry's threatened and completed veto of $7.5 million in state funding for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit.

    The case claims that the threat and veto were retaliation against Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat and the head of that unit, who ignored Perry's call for her to resign after she was convicted of drunk driving. At the time Lehmberg's unit was investigating corruption in a program Perry had heavily touted; if she had resigned, Perry would have appointed her replacement.

    Following the announcement, a split has emerged among press covering the story. Much of the Lone Star State media has covered it as a valid legal proceeding and part of a greater picture of misconduct, while national media are treating Perry's indictment as mere politics. 

    The New York Times editorial board speculated that it "appears to be the product of an overzealous prosecution." Liberal New York magazine reporter Jonathan Chait labeled the indictment "unbelievably ridiculous." A USA Today editorial dubbed it a "flimsy indictment," while The Wall Street Journal called it "prosecutorial abuse for partisan purposes."

    But Texas journalists say many on the national level don't know the facts and context and are too quick to judge from afar.

    "The national pundits -- and some of them are very thoughtful people -- tend to focus first and most easily on the politics," said Wayne Slater, a columnist at the Dallas Morning News. "How does this particular event help or hurt that candidate in the potential horse race? Many reporters in Texas know Perry and are much more familiar with the details in this case, the fact that these are Republicans investigating this and that Perry has a history of hardball politics in forcing people out. This is a much more nuanced story than some in the Beltway understand."

    Slater adds, "Rick Perry is getting good press because he has been masterful in the way he has framed this as a matter of partisan politics. Instinctively political journalists and reporters and outlets at some distance understand that Perry is winning the politics at the moment and that his narrative of events really comports with their general sense of how things work, that politicians threaten people and coerce people."

    Forrest Wilder, who is covering the story for the Texas Observer, noted in a recent piece that the criminal complaint against Perry filed in June 2013 by Texans for Public Justice was assigned to a Republican judge who then appointed a former prosecutor in the George H.W. Bush administration as special prosecutor. In comments to Media Matters, Wilder said the charges were something "we should take seriously."

  • Study: Top Fracking States Ignore Findings That Their Drinking Water Is At Risk

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    A recent national report from the Government Accountability Office found that a higher regulatory standard is needed to ensure that drinking water sources are protected from fracking wastewater practices. But the largest circulating newspapers of the states with the highest levels of fracking production -- therefore among the most vulnerable to its risks -- have ignored this study.

  • Texas Journalists: Lt. Gov's Threat To Arrest Reporters "Worrisome"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    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."

  • Newspapers Give Texas HHS Commissioner A Pass On His Health Insurance Trutherism

    Blog ››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI

    The three largest newspapers in Texas have so far failed to report on comments made by Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Dr. Kyle Janek over the past two months in which he claimed not to believe the official number of people without health insurance in Texas. Nearly two weeks after Republican Gov. Rick Perry officially notified the federal government that Texas would not be setting up a health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act to help people get insurance, readers of the Houston Chronicle, The Dallas Morning News, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram remain in the dark about the out-of-touch comments from by the governor's social services czar, according to a Media Matters analysis.

    In September and again in October, Janek discussed the problem of uninsured Texans at forums held by the Texas Tribune. During his first comments at the Texas Tribune Festival, Janek said he did not believe the Census Bureau's statistics describing the percentage of uninsured Texans -- which currently stands at 26.3 percent -- because according to him, the Census Bureau asked the wrong question.

    In October, Janek re-framed his position telling the Texas Tribune during a one on one discussion with Texas Tribune founder Eric Smith that the Census Bureau asked "a question" instead of saying they asked the wrong question.

    From a transcript of a video (at the 13:40 mark) posted by the Texas Tribune:

    ERIC SMITH (TEXAS TRIBUNE): Let me ask you a broader question about the state of health policy in Texas and the uninsured. You know that the U.S. Census Bureau some six weeks ago put out a report that said that Texas now has 5.8 million uninsured citizens, 23 percent of our population, which makes us first among the states in the percentage of our citizens insured. You gave an interview to Emily Ramshaw of the Tribune at the Texas Tribune Festival in which you basically said I don't believe those statistics. This is the U.S. Census Bureau, not Public Policy Polling. It's a little hard to argue that the polls are skewed when the numbers are coming from the Census Bureau Dr. Janek, don't you think?

