The New Hampshire Union Leader editorial board has consistently pointed to Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) as the candidate best suited to protect the country from threats, stressing his work on terrorism cases as a former US attorney. However, experts disagree with the paper, noting Christie's record and experience do not amount to significant anti-terror bona fides.
In its November 28 endorsement of Christie, the Union Leader suggested he was the candidate that "is right for these dangerous times" as he has "prosecuted terrorists and dealt admirably with major disasters." When critics claimed Christie was overselling his experience, the Union Leader fired back in a December 22 editorial, defending Christie's boasts that "we prosecuted two of the biggest terrorism cases in the world":
Critics of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are upset that he's sharing his experiences prosecuting terrorists with New Hampshire voters.
We're not sure whether they're mad that Christie won convictions of suspected terrorists, or that he thinks New Hampshire voters might find this relevant. Perhaps both.
Christie served as the U.S. attorney for New Jersey from 2002 to 2008. He formed a terrorism unit to work with the FBI to root out Islamic extremists before they could attack, including a plot to strike Fort Dix and an attempt to sell a shoulder-fired missile to an undercover FBI agent. These were bad people who wanted to do bad things. Christie put them in jail before they could.
In addition, a January 5 column by editorial page editor Grant Bosse again cited Christie's "focus on anti-terrorism cases" as a unique trait that sets him apart from the GOP field. The editorial board and its surrogates have largely been parroting the candidate who has similarly relied on his prosecuting record as qualifying national defense experience during recent debates.
However, fact checkers have disagreed with Christie's description of his record that the Union Leader has parroted, noting that he "arguably made more of a name for himself" as U.S. attorney "for prosecuting corrupt politicians (his office successfully prosecuted more than 130 public officials) than terrorists." The Daily Beast reported that while his record against corruption is more robust, his "antiterror resume is rather short":
As for actual terrorism cases, there are only two: Hemant Lakhani in 2005, a 71-year-old (now-deceased) British citizen who had been recorded saying he "was willing to broker the sale of shoulder-fired missiles to shoot down American passenger jets" and the "Fort Dix Six" in 2007, when five Islamic men and their gun dealer were arrested for allegedly plotting to kill U.S. soldiers "at various installations, including the Fort Dix Army a base in New Jersey."
In both cases, FBI informants played central roles in nailing the suspects, leading some critics to suggest the charges were the results of entrapment.
The Lakhani case was the subject of a 2009 This American Life installment, which painted the portrait of Lakhani as a hapless charlatan who had stumbled into the FBI's trap despite possessing no ability to broker missiles of any kind. The Fort Dix case was torn apart and dissected by The Intercept in 2015, where reporters Murtaza Hussain and Razan Ghalayini made the case that the FBI worked overtime to convince the accused men to agree to commit terrorist attacks that Christie and his office then "thwarted."
Jonathan Hafetz, former litigation director at NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, told NJ.com that the Governor's promotion of his anti-terrorism record shows he is "clearly trying to rebrand himself in making a run for the White House."
Christie also came under fire for the timeline of his record after saying in the September Republican debate that he "was appointed U.S. Attorney by President Bush on Sept. 10, 2001." Politifact found that statement to be "mostly false." While Christie may have received word of a pending nomination prior to 9/11, he wasn't nominated until months after the attacks and wasn't sworn in as US attorney until January of 2002.
Christie's national security policy proposals introduced during his run for president have included a call to re-authorize less restrictive rules on the bulk collection of phone records -- which the administration already has access to -- and the blocking of Syrian refugees including "orphans under age five" in order to stop terror threats against the United States, which experts agree would be harmful to US foreign policy and its goal to stop the influence of ISIS.
The Union Leader's mimicking of Christie's tough but dubious anti-terror talk continues the paper's blind defense of the governor, even as those from his home state denounce his record of failed economic policies and scandal.
