Colorado's two largest newspapers, The Denver Post and The Gazette, have rarely mentioned Hispanic voters and the issues that matter to this key electoral bloc in their coverage of the state's U.S. Senate race.
A Media Matters analysis of newspaper coverage of anonymously donated "dark money" in three battleground states shows that secret money's growing influence on elections has not necessarily translated to more awareness in the media. While some news outlets are reporting on the influence this new influx of money is having on politics, others are merely providing a platform for dark-money groups to further their causes.
The term "dark money" is used to describe organizations that do not disclose the identity of at least some of their donors and that use money from these anonymous donors to fund political ads, mailers, and staff to try to influence voters and policymakers. Even spending by these groups may be shielded from disclosure, depending on the type of ad they run. Dark-money groups focus heavily on specific policy outcomes and try to connect candidates to their desired outcome through advertising. These groups protect their donors by never officially endorsing a candidate and by limiting their political activity. This allows them to be classified as "social welfare" organizations under the tax code, which means they do not have to disclose their funding.
Spending by dark-money groups in this election cycle is nearing the $200 million mark and is expected to spiral even higher before Election Day. Much of the spending by these groups is focused on influencing Senate races in key states. Media Matters reviewed newspaper coverage in three states with competitive Senate races (North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Colorado) to see how they are covering this influx of anonymous outside funding. The results show large discrepancies in the quality of the coverage of dark-money groups, with some papers doing a significantly better job than others.
Of the three states analyzed, North Carolina's newspapers provided the best overall coverage of dark money influence. North Carolina's Senate race is expected to set a new record for outside spending, with $55.7 million spent so far, even without counting the non-disclosed money. The Raleigh News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer, the two largest papers by circulation in the state, went beyond reporting the existence of the groups and attempted to report which outside groups were spending money on which ads -- something these groups often fail to do themselves. The North Carolina papers also reported on how dark-money groups such as the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) are using their influence to lobby for specific policies, such as the group's successful campaign to block a special legislative session on economic development.
The Colorado newspapers' coverage of dark-money activity proved to be far less extensive than that of the North Carolina newspapers, producing just 13 stories since July 15. Colorado's Senate race is also poised to break records in outside spending. The Denver Post's coverage did not go into depth the same way North Carolina's newspaper coverage did, but it did highlight efforts by groups like Americans for Prosperity to influence voters with their door-to-door outreach.
Colorado's second biggest paper, The Gazette of Colorado Springs, produced few reports on dark money during the period analyzed. However, a partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News produced a report that covered many of the complexities of dark money. The article discussed outside spending by both conservative and liberal groups and explained the difficulty of tracking dark-money donors and the impact of their donations:
"Nonprofit political groups do not have to disclose donors," Viveka Novak, editorial and communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics said. "So we could only identify organizations that filed 990s (nonprofit tax forms) and that wouldn't include individuals or corporations, so there are still a lot of donors or donations no one would know about."
[Sheldon] Adelson, the Koch Brothers and many other politically active billionaires and multimillionaires across the political spectrum are able to maintain privacy and give endless funds after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which held that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.
"TV ads are number one, the overwhelming most important tool in winning one of these campaigns," Ciruli said.
In New Hampshire, dark-money groups have spent at least $4.3 million in the Senate race -- overwhelmingly in support of the Republican candidate, as of September 8. This subject has seen poor coverage from the state's largest newspaper, The Union Leader. While the paper mentioned dark-money groups in 11 articles, and another five articles mentioned the groups and specific policies, the paper's coverage mostly provided a platform for groups like AFP to spread their message and did not explain the groups' attempt to influence policy decisions or the Senate race. For example, in a September 30 article, the paper gave AFP state director Greg Moore a platform to attack the state's budget situation and blast the Affordable Care Act, something the group has also done in its advertising against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH):
Greg Moore, state director for Americans for Prosperity, blamed Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act for much of the shortfall in the two-year budget plan.
"The legislature gave the administration $57 million from the last, fiscally-responsible budget to spend, and expected that surplus to last for the entire, two-year budget, but Governor Hassan took her eyes off the ball and spent even more," Moore said. "Keeping within the budget takes strong executive action and discipline, but we aren't seeing that right now in Concord."
