Conservative news outlet Watchdog.org released a six-part series defending dark-money organizations -- politically focused groups that conceal the identities of their donors -- but failed to disclose its own funding from the Koch brothers and other conservative dark-money players.
The Watchdog.org series, titled "A License to Speak: The Dark Money Deception," defends the use of dark money in support of political initiatives. In the series, Watchdog.org claimed that regulation of dark money ensnares private citizens in government bureaucracy and dampens free speech, and it compared dark-money organizations to civil rights groups that protected members' identities out of concern about violent reprisals.
The Franklin Center, publisher of Watchdog.org, is funded largely in part by one of the biggest conservative dark money spenders, Donors Trust, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group that pools large donations for support of conservative causes while protecting the identity of the donors. As Mother Jones reported, Donors Trust is the "dark-money ATM" for conservative causes across the country and is heavily supported by right-wing billionaires Charles and David Koch:
Founded in 1999, Donors Trust (and an affiliated group, Donors Capital Fund) has raised north of $500 million and doled out $400 million to more than 1,000 conservative and libertarian groups, according to Whitney Ball, the group's CEO. Donors Trust allows wealthy contributors who want to donate millions to the most important causes on the right to do so anonymously, essentially scrubbing the identity of those underwriting conservative and libertarian organizations.Wisconsin's 2011 assault on collective bargaining rights? Donors Trust helped fund that. ALEC, the conservative bill mill? Donors Trust supports it. The climate deniers at the Heartland Institute? They get Donors Trust money, too.
Donors Trust is not the source of the money it hands out. Some 200 right-of-center funders who've given at least $10,000 fill the group's coffers. Charities bankrolled by Charles and David Koch, the DeVoses, and the Bradleys, among other conservative benefactors, have given to Donors Trust. And other recipients of Donors Trust money include the Heritage Foundation, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, the NRA's Freedom Action Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Federalist Society, and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, chaired by none other than David Koch.
The Franklin Center is among the major benefactors of Donors Trust, receiving 95 percent of its funding from the group in 2011. A Harvard University discussion paper on news coverage and state government quoted Franklin Center president Jason Stverak as saying, "I ran a Republican Party. We disclose that fully on [the Franklin Center] website. But at the end of the day it's the same standard that you would hold Fox News, CNN, the New York Times, New York Post, Fargo Forum from my home state of North Dakota to -- you will judge any news organization based upon the content that they produce."
In addition, Donors Trust's chief executive Whitney Ball told The Guardian that donations from the trust, like those made to the Franklin Center, are not given to progressive causes. "It won't be going to liberals," Ball said. This agenda is clearly expressed in the journalism produced by Watchdog.org. For example, after the Franklin Center launched a Watchdog affiliate in Maine, the Portland Press Herald noted the questionable work of the Watchdog sites:
According to a story written last spring by Laura McGann in Washington Monthly, Franklin Center Watchdog websites across the country have engaged in a similar pattern of investigative muckraking.
"As often as not, their reporting is thin and missing important context, which occasionally leads to gross distortions," wrote McGann. She detailed several instances in which Watchdog websites broke stories, which after additional phone calls turned out to be misleading or untrue.
"This sort of misleading reporting crops up on Watchdog sites often enough to suggest that, rather than isolated instances of sloppiness, it is part of a broad editorial strategy," wrote McGann, who is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University and a former editor of the Washington Independent, a liberal D.C. news source.
Cleveland.com, the news portal for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Northeast Ohio Media Group (NOMG), is grossly misrepresenting an ordinance that would protect transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations, falsely claiming the measure will open public restrooms to both genders.
The Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would close a loophole in the city's non-discrimination law that currently allows places of public accommodations to deny transgender people access to restrooms and other facilities.
The ordinance would bring Cleveland's non-discrimination law in line with those of dozens of other major cities - including nearby Columbus -- by essentially removing an exemption in current public accommodations law which allows businesses to refuse bathroom access to transgender people based on their gender identity. That exemption reads:
(g) Nothing in this section shall be construed to establish unlawful discrimination based on actual or perceived gender identity or expression due to the denial of access to bathrooms, showers, locker rooms or dressing facilities, provided reasonable access to adequate facilities is available;
Removing the loophole is a common sense solution aimed at alleviating the discrimination and violence that transgender people often face when using restrooms that don't correspond with their gender identity.
But Cleveland.com has repeatedly mischaracterized the ordinance in its reporting, claiming that the measure will open all restrooms up to both sexes.