A New Hampshire Union Leader editorial defended Gov. Chris Christie's (R-NJ) Social Security proposal, claiming he would "save" the program, after the New Jersey Governor's plan was attacked by Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump. However, experts agree Christie's plan would make the program less solvent and hurt low income Americans.
The Union Leader, which endorsed Christie in November, claimed in a December 10 editorial that Trump was using "liberal scare tactics" when he criticized Christie's plan to raise the retirement age. The paper went on to praise Christie for being the "first candidate in either party to put forward a detailed plan to address entitlements." The Union Leader continued:
But Christie's plan to save Social Security and Medicare wouldn't touch the retirement age for current retirees. Trump would know this, if he actually bothered to check his facts before speaking.
[Christie] would gradually raise the retirement age for younger workers, and means-test benefits for those making more than $200,000 per year in retirement income.
Several GOP candidates have backed responsible entitlement reform plans. Trump parrots liberal scare tactics, consistent with his long-held support for big government.
Trump would pander to seniors, do nothing, and watch Social Security go as bankrupt as one of his casinos.
Trumps criticism aside, experts agree that Christie's plan is both misguided and politically toxic. As Karen Smith, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, told The New York Times, "[Christie's] proposal reduces program revenue and does not reduce benefits enough soon enough to make Social Security solvent." Comparing Christie's plan to Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders' plan -- which the Urban Institute says would extend solvency -- Christie's will result in Social Security becoming insolvent sooner than if no changes were made.
Christie's plan relies heavily on the populist message of reducing benefits paid to wealthy Americans. As Vox's Matthew Yglesias points out, this popular selling point has been trumpeted by media while reporting on the proposal, despite, as he explains, Christie's plan actually being "terrible for the poor." Citing life expectancy data, Yglesias writes that, because rich Americans live longer than poor Americans, Christie's plan "is a particularly cruel and regressive form of cut."
As far as Christie's proposed plan to cut off Social Security benefits to those making over $200,000 a year, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) noted that "while the rich have a large share of the income, they don't have a large share of Social Security benefits." CEPR concluded that Christie's proposal would only save about 1.1 percent of benefits currently being paid out.
New Hampshire's largest and most influential newspaper, the Union Leader, endorsed Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) ahead of NH's upcoming primary, giving the governor's presidential campaign a needed boost. In supporting Christie the Union Leader dismissed scandals such as the George Washington Bridge lane closures -- also referred to as "Bridgegate" -- as a "nothing-burger," and ignored the warnings of major New Jersey newspapers who see Christie as unfit to lead their state, let alone the country.
The Union Leader's endorsement applauded Christie's ability to win two terms as governor in "liberal New Jersey," praised his public union opposition, and claimed the governor handled Hurricane Sandy aftermath "admirably." A follow-up piece by editorial page editor Grant Bosse addressed criticism of the endorsement by positively comparing negative reactions to Christie to criticisms of former President George W. Bush. Bosse chalked up negative views of the governor to "Christie Derangement Syndrome," which he said, "should serve Christie well."
Bosse also addressed Bridgegate, which the Union Leader's endorsement ignored. While the U.S. attorney for New Jersey has not ruled out Christie's participation in the George Washington Bridge lane closures -- identified as retaliation against a New Jersey mayor who refused to endorse the governor's re-election campaign -- Bosse dismissed the governor's knowledge of the closures, calling the situation a "nothing-burger":
No political scandal has been more overblown than Bridgegate. A pair of Christie's team supposedly arranged a traffic jam as payback for a mayor not endorsing Christie's re-election. There's no evidence that Christie knew anything about it, and he fired anyone who did. Christie Derangement Syndrome has convinced otherwise normal people that this nothing-burger disqualifies Christie from the presidency.
While the Union Leader fawned over Christie in its endorsements, major newspapers in New Jersey have long warned of the negative impact Christie has had on the state, with one major newspaper going so far as to retract its endorsement after Christie's re-election.