While the use of dark-money groups is not one sided, conservative groups are far more likely to use this route to shield wealthy donors and ensuing spending. As the Brennan Center for Justice noted, in this election cycle, "Overall, 80 percent of pro-Republican nonparty expenditures came from dark money groups, compared to 32 percent of outside spending favoring Democrats." This is not a new trend for conservative supporters, as spending by nondisclosing groups has clearly favored Republican candidates over the past four election cycles:
The problem with dark-money groups, as the Brennan Center's analysis noted, is that "the lack of transparency in the majority of outside spending in competitive races leaves voters unable to evaluate the political messages they see" and that these groups "threaten to make a mockery of contribution limits and their prophylactic effect on corruption and influence buying." This sentiment was echoed by University of Louisville political science professor Laurie A. Rhodebeck in the Los Angeles Times, saying that the flood of dark-money spending is "detrimental to voters because if they don't know who is behind the money, they can't judge whether to trust the ad or not."
The scale of the problem is considerable. The Boston Globe reported on October 22 (emphasis added):
The impact is visible online and on television. One of every 16 television ads in US Senate races from January 2013 through August were paid for by a single group, Americans for Prosperity, according to the nonpartisan investigative Center for Public Integrity and advertising tracking service Kantar Media. AFP serves as a nonprofit advocacy arm of the political network backed by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
The Brennan Center found that during the 2012 election, "three-quarters of outside expenditures were made after September 30, and one-half were made in just the last three weeks of the campaign." This suggests that newspapers in these key battleground states still have the opportunity to report on how dark money is influencing their elections.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of the top newspapers (by circulation) in three highly contested states. The papers analyzed were North Carolina's News and Observer in Raleigh and The Charlotte Observer, New Hampshire's Union Leader, and Colorado's Denver Post and the Colorado Springs Gazette. The Concord Monitor, New Hampshire's second largest newspaper, was excluded because it is not in the Nexis database. The search term "((outside or independent or nondisclos! or non-disclos! or undisclosed or dark or secretive) w/5 (money or expenditure or spending)) or (Americans for Prosperity) or (Crossroads GPS) or (U.S. Chamber of Commerce) or (Patriot Majority USA) or (Concerned Veterans for America) or (Freedom Partners)" was used to search for reports on dark-money spending from July 15, 2014, when the Federal Election Commission's quarterly report was released, through October 24. While dark-money groups do not have to disclose all spending to FEC, as other groups do, this date aligns closely with the increase in outside spending.
National women's organization NARAL: Pro-Choice America and MoveOn are calling out The Denver Post's recent endorsement of Republican Senate candidate Rep. Cory Gardner (CO), running a full-page ad in the paper's Sunday edition that highlights the Post's omission of Gardner's anti-choice policy positions that "deeply conflict with the paper's previous editorial stances."
An October 17 announcement from NARAL: Pro-Choice America and MoveOn.org Political Action declared that the two organizations are teaming up in an effort to "rebuke" The Denver Post's recent "misguided endorsement" of Cory Gardner. Criticizing the news outlet for glossing over Gardner's extreme stance on personhood legislation as well as his positions on climate change and immigration, the organizations will run a full-page ad in the Post's Sunday edition as well as an online ad on DenverPost.com:
A hard-hitting, full-page ad from MoveOn.org Political Action and NARAL Pro-Choice America running inthis Sunday's Denver Post blasts the state's largest newspaper for endorsing Cory Gardner, a far-right candidate who holds views that deeply conflict with the paper's previous editorial stances. MoveOn.org Political Action and NARAL Pro-Choice America are running the print ad as well as online ads on DenverPost.com.
The print ad highlights contrasts between previous positions from The Denver Post editorial board and Gardner's stance on issues including a woman's right to choose, global warming, and immigration reform.
Contrary to The Denver Post's refusal to hold Gardner accountable for his position on fetal personhood legislation, which would greatly infringe on women's access to health care and legal abortion, NARAL and MoveOn's recent ad follows the lead of other media figures unwilling to give Gardner's incomprehensible stance on personhood a pass.
Washington Post columnist George Will ignored Colorado GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner's controversial policy positions on women's rights to smear Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) as a one issue candidate. But Gardner has supported measures that would severely limit women's reproductive choice.
