Print media regularly overlook issues of structural economic inequality in stories concerning low wages, poverty, or disadvantaged groups at the local level, a lack of coverage that aligns with similar documented trends in national cable news.
A Media Matters analysis of print coverage from 12 major newspapers over the past three months found that economic inequality received inadequate attention. Only 19 percent of print coverage of impoverished and low-income Americans highlighted the widening wealth and income gap in the United States. Of the selected print outlets, The Boston Globe performed the best in its coverage, with 28.6 percent of stories making significant mention of economic inequality. The Denver Post performed the worst, with just 4 percent of stories making significant mention of inequality.
Media coverage of poverty often goes no further than a passive acknowledgement of disadvantaged groups; little attention is paid to the mechanisms that trap Americans in poverty.
Despite the deficiency in media coverage, economists have frequently warned about the widening gap between the rich and the poor. The Economic Policy Institute detailed the effect that a decade of wage stagnation has had on the shrinking middle class and swollen ranks of working poor.
The negative relationship between stagnant wages and growing economic inequality is well-established. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has tracked and categorized this relationship for several years. In 2004 and 2007, CBPP economists noted that the share of economic productivity going to wages and income was at record low levels. By 2010, a CBPP analysis of Congressional Budget Office data revealed how decades of wage stagnation and top-heavy tax cuts drove economic inequality to new heights.
According to the CBO, from 1979 to 2007 the top one percent of income earners have seen their after-tax share of total income rise by more than 120 percent, while the bottom 20 percent of earners have seen that share decline by almost 30 percent. From Mother Jones:
This sort of analysis is missing from the vast majority of mainstream newspapers.
A Columbus Dispatch editorial attacked parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by regurgitating popular myths and misconceptions, including the falsehood that many companies are cutting workers' hours due to the employer mandate, that young and healthy Americans are choosing to not pay for health insurance, and that the role of "navigators" is limited to only assisting with enrollment, despite evidence showing none of these claims are based in fact.
Colorado newspaper The Pueblo Chieftain failed to note Colorado voters' overwhelming support for the state's new gun background check law and instead provided a misleading generalization that "Colorado voters oppose the state's stricter new gun-control laws."
In response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and the movie theater mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three gun violence prevention measures into law on March 20. The new laws expand background checks on gun sales, limit magazine capacity to 15 rounds, and impose a $10 fee on background checks. State Sens. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) and John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) are facing a September 10 recall election over their support for the new measures.
The Chieftain's claim about the popularity of Colorado's new gun laws in the lead story for August 23 was based on a new Quinnipiac University poll that paradoxically found that the majority of voters oppose "the stricter new gun control laws in Colorado" by a 54 to 40 percent margin, but approve -- to varying degrees -- of the specific pieces of gun violence prevention legislation. The August 22 poll found that voters support requiring a background check on every gun sale by an 82 to 16 percent margin and support the limit on magazine capacity by a 49 to 48 percent margin. Quinnipiac did not ask voters about their opinion on the background check fee.
Unlike other major Colorado newspapers, the Chieftain reported on the general opposition to "the stricter new gun control laws" but failed to acknowledge support for the specific measures.
WatchdogVA, an affiliate of the Koch Brothers funded Franklin Center, promoted unsubstantiated fears in asking legislators to weigh several considerations when determining how to expand Medicaid in Virginia, including fears over the federal government's role and a doctor shortage. The conservative blog also recommended block granting or privatizing the program, both of which would have disastrous consequences on Medicaid.
The New York Post's editorial board failed to note a recent District Court decision finding the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk program unconstitutional in an editorial defending the program.
The August 23 Post editorial attacked members of the New York City Council who voted to override Mayor Michael Bloomberg's veto of two pieces of legislation that provide more oversight of the stop-and-frisk program. The Post denounced the "attacks by our city's political class on a successful police policy" and applauded mayoral candidate Christine Quinn for noting "that racial profiling is already against the law."
Yet, in its zeal to defend the stop-and-frisk program, the Post forgot to mention a recent decision by District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin which found the New York Police Department's implementation of stop-and-frisk unconstitutional and ordered an independent monitor to oversee the NYPD going forward. Judge Scheindlin found that the "City adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling" without reasonable suspicion in their stop-and-frisk policy and went on to explain:
I also conclude that the City's highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner. In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting "the right people" is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution. One NYPD official has even suggested that it is permissible to stop racially defined groups just to instill fear in them that they are subject to being stopped at any time for any reason -- in the hope that this fear will deter them from carrying guns in the streets. The goal of deterring crime is laudable, but this method of doing so is unconstitutional.