After the Bridgegate scandal came to light, the editorial board of New Jersey's largest newspaper, the Star-Ledger, retracted their endorsement of Christie following his re-election in 2013. Writing on behalf of the Star-Ledger's editorial board, Tom Moran said the paper "blew [it]" by endorsing Christie. Moran continued:
Yes, we knew Christie was a bully. But we didn't know his crew was crazy enough to put people's lives at risk in Fort Lee as a means to pressure the mayor. We didn't know he would use Hurricane Sandy aid as a political slush fund. And we certainly didn't know that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer was sitting on a credible charge of extortion by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
Even before this scandal train got rolling, this endorsement was a close call and a split vote among the editorial board. We regard Christie as the most overrated politician in the country, at least until now, a man who is better at talking than governing. We criticized him for trashing the working poor, for his tea party approach to the environment, for his opposition to gay marriage and a livable minimum wage. And so on.
While the extent of Christie's involvement in Bridgegate is still unclear, PolitiFact has reviewed three investigations into the matter and rated the governor's denial of involvement as "half-true," saying it "leaves out important context." PolitiFact wrote that the only investigation to fully clear the governor of wrongdoing was commissioned by his administration, thereby undermining the investigation's objectivity, while investigations by the state legislature and U.S Attorney's Office could not definitively clear the governor based on the potential for new evidence stemming from the criminal prosecution of Christie's aides.
Both the Union Leader's endorsement and Bosse's follow-up also ignored Christie's economic woes -- yet another area that has garnered New Jersey media criticism. In a September 29 editorial, the Asbury Park Press' editorial board called Christie an "absentee governor" who should follow Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) lead and "either abandon his bid for the presidency or step down as governor," citing public pension mismanagement which has caused New Jersey to be "ranked No. 1 in the nation in public debt."
Regarding Christie's management of Hurricane Sandy recovery effort, which Bosse called "admirable," the Asbury Park Press in October pointed out that, according to a Monmouth University poll, "more than 60 percent of families remain at least somewhat dissatisfied with recovery efforts; 33 percent said they were 'very' dissatisfied" and that "Christie is clearly trying to manufacture an image of competency in his recovery leadership that he hasn't earned." The Star-Ledger echoed this sentiment by criticizing the governor's record on recovery:
[Christie] didn't send his top Sandy staffers to Legislative hearings until well after his re-election, and his staff fired the lead contractor on the largest rebuilding program without a word to the public. It was only thanks to housing advocates that we found out that its decisions were riddled with errors.
To be sure, the delays aren't all the fault of the state. But nor does Christie have "a pretty good batting average" on Sandy recovery, as he recently claimed. "A few thousand" still have to rebuild, he said, out of 365,000 homes damaged or destroyed.
Yet that big number likely includes hundreds of thousands who had only minor damage, and little interaction with the state. The people in the largest rebuilding program were generally the hardest hit and actually needed help putting their lives back together. The vast majority of them are still stuck in limbo, and some have simply dropped out.
Christie said the reason he ran for re-election was to help the state recover from Hurricane Sandy. The storm now stars in his latest 2016 presidential campaign ad. But we don't need a leader who's lived through a storm. We need one who is a straight-shooter with its victims.
While the Union Leader fully bought into Christie's campaign slogan of "telling it like it is" -- even using it in their endorsement -- it is clear that the governor's rhetoric has left the New Jersey press less than impressed. Morris County's Daily Record called the slogan and record on which Christie is campaigning "nonsense" (emphasis added):
"Telling it like it is" -- That's Christie's campaign slogan, and it's pure nonsense. Think we'll hear the truth about New Jersey's lousy economy, its high foreclosure rates, or its continually downgraded credit rating? Of course not. Think we'll get a fair appraisal of the state's miserable performance in assisting Hurricane Sandy victims? Nope. We won't hear a single negative thing from Christie about any of his failures because he'll instead claim great success and blame problems on others.