On October 10, the Denver Post editorial board endorsed Republican Cory Gardner citing Udall's prioritization of what the Post called "his obnoxious one-issue campaign" on women's issues like abortion.
George Will parroted the Post's criticism of Udall on the October 14 edition Special Report with Bret Baier. Will claimed that "the whole war on women thing has been really worn out by this point," adding that the issue has been settled because contraception and abortion rights have been firmly ingrained in America for more than 40 years:
The Denver Post's endorsement of Republican Senate candidate Rep. Cory Gardner (CO) claimed that he posed "no threat to abortion rights," a declaration that ignores Gardner's support of federal personhood legislation that would greatly infringe on women's access to health care and legal abortion.
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.
Over the past three months, major print outlets throughout the country largely failed to discuss rising structural inequality and poverty in the United States while reporting on policies and programs that affect low-income groups.
As some of the most destructive wildfires in history ravage the Southwest, major newspapers in the area have documented the way climate change makes blazes more likely less than half as often as national newspapers.
Recent fires have taken a massive toll as the hottest, driest parts of the U.S. become even hotter and drier. In Arizona, 19 firefighters perished in the worst American wildfire disaster in decades, a quick-moving inferno that destroyed a small town. Months ago, fire season began early in California, and it has since been called the state's worst ever. Colorado recently experienced the most destructive wildfire in its history, bringing the total area set aflame this season within the state to about 180 square miles, larger than the area of Barbados. New Mexico and Utah have lately faced "unprecedented" and "potentially explosive" fires, respectively.
Fires like these must be sparked (by anything from lightning to a stray rifle shot), but research indicates that climate change, and the extreme heat and drought conditions it propagates in the Southwest, boosts the chances that they will happen and cause significant damage. Indeed, seven out of nine fire scientists contacted by Media Matters as part of a 2012 study agreed that journalists should detail the role of climate change in worsening risk when they report on such fires.
Climate change was almost entirely absent from the political discourse this election season, receiving less than an hour of TV coverage over three months from the major cable and broadcast networks excluding MSNBC. By contrast, those outlets devoted nearly twice as much coverage to Vice President Joe Biden's demeanor during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan. When climate change was addressed, print and TV media outlets often failed to note the scientific consensus or speak to scientists.
A two-part Media Matters examinantion of the largest newspapers in CO, NH, NV, OH, PA and VA from July 1-August 15 and from August 16-October 31, 2012 revealed a variety of shortcomings in the way clean energy and regulatory issues are covered by those publications.
On Sunday, the Denver Post published an op-ed about climate change by Americans For Prosperity's Sean Paige, but did not disclose AFP's close ties to the Koch brothers -- fossil fuel magnates who benefit financially from convincing the public that our consumption of fossil fuels is a harmless indulgence with no ill effects. The companion counter-argument by children's author and astronomer Jeffrey Bennett tellingly noted "Despite any debate you may hear in politics or the media, there is no scientific doubt that global warming is tilting the odds the wrong way."
In his op-ed, Paige suggests that we are simply experiencing "natural" "climate fluctuation" and argues that the specter of "climate change" is "the ultimate all-purpose excuse" to evade responsibility for disaster or increase regulations.
Deriding Americans concerned about climate change is nothing new for AFP. Nor is it surprising, if one knows that AFP was founded and bankrolled by David and Charles Koch, whose Koch Industries is a major player in fossil fuel markets. The Denver Post's failure to explain what AFP is, which speaks to Paige's potential agenda and the trustworthiness of his claims, is a significant breach of the duties it owes to its readership.
Furthermore, in providing Paige and AFP such a prominent platform, the Post has contributed to an unfortunate national trend in failed media coverage of the wildfires in the West - ignoring or diminishing how climate change increases the risk of fire there. Paige's column dismisses the effects of climate change as a "cop-out," and completely ignores significant research indicating climate change has contributed to warmer and drier conditions. A study by the U.S. Global Change Research Program sums it up:
Wildfires in the United States are already increasing due to warming. In the West, there has been a nearly fourfold increase in large wildfires in recent decades, with greater fire frequency, longer fire durations, and longer wildfire seasons. This increase is strongly associated with increased spring and summer temperatures and earlier spring snowmelt, which have caused drying of soils and vegetation.
