Local media outlets across the country published uncritical reports highlighting a conservative influence group's so-called economic competitiveness report, despite criticism of previous editions of the report over its methodology and findings.
On April 15, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) published the 2014 edition of its annual "Rich States, Poor States" economic competitiveness ranking, which claims to be "a forward-looking measure of how each state can expect to perform economically." For the seventh consecutive year, Utah was given the top spot for future economic outlook in 2014; New York was ranked last, and has never risen past 49th place.
Local media outlets quickly picked up the report and mainly discussed their own state's rankings and the rankings of neighboring states. Conservative radio station WOAI in San Antonio, Texas, published a blog detailing the report; including a quote from co-author and Heritage Foundation economist Steven Moore whom WOAI referred to as an "ALEC analyst":
A conservative group says Texas is tops in the country in economic activity today, but the American Legislative Exchange Council warns that the state's economic performance in the future will be rocky, largely because state government is spending too much money.
"That wasn't the good budget," ALEC analyst Steven Moore told 1200 WOAI news about the budget approved by the Legislature in 2012. "Not withstanding [sic] all of the very good things that are happening in Texas, and with the very big increase in the size of the economy."
ALEC ranks Texas no better than 13th nationally in terms of future economic performance.
Despite the uncritical, often glowing, pick-up by local media outlets, ALEC's competitiveness report has received scrutiny in the past, mostly due to evidence showing that economic data does not comport with the results of their study.
Local journalists covering Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's case stress he is no victim and is breaking the law, regardless of conservative media's sympathy for his defiance of government orders to remove cattle from federal land.
Those reporters and editors -- some who have been covering the case for 20 years -- spoke with Media Matters and said many of Bundy's neighbors object to his failure to pay fees to have his cattle graze on the land near Mesquite, NV., when they pay similar fees themselves.
"We have interviewed neighbors and people in and around Mesquite and they have said that he is breaking the law," said Chuck Meyer, news director at CBS' KXNT Radio in Las Vegas. "When it comes to the matter of the law, Mr. Bundy is clearly wrong."
Bundy's case dates back to 1993, when he stopped paying the fees required of local ranchers who use the federally owned land for their cattle and other animals. Local editors say more than 85 percent of Nevada land is owned by the federal government.
Bundy stopped paying fees on some 100,000 acres of land in 1993 and has defied numerous court orders, claiming the land should be controlled by Nevada and that the federal government has no authority over it.
Last year a federal court ordered Bundy to remove his cattle or they would be confiscated to pay the more than $1 million in fees and fines he's accumulated. The confiscation began earlier this month, but was halted because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had "serious concerns about the safety of employees and members of the public" when armed militia showed up to block the takeover.
But for local journalists, many who have been reporting on him for decades, that image is very misguided.
"He clearly has captured national attention, among mostly conservative media who have portrayed him as a kind of a property rights, First Amendment, Second Amendment, range war kind of issue," Meyer noted. "That's how it has been framed, but the story goes back a lot longer and is pretty cut and dry as far as legal implications have been concerned."
He added that, "Cliven Bundy and his supporters are engaged in a fight that has already been settled. There are a number of people around these parts who have strong reservations about Bundy's actions."
Las Vegas Sun Editorial Page Editor Matt Hufman said depicting Bundy as a victim is wrong.
"The BLM had court orders against him in the 90s telling him to get off federal land," Hufman said. "He's got a bunch of these arguments about state's rights, it's not federal land, blah, blah, blah. All of the arguments have been knocked down."
A gas company is attempting to use a half-century old Pennsylvania law to frack underneath the land of property owners who refuse to allow the controversial practice on their land, yet a majority of Pennsylvanians may be unaware as two of the state's top three newspapers have failed to mention the contentious issue.
Hilcorp Energy, a Texas-based oil and gas company, is pushing legal action in Pennsylvania to be able to drill underneath the property of landowners that have refused to sign a lease if enough of their neighbors have already signed, a practice known as "forced pooling." The "unused and outdated" law, which is "pitting neighbor against neighbor" as reported by the Associated Press, would "shred private property rights" according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, the only of the three highest circulating papers in Pennsylvania to cover the story. The other two, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, have completely overlooked the issue which has received national attention.
The "forced pooling" law would force landowners to allow the use of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to extract natural gas reserves underneath their property without their consent, creating concerns about the impact on property values and the threat of water pollution. A leaked document from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that natural gas extraction has caused methane to leak into domestic water wells, causing "significant damage" to the drinking water supply of the town.