In that, of course, Christie will be just be playing the same game as everyone else. Running for office is advertising, and candidates aren't going to play up their own weaknesses. But what makes Christie's brand of disingenuousness stand out is that he works so hard at placing himself upon a pedestal claiming to be different than all the rest while bullying naysayers. That relentless hypocrisy is one of his worst traits.
Christie wants the public to interpret his bluntness as honesty. But don't be fooled. His strength is that he'll manage to get noticed in a crowded GOP field, in large part because he'll make some outrageous statements along the way. But he won't be telling it like it is. He just wants you to think that.
After the Union Leader's endorsement, the Star-Ledger's Tom Moran reached out to Bosse. Bosse told Moran that Bridgegate had "nothing to do with the governor," but admitted that the Union Leader editorial board had not looked into Christie's handling of pensions and dismissing Christie's role in the state's sagging economy. Moran gathered that the Union Leader "knows nothing about [Christie's] record as governor" and concluded that "this editorial confirms my worse fears about this presidential race. It's all about performance, not substance."
A New Hampshire Union Leader editorial raised several questions that were answered long ago about the September 11, 2012 attacks on American diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in an effort to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prior to her October 22 hearing before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. The newspaper has a history of right-wing bias in its reporting and on its opinion page, and has often pushed Benghazi myths but never corrected its errors when facts proved those myths false.
The October 22 editorial claimed that the "Obama Administration has been lying about the attack since it happened" and suggested several questions members of the select committee should ask Clinton during her testimony:
Why did Clinton ignore Stevens' requests for more security? Why did Clinton push the White House to blame a fringe YouTube video for the attack, rather than radical Islamic terrorists? Why has Clinton been stonewalling attempts to get to the truth for the past three years?
The problem with the Union Leader editorial board's questions -- and for that matter, its longtime position on Benghazi -- is that these questions have already been asked and answered.
As the Washington Post and other media outlets reported, Clinton told Congress during previous testimony that the concerns over security at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi had not been brought to her attention prior to the attack, which the State Department's independent Accountability Review Board report confirmed in its finding that the security situation had "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department." Even so, Clinton admitted responsibility for the attacks, calling the violence and its consequences "painful, absolutely painful" for her.
As a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence review of Benghazi found, several pieces of intelligence were revealed after the attacks, including some that "suggest[ed] the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video..."
In addition, as The New York Times reported, the people who carried out the attacks "told bystanders that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video," and the suspected ringleader, Abu Khattala, "told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video, according to people who heard him."
The Union Herald seems to have decided to ignore these and other facts in the public record when they penned this editorial. Ten separate congressional committees have conducted Benghazi investigations, amounting to 32 hearings, approximately 54 hours of publically-available testimony, 2,780 questions asked of 204 witnesses, and 11 reports spanning 784 pages on the attacks.
This latest editorial continues the newspaper's tradition of repeating debunked reports to push its right-wing agenda on Benghazi.
The New Hampshire Union Leader has hired Grant Bosse, a former researcher at a think tank funded by the Koch brothers, to be the new editor of the paper's editorial page. In his previous role as a columnist for New Hampshire's Concord Monitor, Bosse defended the Koch brothers and once wrote that progressives who believe the billionaire industrialists are trying to control the Republican Party subscribe to a "conspiracy theory."
Fox News has consistently helped Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush run defense for many of his controversial remarks, including his assertions that he would have authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq, that Americans "need to work longer hours" to boost the economy, and that the federal government spends "too much" on women's health.
As national media begin to focus their political coverage on campaigning by Republican presidential candidates in the lead-up to the New Hampshire primary, it's incumbent upon journalists to disclose the history of misinformation and conservative bias of the state's top newspaper, the New Hampshire Union Leader, as well as the ties between the Koch brothers and oft-quoted state political expert Charles Arlinghaus.