Denver Post columnist and local radio host Mike Rosen drew criticism this week when he questioned the citizenship status of President Obama. Media Matters looks back at his long record of extreme and hateful rhetoric.
Within the last 7 days, the Denver Post has published two opinion pieces on voter ID laws, specifically arguing for why Colorado needs one. Both pieces rehash common myths about voter ID laws, including the popular conservative argument that the number of citizens without an ID card is too small to be significant and the false equivalency that because you need identification to do a multitude of other things, such as "travel by air" or "operate a motor vehicle," then it's reasonable that you should need one to vote. From this morning's Denver Post editorial:
The case has been made that voter ID laws could disenfranchise a significant number of eligible voters, disproportionately harming minorities, seniors and low-income voters.
Those were among the arguments made by 16 Democratic U.S. senators, including Colorado's Michael Bennet, who last summer asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to examine voter ID laws in various states. [...]
A 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case involving a voter ID law in Indiana, a state that also does not fall into the higher-scrutiny category, made it clear there wasn't anything inherently discriminatory about requiring voters to present a photo ID before casting a ballot. [...]
So long as it is paired with administrative adjustments to help those voters who want to get an ID, we think it would be a positive step toward ensuring those who show up at the polls are who they say they are. There's nothing wrong with that.
Despite the Supreme Court decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board that is cited by the editorial board, these laws are restrictive to voters. A study of new voter ID laws passed last year alone show that another 5 million citizens will be impacted in the upcoming election -- especially the elderly and communities of color.
The Denver Post's editorial board claims there is nothing wrong with voter ID laws, "so long as it is paired with administrative adjustments" to help voters acquire ID cards; the board is essentially agreeing to impose a burden on people who wouldn't have been previously burdened -- all to stop a non-existent problem. As the Brennan Center for Justice found in its 2007 study of voter fraud, the allegations of widespread voter fraud "do not pan out." Even prominent voices in favor of voter ID laws, such as Hans Van Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, have previously admitted that there is not "massive fraud" in elections.
Mike Rosen, an opinion writer for the Post, also weighed in on voter ID laws in a column from last Thursday. From the Denver Post:
Across the nation, Americans are routinely required to show a photo ID when they travel by air; operate a motor vehicle; buy alcohol at a liquor store, restaurant, bar or sporting event; write a check at a grocery store; get a job; rent a car; apply for a passport; make a credit card purchase; apply for a loan; get a marriage license; adopt a pet; open an account or cash a check at a bank; get medical care; fill a drug prescription; pick up tickets at the will-call window of a baseball park or theater; rent an apartment; close on a house; or get a hotel room, to mention just a few. [...]
How tough is it, really, to get a photo ID? There are 200 million licensed drivers in the U.S. with photo IDs. Non-drivers can secure general-purpose photo IDs at government offices. Obtaining one is much easier than a driver's license; there's no written exam or road test.
And why would anyone want to suffer the inconveniences of going without a photo ID? Only a racist or political spinmeister could claim that blacks lack the common sense to accomplish this simple task. And you can be sure that anywhere photo ID laws are passed, Democratic community organizers would be out in force getting their core voters qualified. Yes, illegal immigrants and other lawbreakers might have trouble getting a valid photo ID, but why should that bother you, unless you're a Democrat who assumes most of those people would vote for your party?
Despite Rosen's assertion that it can't be that "tough" to get a photo ID, a 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that as many as 13 million people don't have ready access to citizenship documents. Without citizenship documents, getting an ID becomes problematic and potentially expensive.
Rosen also seems to disregard the fact that identification requirements for travel, purchasing alcohol, filling a prescription, etc. are fundamentally different from voting, since the former are not constitutionally protected rights. As ACLU South Carolina executive director Victoria Middleton explained in a William & Mary Election Law Society post:
Photo IDs are required for many activities these days, from boarding a plane to purchasing a six-pack of beer. When asked if it was unreasonable to ask an individual to present an ID to vote, Middleton said, "It's not a constitutional right to buy Sudafed or become a frequent flier." She continued, "People fought and died to win the right to vote."