Pennsylvania isn't the only state dealing with the "forced pooling" issue. Energy companies have been exploiting similar laws in many states including in Illinois and Ohio to the outrage of unsuspecting landowners. In Ohio, citizens are "furious" about the ruling that one citizen fears will "make him legally responsible for spills and other damage" according to the Associated Press. Some residents have "resigned to losing future income," while dozens of others are pushing forward lawsuits in an attempt to stop the forcible drilling.
There is a similar sentiment in Pennsylvania even among those who support natural gas drilling and fracking. For example, Pennsylvania's Republican Governor Tom Corbett -- a strong proponent of natural gas extraction in Pennsylvania -- opposes the law, likening it to "private eminent domain." And Marcellus Drilling News, a pro-fracking news site, has expressed disapproval of Hilcorp's use of the law, calling it "the low road."
The New Hampshire Union Leader used a widely criticized study to attack the Affordable Care Act (ACA), claiming that insurance premium rates will be increasing exponentially in New Hampshire. However, the study has been panned for its low response rate while the data found in the study is at odds with official data provided by the state.
A Union Leader editorial highlighted a survey first reported in Forbes and conducted by Morgan Stanley which purports to show that premium prices will increase nationally mostly due to the ACA. The Union Leader used one aspect of the survey's findings, that premium prices will increase 90 percent on the individual market in New Hampshire, to attack the ACA and claim it will not bring down premium prices as originally intended:
The stunning news this week was that health insurance premiums in New Hampshire are up 90 percent under the Affordable Care Act, according to a regular survey of health insurance brokers by Morgan Stanley's health care analysts. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, writing in Forbes, relayed that the Morgan Stanley team attributed the increase to four factors directly related to Obamacare: "the age bands that don't allow insurers to vary premiums between young and old beneficiaries based on the actual costs of providing the coverage, the new excise taxes being levied on insurance plans, and new benefit designs."
Despite the Union Leader and Forbes' ringing endorsement of the findings, the study has come under withering scrutiny. The study itself explains that "the trends among the individual insurers" are not as useful as the aggregate trends due to the fact the observations were much smaller. Indeed, for New Hampshire, there was only one registered response to the survey. Only two states produced double digit responses, California with 14 and Idaho with 31.
As a post by local television state WMUR 9 explained, "21 percent of all survey respondents were from Idaho" while in New Hampshire, "they said they talked to one person, who they don't name." The piece went on to explain that because of the study's low response rate for New Hampshire, WMUR did not run the story saying, "it's all based on one anonymous person's opinion."
Three major newspapers in Kansas have ignored the role of funding from the Koch brothers in the passage of legislation that strips teachers in the state of their right to due process before they are fired, a longstanding right that gives teachers the ability to challenge dismissals.
The director of a summer event sponsored by the The Blade of Toledo, OH, says the scheduled appearance of Ted Nugent is sparking a backlash from members of the community who take issue with the conservative commentator and musician's virulent commentary.
"All things being equal I wouldn't bring in a guy who is aggravating people, that is not my intention," said Mike Mori, The Blade's sales director, who is also event director for the Northwest Ohio Rib-Off, a four-day food and music event the newspaper has been running for four years. "It seems like this thing has kind of ballooned in the last couple months. I will probably think long and hard about inviting him next year."
The Blade announced today that Nugent, whose offensive comments about President Obama and other leaders have drawn criticism, will play the festival on August 8.
Mori said he has already received "quite a few" calls from readers objecting to the appearance. "It surprised me how many calls I got," he said. "I'm listening to the people and I probably will do something different next year if I can."
But Mori told Media Matters if he cancels Nugent's appearance this year, he still has to pay him the full fee, which he declined to reveal but said is more than $50,000.
"I have to pay him that even if it rains," Mori said. "I wish the guy would just not say the things he does, he brings a big audience, he's from Michigan, he packs the place. If everyone hated him, nobody would come. He does have a following, it's a tough situation. I try to have a diverse type of a line-up."
Mori, who stressed that he is "not a fan of the guy's politics," said he had signed Nugent to play the event in October 2013, before the latest uproar. He added that Nugent played the Rib-Off festival in 2012 without incident.
Mori said the festival pays most of the major acts about $50,000, adding that many big names want double or triple that amount. He said the fee is lower to keep down ticket prices, which run $6 to $12 depending on the performer.
Blade President and General Manager Joseph Zerbey did not respond to requests for comment, while Blade Editor Kurt Franck declined to offer an opinion.
"I try to make a mix of music, I try to stay out of politics, I'm in a tough position," Mori said. "I don't agree with what the guy says."
Clean energy policies are under attack in Ohio, led in force by members of an organization that connects corporations including fossil fuel interests to legislators. But this connection, to the American Legislative Exchange Council, is being overlooked by the state's major newspapers.