A Tampa Tribune editorial supporting former Gov. Jeb Bush's decision to explore the possibility of running for president claimed that his past business dealings, which include questionable investments, taxpayer bailouts, and failed ventures, "add to his qualifications" to be president.
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."
Conservative media outlets both nationally and in California are campaigning against Gov. Jerry Brown's nominees for the state judiciary, attacking their political leanings and complaining about their "race, gender, or sexual orientation," in a baseless effort to suggest the nominees are unqualified and selected "strictly for reasons of affirmative action."
The recent round of attacks were given a national platform in a November 26 Wall Street Journal editorial, which, while questioning the lack of judicial experience of some of Brown's nominees, largely focused on whether the ideological leanings of Brown's nominees are similar to his own. The California Supreme Court was previously dominated by judges appointed under Republican governors, but Brown's picks, Journal columnist Allysia Finley complained, "have tilted the court left."
California media were more specific, and honed in on whether the nominees were from "the right racial groups," as San Francisco Chronicle editorial writer Marshall Kilduff put it. Ignoring the fact that multiple high court jurists had not previously served as judges before their appointments (such as current Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and former Chief Justice and California governor Earl Warren), Kilduff also criticized Brown's nominees for a lack of experience with "sleepy jurors." But as The Los Angeles Times reported, Brown has no flat rule against trial or appellate experience with respect to his nominees -- similar to his choice for the San-Francisco-based appeals court, "Brown's picks for the Los Angeles-based appeals court were all sitting judges, suggesting he considers bench experience valuable."
The criticism of Brown's attempts to diversify the bench got uglier, however, after the Journal weighed in. The Metropolitan News-Enterprise, a Los Angeles legal newspaper, recently ran a column from Roger M. Grace, flatly concluding Brown's nominees were "bereft of credentials," and were "apt to be named ... strictly for reasons of affirmative action":
Surely, race should not be, ever, a factor in choosing judges.
It simply doesn't relate to a person's capacity to serve in a judicial role.
Yet, the reality is that to Jerry Brown, being a non-white is a huge plus for a seeker of a judgeship.
And so we return to young [Lamar Baker, former US Deputy Assistant Attorney General]. He is almost certain to be appointed to the state's intermediate appellate court--and would probably be under consideration for the Supreme Court were there any more vacancies. He, like [former U.S. deputy attorney general and current California Supreme Court nominee Leondra] Kruger, is an African American.
He has all the qualities that Brown is looking for in a justice.
And what he lacks -- the know-how and wisdom that can only be derived from experience -- is of no concern to the man once known as "Governor Moonbeam."
He's not called that anymore. But the lunar influences on him are as strong as ever they were.
Also apt to be named to the appeals court, strictly for reasons of affirmative action, is Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin. He's openly gay. That, and his law degree from Harvard, are probably enough to cinch an appointment -- unless the governor views him as being too old (he's 55) or holds against him his judicial experience.
From what I've seen, Lavin is a result-oriented jurist, lacking in intellectual honesty. But that sort of thing would, of course, be of no interest to Brown.
A Media Matters analysis of major U.S. newspapers reporting on the alleged "war on coal" found that newspapers provided one-sided coverage of the issue and seldom mentioned the coal industry's negative environmental and health impacts or its efforts to fight regulations. Out of 223 articles published in major U.S. newspapers this year mentioning the phrase "war on coal," more than half failed to mention underlying issues that account for the coal industry's decline and the need for regulations. Further, less than 10 percent of articles mentioned harm caused by the coal industry or how the coal industry is fighting against regulations aimed at protecting miners and reducing pollution.
Several of Cleveland.com's editorial board members misrepresented a proposed non-discrimination ordinance that would prohibit discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations - including the use of restrooms and locker rooms - by peddling the myth that sexual predators will be allowed to sneak into women's bathrooms.
Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would prohibit places of public accommodation from denying transgender people access to restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity. The ordinance would remove a loophole in existing civil rights law, which explicitly allowed businesses to deny access to restrooms based on a person's gender identity.
On December 4, Cleveland.com - the news portal for the Northeast Ohio Media Group and Cleveland's Plain Dealer - published an editorial board roundtable several writers criticized the ordinance, claiming it would give "both genders... access to all bathrooms and locker rooms." Many of the editorial comments warned that the measure would allow male sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms:
Sharon Broussard, editorial writer, Northeast Ohio Media Group:
I am not comfortable with a broad, gender-neutral bathroom ordinance that would make it easier for heterosexual men with criminal intent or just kinky habits to gain access to bathrooms used by women and children. And they are out there.