Last week, we noted that AM 850 conservative radio host and Denver Post columnist Mike Rosen said he supported building Park 51, the Islamic cultural center proposed in lower Manhattan, but that its construction should be "followed by the hijacking of an Iranian plane right into that building and blow it to smithereens." The comment came during a debate with Colorado based progressive author and AM 760 radio host David Sirota and KHOW's Peter Boyles.
After Rosen's bizarre endorsement of another terrorist attack in New York City sparked widespread controversy the right-wing talker devoted his entire column in today's Denver Post to a response. Rosen's excuse? He was kidding -- it was only satire!
Isn't terrorism and religious hatred hilarious?
Rosen writes (emphasis added):
Although my comment was obviously satirical, various lefties are intentionally misrepresenting it, out of context, as if this were truly my position.
My serious opinion on the mosque is a matter of record and can be found in my Denver Post column of Aug. 26, in which I wrote, "Opponents aren't arguing that government should bar the mosque on private property. They're engaging in moral suasion, urging New York Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf to abandon this location on the basis of propriety and build it somewhere else. Yes, Muslims have feelings, too, but given the religious mission of the 9/11 murderers and the inordinate loss of non-suicidal, non-Muslim life in this case, the sensibilities of survivors and families of those killed should take precedence."
This online jihad against me is just another tiresome example of the way lefties play the game. Anything goes and truth, honesty and ethics are no barrier. I'm not surprised, nor am I impressed or intimidated.
While it is hilarious to read Rosen critiquing the "honesty and ethics" of anyone, his overall response is disingenuous at best.
For a moment, let's accept Rosen's excuse that he was being satirical. What was the underlying idea behind his position? Essentially what you'd expect, that all Muslims are responsible for the extremist, terrorist actions of only a few and that building Park 51 so closely to ground zeros rankles the "sensibilities" of some.
Whose "sensibilities" are offended by the move to build Park 51? People who blame all Muslims for the events of 9-11. People like Rosen.
Satirical or not, his position on Park 51 is hateful, Islamaphobic, un-American and deeply divisive.
Speaking to Michael Roberts for Westword's media blog, Rosen also took a swipe at MSNBC's Keith Olbermann for identifying him as a Denver Post columnist when Olbermann named him "Worst Person in the World."
This spin led to the item on MSNBC's Countdown, during which host Keith Olbermann identified Rosen with the Denver Post, not KOA. That seemed wrong to Rosen, who notes that "I'm known primarily by my radio show. The fact that I write a once-a-week column in the Denver Post is nice but tangential. It goes to show that Olbermann and his people didn't do any vetting on this. They didn't make any attempt to find out if it was the truth. Maybe Olbermann believes that was my actual position, in which case Sirota is responsible for that misperception. But you'd think the staff would spend at least a few minutes to find out if that could be taken at face value or not."
Rosen used his Denver Post column to respond to the controversy over his comments at the debate and within that very Denver Post column cited a previous Denver Post column to defend his more serious thinking.
How's that for "tangential."
The word actually better describes Rosen's relationship with the truth and logical thinking.
Don't hold your breath for another debate between Rosen and Sirota. The right-wing host has firmly tucked his tail between his legs, saying he has "no interest in doing anything with David Sirota again."
Sirota provided Media Matters with the following response:
In the last few weeks, we've seen mosques desecrated, we've seen Arab Americans violently attacked for their religion, and we've seen a criminal cite right-wing talk radio as the reason he was going to kill people at a non-profit foundation. So words - especially from public figures in public forums - have real consequences, and it's frankly sad to see that Mike can't simply apologize for his crass statements. He can say people who take offense are humorless, but he hasn't explained how his comments were funny. Why hasn't he? Because they aren't funny - they were offensive and dangerous. And the reason I pointed them out was not because I have some personal desire to embarrass a local radio host here in Denver, but because I fundamentally believe that silence in the face of violent and hateful rhetoric is complicity.
You can share your thoughts about Rosen's extreme rhetoric. You can contact KOA AM 850 here, email Rosen here, or contact his sponsors here. While you are at it, you can email the Denver Post, which employs Rosen as a columnist.
Numerous media figures have pointed to a sentence from a 2001 speech by Sonia Sotomayor to characterize her or her comments as being "racist" while ignoring the point of Sotomayor's speech, which undercuts their criticisms.