In addition to being found unconstitutional in its current practice, the program is highly ineffective. The NYPD has touted stop-and-frisk's success in recovering guns, but according to the NYCLU, while the number of stops has increased dramatically almost every year in the last decade, the number of guns recovered has barely gone up. In each year since 2003, fewer than 0.5 percent of stops produced a gun. The program's ability to deter crime is also highly suspect as many cities without the program or that utilize a less constitutionally questionable version have had lower violent crimes rates than New York.
The Post has been notoriously supportive of stop-and-frisk and against the constitutional safeguards in this bill, but even the more ardent supporters of stop-and-frisk have begun to change their opinion after evaluating the facts surrounding the program.
NRA News promoted an ad targeting Colorado Senate President John Morse, who is facing a recall election over his support for stronger gun laws, that baselessly suggested Morse used taxpayer money for haircuts and golf outings. The allegations in the ad stem from a 2011 ethics complaint filed against Morse that was unanimously dismissed by a bipartisan ethics panel, a fact the ad does not disclose.
The ad features Laura Carno, the founder of pro-recall group I Am Created Equal, claiming that Morse "charged us for days when you got your hair cut and when you went golfing" while a graphic stated, "Tell John Morse Don't Golf And Get Haircuts On Our Dime." From the August 21 edition of Cam & Company on NRA News, the media arm of the National Rifle Association:
CARNO: Senator Morse, the ethics investigation against you wasn't trivial. When you reimburse yourself with our money, it should be for work you do on our behalf. But Senator Morse, you charged us for days when you got your hair cut and when you went golfing. We didn't elect you to be king, Senator Morse. Every dollar you spend comes out of our pockets. And Senator Morse we don't want to pay for your haircuts and golf games.
Tellingly the ad featured a quote from an April 12, 2011, Associated Press article, ignoring that the article was about the complaint being dismissed:
A New Hampshire Union Leader editorial attacked Planned Parenthood for receiving "navigator grants" to help Americans enroll in health insurance, claiming the organization's "core business includes abortion-on-demand" and quoted a source questioning whether the group should receive these funds. In fact, more than 90 percent of Planned Parenthood's work is in preventative care, and the organization meets the qualifications for the grant money.
The Richmond Times Dispatch editorial board attacked progressive groups for appearing hypocritical in their defense of the Affordable Care Act birth control mandate while decrying Virginia's sodomy law. However, this represents a faulty comparison as birth control is legal and has definitive medical purposes while the state's sodomy law has been found unconstitutional and provides no medical benefit.
In the August 15 editorial, the Times Dispatch discussed recent activities by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and ProgressVA criticizing comments made by Virginia's Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that allies should be willing to "go to jail" to fight against the federal mandate for contraception. The Times also noted ProgressVA's criticism of Cuccinelli's continued defense of the state's anti-sodomy law. The editorial goes on to accuse the progressive groups of hypocrisy, saying they want to "keep government in the bedroom" by supporting a law subsidizing birth control but "out of the bedroom" by not supporting the sodomy law:
So the AG is supposed to help keep government in the bedroom by supporting a law subsidizing birth control, but keep government out of the bedroom by not supporting the sodomy law. All clear?
Cuccinelli's stance is just as muddled. He can't very well say he is simply fulfilling a duty by defending one law while he urges individuals to break another one.
While the editorial correctly points out that Cuccinelli, who is running for Virginia governor, has a "muddled" stance on this issue, it is an unfair characterization for the editorial to claim the progressive groups are also being inconsistent.
First, birth control has many purposes that have nothing to do with the "bedroom." A study by the Guttmacher Institute found in 2011 that 1.5 million women use oral contraceptives solely for noncontraceptive purposes. In fact, many of these women use oral contraceptives to treat issues such as migraines and acne or to reduce cramps and menstrual pain:
The study--based on U.S government data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG)--revealed that after pregnancy prevention (86%), the most common reasons women use the pill include reducing cramps or menstrual pain (31%); menstrual regulation, which for some women may help prevent migraines and other painful "side effects" of menstruation (28%); treatment of acne (14%); and treatment of endometriosis (4%). Additionally, it found that some 762,000 women who have never had sex use the pill, and they do so almost exclusively (99%) for noncontraceptive reasons.