Peter Krouse, editorial writer, Northeast Ohio Media Group:
I don't think opening up all bathrooms to both sexes is the answer. That would deny people, males and females, the privacy they deserve and possibly put them in uncomfortable or compromising situations. It could also create a fertile environment for predators to strike.
Kevin O'Brien, deputy editorial page editor, The Plain Dealer:
Just go by the external appearance of the plumbing the good Lord gave you and keep your "expressions" to yourself.
The editorial board of the Reno Gazette-Journal concluded that a Nevada proposal to expand background checks on gun sales is unlikely to reduce gun violence, but their argument ignored how these measures stop dangerous individuals from obtaining guns.
On December 6, the Gazette-Journal published an editorial arguing that while the "sentiment" behind a likely 2016 initiative to expand criminal checks to most gun transfers in Nevada is "a good one," it would not prevent mass shootings like those in Aurora, CO, Newtown, CT, and Tucson, AZ and therefore "is unlikely to be effective" at reducing gun violence.
While the editorial focused heavily on the supposed non-effect of gun background checks in decreasing mass shootings, it glossed over the effectiveness of background checks in reducing the ability of violent criminals to obtain guns.
The primary purpose of a criminal background check on a gun sale is to stop people prohibited under federal or state law from obtaining firearms used in everyday gun violence. Since the early 1990s, the FBI-administered National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and state background checks systems have stopped more than two million gun sales to prohibited persons. Of more than one million federal denials processed by NICS since 1998, the majority of denials were for individuals convicted of felonies or serious misdemeanors. Status as a fugitive from justice or a having domestic violence conviction were the second and third most common reasons for a denial.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal criticized a long-awaited draft Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule to reduce smog pollution as economically harmful, echoing unfounded industry fears about EPA regulations. The EPA's estimates, however, are based on sound science and show that the smog regulation will have long-term economic benefits.
A Chicago Tribune editorial claimed the city council's decision to increase Chicago's minimum wage to $13 by 2019 would drive business to the suburbs where labor is cheaper. Yet, research shows that city-wide minimum wage increases have little to no impact on the movement of the labor force within a state and that wage increase can benefit local businesses.
Newspapers across the country have been publishing misleading op-eds attacking the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy without disclosing the authors' oil-industry funding. The op-eds, which attack the wind energy policy as "corporate welfare" and "government handouts," ignore the fact that the oil and gas industry currently receives far greater government subsidies and that the PTC brings great economic benefits.
Across the country, Fox News Channel's conservative misinformation is being broadcast to millions of viewers through local television stations, which are owned and operated by the network's parent company, often without the knowledge of the station's viewers.
Local news stations fall into two categories: "owned and operated stations" whose content is controlled by a network or larger parent company, and "affiliate" stations that are not owned by a central network, and thus do not have to use the network's content. So a local "Fox" station might be entirely independent, or it might be controlled by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox -- and they do not have to tell viewers which they're watching.
By owning these local stations, Murdoch and 21st Century Fox can push narratives of their choosing onto large local audiences, often running the same news packages and hosting the same personalities that appear on the Fox News cable channel. According to federal communications law, a single company can own any number of local stations so long as they collectively reach "no more than 39 percent of all U.S. TV households."
21st Century Fox recently expanded into the San Francisco market, broadening their reach to 37 percent of U.S. television homes. They now own 28 stations in 17 markets.
With 71 percent of Americans getting their news from local channels -- almost double that of cable news networks -- Fox's expansion means that more households will be subject to Fox News' conservative misinformation even if they don't watch the cable news network.
Boston Globe columnist John E. Sununu's latest piece urges approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and criticizes regulations against oil and gas companies. The Globe did not disclose that Sununu is an advisor for a Washington firm that lobbies for the pipeline's construction on behalf of its would-be builder.
Sununu is a former Republican U.S. Senator from New Hampshire who lost re-election to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen in 2008. He joined Akin Gump, the top-earning lobbying firm in Washington, DC, as an adjunct senior policy advisor in 2010. His corporate profile states that he "advises clients on a wide range of public policy, strategic and regulatory issues."
In the latest example, Sununu wrote a November 20 column criticizing Democrats for failing to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. He wrote that "Democrats still don't know what the Keystone debate is really all about," adding that Keystone XL "is a debate about infrastructure, regulation, and the power of government to thwart investment on the flimsiest of grounds."
Sununu added that "the public understands that allowing the government to arbitrarily stand in front of private investment and economic development sets a dangerous precedent -- something Democrats in the Senate do not."
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.