North Carolina's three largest papers by circulation gave little news coverage to the Medicaid coverage gap, or the number of North Carolinians who make too much for Medicaid without expansion but not enough for affordable coverage on the exchanges, mentioning the gap in only 8 out of 80 news articles since the end of the previous legislative session. 28 percent of uninsured North Carolinans would fall into the gap including 54 percent of people of color.
Florida journalists are speaking out after their state's legislature passed a proposal making it far more difficult to report on cases involving the controversial Stand Your Ground law.
Florida's Stand Your Ground law has repeatedly made national headlines because of its role in the deaths of teenagers Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis. On Thursday, the Florida House passed an NRA-backed proposal that includes an amendment which would expand the Stand Your Ground defense to those who fire warning shots to deter potential attacks. The bill also allows for the expunging of records in Stand Your Ground cases where charges were eventually dropped. The bill is now headed to the Florida Senate.
As the bill makes its way through the legislative process, top Sunshine State journalists are worried that making these records unavailable to the public will damage their ability to do proper journalism.
Among those speaking out are top reporters and editors at the Tampa Bay Times, which conducted a lengthy 2012 investigation into Stand Your Ground that won industry praise and raised concerns about the applications of the law, including the fact that in nearly four out of every five cases involving a Stand Your Ground defense, homicides were deemed justified if the victim was black.
"Closing records and putting controversial cases that involve violence into the dark is a bad idea, it is against democracy," said Neil Brown, Times editor and vice president. "This would have inhibited our work further. Our work was done based on court records as well as the stories of the incidents when they occurred."
The Las Vegas Review-Journal used the story of a Nevadan who had trouble with his state's exchange to bash "the intentionally flawed design" of the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange system while incorrectly claiming that people are forced to use the state exchanges to access coverage.
A March 19 editorial relayed the story of Larry Basich, an enrollee in the Nevada health insurance exchange who has paid his premiums but has not been provided coverage due to administrative errors by the exchange's contractor, Xerox. The Review-Journal editorial used Mr. Basich's story to call the exchanges "intentionally flawed" and claim Mr. Basich's problems could be solved if he was allowed to shop outside the exchange through a private insurer (emphasis added):
Mr. Basich's problems go to the failure of Obamacare nationwide and the intentionally flawed design of the exchanges. The government wanted to create a system that allowed some people buy insurance without seeing the actual price. That requires connectivity with federal databases to determine subsidy eligibility. Buying insurance and collecting subsidies are two entirely separate issues, and should have been treated that way. Would Mr. Basich be in this predicament if he'd simply been allowed to buy insurance through an insurer instead of the exchange?
The editorial continued on to link Mr. Basich's problems "to the failure of Obamacare nationwide" leading it to explain that the only real solution is the repeal and replacement of the ACA.
However, the Review-Journal is incorrect in its assertion that Mr. Basich was not allowed to buy insurance privately outside of the exchange. The option to purchase insurance outside of the exchange has always been available and unrestricted. In fact, due to the flawed roll out of the exchanges, the Obama administration has retro-actively extended the tax credits previously available on the exchanges to customers who were frustrated with enrollment and purchased insurance privately.
The Columbus Dispatch has pushed several myths about what health care enrollment numbers mean for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace, falsely claiming that not enough young or previously uninsured people have signed up and that people who have signed up for but haven't paid for an insurance plan will doom the law.
In reporting on an omnibus gun bill in the Georgia legislature, state media have largely overlooked that the legislation would expand the state's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law to allow those in illegal possession of firearms to avail themselves of the law's defenses and immunity provision.
House Bill 875, which would weaken Georgia's already lax gun laws in several ways including allowing guns in churches and bars, has garnered significant media attention in Georgia. The latest development involved a procedural move by Georgia House Republicans to force a vote on the bill in the Senate amid worries by House Republicans that the Senate version of H.B. 875 would remove several of the House Republican's provisions.
While the media has devoted significant attention to the issue of allowing guns in churches and bars, and the decision of House Republicans to eliminate a provision that would decriminalize the carrying of guns on campuses as part of its procedural move to force the Senate's hand, it has largely overlooked the provision in H.B. 875 that significantly expands Georgia's "Stand Your Ground" law.
Under current Georgia law, individuals claiming immunity from prosecution under "Stand Your Ground" must be complying with Georgia gun laws when they use their firearm.
However under H.B. 875, "Stand Your Ground" claimants would no longer be required to have been in compliance with Chapter 11, Article 4, Part 3 of Georgia's criminal code. That part of Georgia's code includes provisions on carrying weapons on school grounds, carrying a handgun without a license, the possession of firearms by convicted felons, the possession of handguns by minors, and the discharging of a firearm "while under the influence of alcohol or drugs."