The "ethics complaint" against Colorado State Sen. Angela Giron reported on by The Pueblo Chieftain and Colorado ABC affiliate KRDO was never accepted by the Colorado Secretary of State for review, as revealed in an open records request by a local government watchdog group.
Reacting to media coverage of the complaint -- which alleged that Giron's listing of her state email address on her campaign website constituted a violation of ethics rules -- Colorado Ethics Watch director Luis Toro told Media Matters in an August 6 interview that the allegation was "extremely thin" before predicting that it would be "almost certainly dismissed as frivolous." Toro also questioned why the complaint did not appear on the Secretary of State website, noting that it is standard procedure for even a frivolous complaint to be posted and then referred for adjudication.
Giron is facing recall over her support of legislation to expand background checks on gun sales and limit firearm magazine capacity to 15 rounds.
According to emails obtained by CEW on August 15, an employee from the Secretary of State's Election Division responded to the ethics charge with instructions on how to file a campaign finance complaint. An internal email between Secretary of State employees indicated confusion over the complaint with one staffer emailing another, "Not sure if this is meant to be a campaign finance complaint under the $50 rule." This is likely because the complaintaint's allegation centered on Giron's conduct as a candidate meaning it would be properly characterized as a campaign finance violation rather than an ethics complaint.
[Colorado Ethics Watch, accessed 8/16/13, personal email address redacted]
A spokesperson for the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, the NRA-backed group behind an effort to recall two Colorado Democratic state senators over their votes for stronger gun laws, baselessly claimed on NRA News that the campaign of recall-targeted Senate President John Morse was plotting to commit "massive amounts of voter fraud including ballots possibly even being mailed in from Chicago."
Reacting to an August 12 court decision which will necessitate that the recall election be conducted with polling centers instead of solely through mail-in ballots, BFDF spokesperson Jennifer Kerns said the change could stymie what she described as a plot by Chicago-based groups hired by Morse's campaign to commit voter fraud by sending in fraudulent ballots from out of state. From the August 13 edition of Cam & Company on NRA News:
KERNS: The state of Colorado, in keeping with its crazy election year tradition, the state of Colorado passed a very controversial same day voter registration bill that completely changed the election laws in the state of Colorado and turned this election into an all mail ballot election.
Well we've been bracing ourselves for massive amounts of voter fraud including ballots possibly even being mailed in from Chicago. As you know, John Morse and his campaign, as they say follow the money in politics, he has hired -- even his own political consulting firms are from Chicago. They represent the Chicago Federation of Labor, the AFL-CIO and AFSCME, some of the hardest players in politics. So we've been bracing ourselves for an all mail-in ballot situation where you could potentially have ballots coming in from people out of the state.
Kerns added, "I think it's much harder for the Democrats to cheat if they have to do it in person. They have to spend their time and treasure busing people in to try to commit fraud."
The registration fraud scenario described by Kerns -- where out of district or state individuals would use Colorado's same day voter registration law to obtain mail-in ballots -- has circulated in state conservative media, but is in fact based on a misreading of Colorado's new election laws.
Colorado newspaper The Pueblo Chieftain is misrepresenting Colorado's new voting law in order to stoke fears that a recall election targeting Democratic State Sen. Angela Giron will be marred by fraud. The paper's editorial board falsely claimed that the new law would allow individuals who live outside of Giron's district to vote in the election "but then later say they had a change of heart and have abandoned plans to move into that jurisdiction."
Giron is facing recall over her support of legislation to expand background checks on gun sales and limit firearm magazine capacity to 15 rounds. Ballots in the election are to be mailed to voters beginning on August 19.
Claiming that "the Democrats who control the Colorado Legislature have passed a new voting law, one which literally invites fraud," the Chieftain editorial board distorted Colorado law to manufacture a voter registration fraud scenario:
Under the law passed this year, people need only to swear under penalty of perjury that they have lived in Colorado for at least 22 days and reside or plan to reside in the precinct or county where they wish to vote. Once they have done that, they are allowed to cast ballots.
The problem is, if there were groups from outside a jurisdiction who want to affect an election in that jurisdiction, they could vote under the conditions outlined in the new law, but then later say they had a change of heart and have abandoned plans to move into that jurisdiction.