    DR. KYLE JANEK (TEXAS HHSC): Umm, no their numbers are accurate for the question that they asked.

    SMITH: So you think they asked the wrong question?       

    JANEK: No I don't, I think they asked a question.

    SMITH: A question.

    JANEK: Not the wrong question, it's a question. And here's the issue. If you go out now today and you go knock on doors as the Census Bureau does and do it by letter and say, "Do you have insurance," a lot of folks will say no, it doesn't mean they won't have insurance next week, it doesn't mean they will have insurance next week, it could be years before they have insurance again, it's a snapshot.

    Later in the video Smith does push back on Janek's assertion that the Census Bureau had inaccurate data. However, these numbers shouldn't come as a surprise to new commissioner. As RH Reality Check points out, these numbers have remained consistent since 1987:

    Janek must not be aware that for nearly 25 years, the Census Bureau's "snapshot" has shown practically the same thing: since 1987, Texas repeatedly has one of the highest, or the very highest, number of uninsured adults in the country. That rate has not been below 1987's 23 percent; it peaked at 26.8 percent in 2009 and is currently estimated at 26.2 percent.

    As Texas Tribune pointed out in its first report pushing back on the comments, the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey -- which does ask if the respondent had health insurance within the last year -- still puts the uninsured rate at about a quarter of the population:

    There's a flip side to his first argument: The Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, which asks whether respondents had health insurance at any point in the previous year, also puts Texas' rate of uninsured at about a quarter of the population. That survey is much smaller -- it has a national sample size of 100,000 addresses -- but is more detailed and conducted by more experienced staff.

    "The suggestion that Texas would shoot to the top because of the way the question is asked -- I cannot think of any reason why anything would be different here," said Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the liberal Center for Public Policy Priorities. "The same conditions exist here that exist in the whole country, except we have more people uninsured, and we're spending billions of dollars in local property taxes" on hospital care.

    While Texas Tribune pushed back on his comments, newspapers in Texas failed to hold the commissioner accountable. According to a Media Matters analysis of coverage on Nexis and the newspapers' websites, since his appointment at the end of July, none of the three Texas newspapers examined wrote about Janek's controversial comments, and only one gave him more than a passing mention. On November 11, almost a month and a half after Janek's initial comments, the Chronicle wrote a piece spotlighting Janek's health care strategies in Texas, and, in an almost laudatory tone, said his appointment "couldn't come at a better time for private hospitals."

    From the Chronicle:

    The appointment of Janek, a Houston physician, couldn't come at a better time for private hospitals like Memorial Hermann, Methodist and St. Luke's. He's an important ally at a time when the balance of power is shifting dramatically.

    Janek recently sparred with Coleman at a public hearing of the House County Affairs Committee, which Coleman chairs. The Houston Democrat noted pointedly that health care districts - not the private hospitals - will put up tax dollars to win an estimated $29 billion in extra federal dollars.

    The private hospitals, he complained, "are crying and hollering about someone else's money." He also objected to complaints from private business entities that are "aligned" politically with politicians who oppose government-funded health care.

    This wasn't the first time the Chronicle has discussed Janek and failed to push back on his Census skepticism. After the second interview with the Texas Tribune, the Chronicle published a piece that included comments he made at the Tribune event, but the paper again failed to mention or dispute his assertions about the number of uninsured in Texas, instead discussing his opinion on Planned Parenthood's role in the new Texas Women's Health Program. 

    Despite not holding Janek accountable, the Chronicle has not shied away from discussing the uninsured in Texas. In August they dedicated an entire article to the Census Bureau findings -- the same one Janek claimed didn't provide the whole picture -- noting that Texas' overall percentage of uninsured residents was 26.3 percent. Earlier this month, the Chronicle again discussed the number of uninsured in Texas, writing that the state has the second-highest number of uninsured residents in the nation, but again failed to mention the health commissioner's unfounded skepticism.

    While the facts go against Janek's assertion, the more troubling aspect is the failure of the major newspapers in Texas to hold the Commissioner of Health and Human Services accountable for his comments.