A June 30 report by Politico highlighted how the crowded field of GOP contenders are viewing next January's first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire as "do or die" and already jostling for position. The piece said, "Never before have so many White House hopefuls bet so much on a single primary," and included quotes from Charles Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Institute, and Drew Cline, editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. But Politico failed to mention Arlinghaus' ties to the Koch brothers and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), or the Union Leader's long history of publishing conservative misinformation.
As other New Hampshire newspapers have been closing their state house bureaus because of budget cuts, the Union Leader's voice in statewide politics has gained prominence. Fox News is co-hosting a debate in August with the paper and presidential candidates are lining up to be interviewed by the Union Leader's publisher via live streaming. With so much access to candidates, and hardly any competition, the Union Leader's outsized influence could push candidates further to the right.
Publisher Joe McQuaid enjoys a prominent role as a must-visit member of the media for presidential primary candidates. In addition to his publishing duties, McQuaid has written sensationalist editorials for the paper, including one that called for a travel ban during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa -- a move most experts agreed would only exacerbate the spread of the virus. As the Daily Beast pointed out in the run-up to the 2012 election, McQuaid "is one of the more influential voices in American politics." McQuaid himself "figures that the Union Leader 'may be able to sway a few percentage points in close elections,'" much of that due to the editorial stance of the paper, which is written by only two people: McQuaid and editor Cline, who also runs the editorial page.
Although the 2012 Union Leader-endorsed candidate, Newt Gingrich, failed to win the primary, Gingrich's polling numbers spiked following the endorsement. However, as Politico explained, because of the way the Union Leader operates, the endorsement the paper gives is more than just a "one-time front-page feature," because the paper "tends to interweave its endorsement with its news coverage, bolstering its pick and attacking the other candidates ... most likely in addition to the opinion columns that tend to run in the paper echoing the official choice."
The two-man editorial board of McQuaid and Cline often echoes national conservative media talking points. The board has fabricated a need for harmful voter ID laws, attacked successful Head Start programs -- which help provide a pre-K education for New Hampshire's children - and even downplayed the impact of sequestration's steep budget cuts.
The Union Leader's editorial board has been attacking President Obama and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) since 2010 and published a massive amount of misinformation on the law. The board warned of spiking insurance premium prices that never came to pass, criticized cost-saving measures in the law, and said initial glitches in the rollout of the online exchanges meant the entire law was a failure. The board also attacked Medicaid expansion and promoted a misguided voucher program to privatize the program.
On foreign policy issues, the Union Leader has demonstrated reckless bias by calling opponents of the release of the Senate report on CIA torture "wusses," and pushed a false narrative that blamed Hillary Clinton for the kidnapping of hundreds of African girls by the terrorist group Boko Haram.
Outside of its opinion pages, the Union Leader has also at times blatantly misinformed its readers. In 2013, the paper published a lightly-edited press release authored by Americans for Prosperity (AFP) -- the Koch brothers-funded conservative advocacy group -- attacking the ACA. The article gave free publicity to AFP while helping to fulfill its larger mission, which, according to The Washington Post, is to "spread as much confusion and dishonesty about the [health care] law as possible."
The conservative slant to the Union Leader's news section is also apparent in what the paper chooses not to cover. A 2012 Media Matters study found that it failed to report on the "environmental, health, and economic benefits" of new government regulations in stories that emphasized how they would hurt the economy.
The Union Leader also publishes a regular op-ed by Charles Arlinghaus, the president of the Josiah Bartlett Institute, a think tank with strong connections to the American Legislative Exchange Council's conservative model-legislation mill (ALEC). In 2012, Arlinghaus and ALEC representatives co-hosted an event to denounce the Affordable Care Act.
The Josiah Bartlett Institute is part of the Koch brothers-funded State Policy Network -- state-based think tanks that incubate and legitimize conservative policy ideas that often benefit corporate sponsors. A representative for the Center for Media and Democracy told the Nashua Telegraph that Koch donations associated with Arlinghaus and the institute show that Arlinghaus is "working on a national conservative agenda, not a local, New Hampshire-based agenda."