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review cherry-picked data surrounding the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) effect on health care premiums for small businesses, failing to explain that a small rise in prices for some will allow a more fair premium rating policy for all and could save small businesses money in the long term.
The March 11 editorial references a misleading Investor's Business Daily editorial which cites a Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) claim that a number of small businesses will see health care premium increases as a result of the ACA by 2016:
The latest ObamaCare fabrication, exposed by the health system's own numbers cruncher, is that government-directed medical care somehow will reduce small-business premiums by 4 percent -- and by as much as 25 percent in 2016.
But the dream proffered back in 2009 by President Obama has become today's nightmare, as detailed by the actuary for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: 65 percent of small businesses offering insurance will see their rates go up.
And that will affect about 11 million workers, according to Investor's Business Daily.
Although the actuary's report doesn't say how much rates will rise, studies cited by Investor's Business Daily peg the hike between 12 percent and 20 percent. Which businesses are likely to see their rates inflate? Why, those that employ younger -- and healthier -- workers, who under ObamaCare inevitably must pay more to keep the scheme afloat.
However the CMS report cited by the Tribune-Review and Investors Business Daily provides a narrow look at how small businesses are affected by the ACA by leaving out other factors which could relate to premium prices. In addition, CMS also admits "there is a large degree of uncertainty associated with this estimate" (emphasis added):
This analysis focuses on the number of people with health insurance coverage through their employer whose premium rates are expected to increase or decrease as a result of the guaranteed issue, guaranteed renewability, and premium rating provisions of the ACA only. Other factors affecting rates such as changes in product design, provider networks, or competition are not considered. In addition, other provisions of the ACA, including the coverage expansions, the extension of dependent coverage to age 26, the individual mandate, and the employer mandate will impact the availability of coverage, the take-up of that coverage, and the premium rates charged to those who currently have employer-sponsored insurance, but those impacts are not included in this estimate. We prepared a more complete report on the financial effects of the ACA in 2010.11 As mentioned previously, the effect on large employers is expected to be negligible, therefore our evaluation examines the impact on employees of fully-insured small firms.
There is a rather large degree of uncertainty associated with this estimate. The impact could vary significantly depending on the mix of firms that decide to offer health insurance coverage. In reality, the employer's decisions to offer coverage will be based on far more factors than the three that are focused on in this report so understanding the effects of just these provisions will always be challenging.
The Baltimore Sun cut ties with their conservative blog after learning of the blog's potential unethical behavior, a Sun spokesperson said Monday.
"The Baltimore Sun's editorial independence is among our most fundamental values and we have a strict separation between advertising and the content we produce," Sun Director of Marketing Renee Mutchnik told Media Matters in a statement explaining the paper's separation from the bloggers.
Late last year the Sun inked a deal with the conservative blog Red Maryland to provide content for baltimoresun.com as well as a weekly op-ed page in the paper's print edition. In a November op-ed, Red Maryland's Mark Newgent explained that their blog was "the premiere source for conservative news and opinion in Maryland" and that he and his colleagues would now have "the opportunity to advance conservative, limited government ideas to a larger audience." While the bloggers would continue to operate their private blog, they would also write content for a Red Maryland blog on the Sun's website.
But questions over the bloggers' ethical behavior surfaced last week when a rival conservative blogger posted what he claimed was an email he received from friends outlining a pitch from Red Maryland urging Republican candidates to advertise on the bloggers' radio show to "get the message out to like-minded conservatives in your upcoming primary election." The email claimed that Red Maryland would use all "our platforms at BaltimoreSun.com, RedMaryland.com, and the Red Maryland network" to introduce candidates to the public, suggesting that candidates who paid for the ads could also expect favorable coverage from the bloggers in their roles as paid contributors to the Sun.
Red Maryland did not dispute the authenticity of the email but denied the conservative rival's pay-to-play accusation in a March 7 blog post on their original website, stating that they had provided platforms to candidates since the site's founding to give these candidates media attention and statewide audiences. However, Red Maryland also formally acknowledged that Newgent, who wrote for both Red Maryland's original site and in the Sun, has been paid by Larry Hogan, a Republican gubernatorial candidate Red Maryland has endorsed:
First, we've never claimed to be "objective." We wear our biases openly on our sleeve, always have. You've always known where Red Maryland was coming from. Newgent has repeatedly disclosed his work for Change Maryland and the Hogan for Governor Campaign. He has performed research work for both organizations. Hardly a "political favor."
Numerous local newspapers failed to identify the fossil fuel funding behind Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, while allowing him to publish op-eds across the country misleadingly attacking a potential tax credit for wind power, while ignoring subsidies for the oil and gas industries.