The Chieftain's claim that voting is allowed by those who only profess an intention to move into the district is false. In fact, the new law allows an individual who has already moved into a district to vote immediately, so long as they attest to their intent to stay. Voting from outside of the district is not allowed. Furthermore, prior to the enactment of new voting laws Colorado already had a rarely used same day voter registration provision known as "emergency voting." As the Colorado Springs Independent explains:
Colorado newspaper The Pueblo Chieftain is credulously reporting on an alleged "ethics complaint" by Democratic State Sen. Angela Giron, which, according to a Colorado ethics watchdog group, will be "almost certainly dismissed as frivolous."
The Chieftain's reporting on the complaint -- that Giron posted her state email address and phone number on her campaign website -- is latest piece of questionable Chieftain coverage of the recall campaign targeting Giron over her support for stronger gun violence prevention laws.
Following the Colorado General Assembly's passage of legislation to expand background checks on gun sales and limit firearm magazine capacity to 15 rounds, Giron and three other Senate Democrats who supported the gun violence prevention measures were subject to recall petition drives. On July 18, a Denver judge certified recall petitions against Giron and Senate President John Morse, setting the stage for a September 10 recall election.
According the top local news story in the August 3 edition of the Chieftain, "An Avondale man sent an ethics complaint in an email to the Colorado Secretary of State's office Friday" alleging that Giron "is using her state-provided email address and phone number on her campaign website." The complainant reportedly does not live in Giron's district, but contacted the Secretary of State because "he is not a fan of her politics, especially her votes on the state's gun control laws." The story also quoted Becky Mizel, chairwoman of the Pueblo County Republican Party, who falsely claimed that "Angela Giron has chosen to use state resources and taxpayer money for her own political gain," and added that she was "disgusted" by Giron's actions.
In response to the Chieftain article, left-leaning political blog Colorado Pols noted that a number of Colorado state legislators -- both Republicans and Democrats -- feature state contact information on their campaign websites. In fact, a Media Matters review of Colorado's 100 General Assembly members' campaign websites found that 53 members listed a state phone number, e-mail address and/or mailing address.
Furthermore, the allegation against Giron is likely baseless and was not accurately reported by the Chieftain.
A Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial opposing minimum wage laws claimed that minimum wage jobs are only meant to be starting points for young workers who will later seek better paying jobs and that increasing the minimum wage would hurt youth employment, citing a fast food industry lobbyist's think tank to support these claims. In reality, studies show that minimum wage work is not limited to entry-level workers, increases in minimum wage would not hurt youth employment, and Nevada would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage.
A Colorado paper defended its conduct in a state legislative recall campaign by dismissing critics' conflict of interest charges while failing to provide adequate context of an email a newsroom executive sent to a senator involved in the recall.
Earlier this year, the Colorado legislature passed a series of bills aimed at strengthening gun laws, including requiring background checks for private transactions and limiting the rounds of ammunition in magazines. Soon after the bills passed, local gun-rights supporters began a recall drive on four Democratic senators who supported the new laws. Two of the petition drives failed; however, Sen. Angela Giron (D) and State Senate President John Morse (D) will face a recall election slated for September 10.
On March 3, while the gun bills were still being debated in the legislature, Ray Stafford, general manager of the Pueblo Chieftain sent an email from his Chieftain account to Giron declaring his opposition to a package of bills seeking to strengthen the state's gun laws. In the email, in which he claimed the bills represented "a challenge to our Second Amendment," Stafford disclosed his position at the newspaper and said he was "responsible for the entire newspaper, including the newsroom." Critics charged that this email was a threat to the senator due to the Stafford's top position at the paper.
In response to Stafford's actions, the paper's assistant publisher and vice president, Jane Rawlings, wrote that Stafford used his affiliation in the email "as a way of identification, as he still is fairly new to the area." Although Rawlings said that after "a careful review of The Chieftain's coverage" she found the paper provided balanced coverage, Morse said Stafford essentially "threatened" Giron with critical coverage and that Giron "was in the paper and on the front page for a week straight, including within pictures that weren't very flattering, almost deliberately." Morse's account has been corroborated by local television station, KDVR-TV.
A U-T San Diego editorial attacked a recent proposal to expand the city's prevailing wage law to all city projects that are "public works," claiming it would increase the cost of projects and thereby increase the cost to taxpayers. However, the editorial failed to note that a growing body of research has found that prevailing wage laws do not significantly increase government contract costs and provide other social benefits to workers and their families.