Most of the largest newspapers in the Northeast corridor did not publish a single piece covering this winter's major snowstorms in the context of global warming, despite strong scientific evidence that climate change creates the conditions for heavier snowstorms. The major broadcast networks and cable news channels also provided scant mention of climate change in their discussions of the snowstorms, with the notable exception of MSNBC, which provided extensive coverage of the topic. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fox News, the Boston Herald and the Providence Journal featured content that used the snowstorms to deny climate science.
The New Hampshire Union Leader referenced the fictional character, Jack Bauer of the television show 24, to call those in favor of releasing the Senate report on CIA torture practices "wusses" and claim opposition to the agency's brutal techniques amounted to "whining."
The December 10, editorial defended the CIA's "enhanced interrogation program" by referencing Jack Bauer as evidence that real life is more complex than the "liberal politicians" behind the report make it seem (emphasis added):
Regarding the politically motivated and highly questionable U.S. Senate report on the CIA released this week, we wonder:
What would Jack Bauer make of these wusses?
Bauer, of course, is the fictional character from the TV series "24.'' He regularly and single-handedly saved America by beating the daylights and the information out of the bad guys with little regard for civil niceties.
We know, real life isn't like television make-believe. But that is precisely the point here. The liberal politicians behind this report are either terribly naive or terribly cynical or both.
Now it is easy to sit in judgment on those who had to find out, fast, who was out to destroy America and stop them. And this business that some brutal tactics make us the moral equivalent of our murderous enemies is garbage.
Sorry to disappoint the Senate Democrats who wrote and released this one-sided, misleading report, but we think most Americans are going to pay little attention to their whining. We certainly hope so.
The details of the Senate report shows that prisoners were subjected to a litany of harsh interrogation techniques including forced rectal feeding, being forced to stand on broken legs, waterboarding (simulated drowning), and sleep deprivation. In addition, the report found that no useful information was garnered from the use of these techniques.
The Union Leader also suggested those in support of the report should not fault the CIA because the agency was charged with "protect[ing] us from further attacks" with few restrictions after 9/11. However the CIA's tactics exceeded limits to interrogation techniques which were laid out by the Department of Justice. As Politico reported, the report detailed instances in which the CIA violated Justice Department legal opinions concerning how the agency should interrogate subjects while ignoring necessary safeguards like training requirements for interrogators.
Notable conservative Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a victim of torture during his five year captivity in a notoriously harsh North Vietnamese prison camp, also denounced the CIA's actions. During his Senate floor statement on the release of the report, Senator McCain explained that the use of torture is strategically ineffective and runs counter to the values of the United States:
I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering. Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored.
After blaming President Obama when gas prices were high, the New Hampshire Union Leader is now misleadingly crediting "oil companies and speculators" now that gas prices have dropped. However, analysts credit Obama's policies in part for the price decrease, a fact unmentioned by the Union Leader.
The December 8 editorial went after U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen - who has previously asked the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to "crack down speculation in commodities markets" - claiming the senator should apologize for previously blaming speculators and oil companies for rising gas prices, because speculators have recently played a role in falling prices. The editorial continued:
Bloomberg Businessweek reported that oil speculators played a role in the falling prices. "Since June, then, speculators have dumped the equivalent of 500 million barrels of oil onto the futures market," the magazine reported. That did not cause the price crash, which was mostly the result of increased supply. But speculators added to the downward pressure.
"Mostly they've been blamed for making prices go higher," the Bloomberg Businessweek report noted. "This time, though, the opposite is true."
Shaheen has spent years demonizing oil companies and speculators and trying to get Congress to investigate speculators and regulate them more heavily. But she only brings them up when prices are rising. That tells Granite Staters two things: 1) Shaheen has no idea how markets work; and 2) she is not above falsely accusing others of acting in bad faith if it will help her get elected.
But a previous Bloomberg Businessweek article explained that several of the previous surges in the price of gas during Obama's presidency were in fact due to "speculators - specifically noncommercial users" which is "jargon for investors who are buying up futures contracts not because they intend to use the oil, but because they think it's a good investment ... these are money managers betting that prices will go up."
Fox News dishonestly claimed that MIT economist Jonathan Gruber's comment that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) "was written in a tortured way" to minimize criticism proves that the law was passed deceitfully. In fact, Congress routinely crafts bills to fit legislative rules and politically acceptable limits, and health care reform was transparently debated for years with input from Republicans.
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.
The publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader penned an editorial attacking the Obama administration's response to the ongoing Ebola crisis and suggested the president apply a travel ban on the affected countries, advice that has been roundly rejected by major healthcare and infectious disease experts as detrimental to relief efforts.
In an October 7 editorial, Joseph W. McQuaid blasted the administration as "incompetent" for relying on screening to prevent the spread of Ebola and instead suggested that a general travel ban to the region be administered:
Sending American soldiers to West Africa to assist with the Ebola epidemic makes sense only if it helps contain the disease over there. That would include making as certain as possible that those troops are protected while there and properly quarantined when they return home.
As for allowing travelers from affected West African nations to enter the United States at this time, that is crazy. It is yet another example of the most incompetent President we have ever seen.
Screening for symptoms of a deadly infectious disease that may not show up for weeks is not the answer. A travel ban to and from West Africa is what is needed, now.
McQuaid and other right-wing pundits who have called for a travel ban are ignoring experts who say a ban would actually impede Ebola relief efforts. The heads of the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, and independent advisers to the World Health Organization (WHO), all argue that reactionary measures such as a travel ban are ineffectual and could actually destabilize affected countries, worsening the spread of the virus. The WHO, advocating against a travel ban in October 2014, explained that while exit screening is not 100 percent effective, "completion of a screening questionnaire and testing for the presence of fever represent the best available indicators of risk."
The New Hampshire Union Leader rejected the factually accurate claim that the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision would result in gender discrimination while pushing the myth that the forms of contraception discussed in the case were actually abortion-inducing drugs.
A recent Union Leader editorial suggested Fmr. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) were partly to blame in failing to prevent the mass kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram, because they did not designate the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in 2012. However, Clinton was the first to designate top Boko Haram leaders as terrorists, and many international organizations and experts on Africa agreed that designating the group as an FTO at that time was premature, as it would cut off foreign aid to the region, negotiation lanes with the group, and raise the profile of the organization.
The May 14 editorial accused Secretary Clinton and Senator Shaheen of delaying FTO designation of Boko Haram in an attempt to protect President Obama's al Qaeda-focused foreign policy agenda. The editorial continued by praising then-Senator Scott Brown's sponsoring of a 2012 bill seeking to list Boko Haram as an FTO, and claiming Secretary Clinton and Senator Shaheen were unwilling to prevent a "real war on women":
Designating Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, like admitting Benghazi was a terror attack, would have undermined -- during a presidential election year -- the President's narrative that he had curtailed the spread of Islamist terror. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee aided the President by killing the Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act. Shaheen, ever the loyal partisan, sat in silence as a few senators tried in vain to weaken the group that two years later would kidnap hundreds of schoolgirls in an actual war on women, not the imaginary one in which Democrats accuse Scott Brown of taking part.
What does Scott Brown have to do with this? He was the sponsor of the Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act. The man who tried in vain to stop a real war on women and on education (Boko Haram means Western Learning Forbidden) is accused of being anti-woman by allies of a senator who did nothing to stop those wars.
Despite the attempt by the Union Leader to cast Scott Brown as the real hero by attacking Shaheen and Clinton, the paper glossed over key facts which explain why the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Secretary Clinton decided, at the time, not to designate the group an FTO.