Almost all of Ohio's leading newspapers ignored a new poll showing that Ohioans overwhelmingly support action on immigration reform, even as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced a decision on November 13 that effectively reduced any chances at reform this year.
A poll conducted by Harper Polling on behalf of three pro-reform organizations -- including one that counts News Corp (Fox News' parent company) president Rupert Murdoch as a co-chairman, and another that exclusively supports GOP candidates -- found that 74 percent of Ohio residents surveyed feel the immigration system is broken and that another 72 percent support an immigration proposal with a path to citizenship. The poll also found that 68 percent of respondents support a plan that would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants and citizenship to those who were brought to the country illegally as children.
On November 13, the Cleveland Plain Dealer was the only major daily Ohio newspaper to report these findings, despite Boehner's pronouncement that day that he would refuse to allow negotiations between the House and the Senate on an immigration reform bill. As the Washington Post noted, the decision dealt "a significant blow to the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform by this Congress."
The conservative Columbus Dispatch has long been a force in local and state politics in Ohio. But in recent years, the newspaper's parent company has become a virtual media monopoly in Ohio's largest city and state capital, controlling not only the daily newspaper, but two radio stations, a television outlet and a long list of other weekly, monthly, and regional news sources.
"It's a one-newspaper town," said Dominick Cappa, editor of Columbus Business First, one of the few local publications not owned by the Dispatch. "They have the TV station, a radio station. Are they powerful? Hell yeah they're powerful because they have those outlets."
And the Dispatch's owners have used that media muscle to promote conservative causes and candidates, in particular the state's Republican governor, John Kasich. Publisher John F. Wolfe, CEO of parent company Dispatch Printing, and his wife, Ann, have spent more than $100,000 seeking to elect Republicans in state and out, with three dollars out of every ten going to Kasich's coffers.
The Dispatch's news reporting is the pride of Ohio; in recent years the paper has repeatedly been named the best newspaper of its size by the Associated Press Society, and its reporters typically clean up at that organization's annual awards presentation. In 2012, John Wolfe himself was given a special recognition award for "exemplary service to print journalism."
But critics say that the recent expansion of Dispatch Printing has created a near-monopoly in central Ohio, and point to the way the paper's editorial board has shielded Kasich to sound a note of alarm.
The increasing influence of the Wolfes comes during a period in which several right-wing moguls have been seeking to use mainstream media outlets to influence the political debate.
In December Media Matters profiled financier Douglas Manchester, a major Republican Party contributor who purchased the San Diego Union-Tribune and used it to cheerlead for right-wing politics and his own business interests. More recently, David and Charles Koch, major funders of the conservative movement, have reportedly considered buying the Tribune Company's eight regional newspapers -- which include the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune -- as part of their plan to shift the country to the right by investing in the media. Manchester has also considered buying the Tribune Company.
The Kochs also financially support the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a non-profit organization whose websites and affiliates provide free statehouse reporting from a conservative perspective to local newspapers and other media across the country.
The Wolfes' stranglehold on central Ohio's media grew substantially last September when the Dispatch Printing Company took over Columbus Media Enterprises from American Community Newspapers. That purchase added 12 specialty magazines to its arsenal, including Columbus Monthly and Columbus CEO, and Columbus Bride; Suburban News Publications, a string of 22 community weeklies that were subsequently merged with the company's 22-paper ThisWeek Community News group of weeklies; and The Other Paper, a feisty alternative weekly that had been known as a Dispatch watchdog.
Dispatch Printing already owned a variety of specialty publications including Columbus Alive, Columbus Crave, Columbus Parent, and Capital Style, along with two radio stations, the local CBS television affiliate (WBNS-TV), Ohio News Network Radio, which provides regular newscasts and sportscasts to 73 radio stations statewide, and Consumer News Services, a marketing company that distributes insert fliers via direct delivery bags.
Columbus has three other network television affiliates: WCMH, the NBC affiliate owned by Media General; WSYX, the ABC affiliate, and WTTE, the Fox affiliate, both owned by Sinclair Broadcasting.
But critics say that those outlets amount to little more than window dressing. "There is no competition," said Gerald Kosicki, a 26-year professor of communications at nearby Ohio State University. "You do only now have one voice. That is a concern to people."
The Cincinnati Enquirer has failed to mention efforts by conservatives in Ohio to strip funding from Planned Parenthood in the House budget.
Since Republican House lawmakers introduced a substitute bill on April 9 that included the anti-Planned Parenthood measures, several other Ohio newspapers mentioned the proposal to effectively block federal funding for women's health services provider, which could lead to a loss of about $1.7 million. The Akron Beacon Journal penned an editorial attacking the House bill for its planned cuts and The Columbus Dispatch followed suit with an editorial that called for the proposed cuts to be "stripped from the budget." The Cincinnati Enquirer has not produced original content on the stripping of funds, but has published two Associated Press articles which mentioned the plan to strip funding for the women's health organization.
This is the third time this year Ohio Republicans have attempted to strip Planned Parenthood of its funding. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer pointed out, the legislature is attempting to "reprioritize" federal family planning funding to make "Planned Parenthood and other stand-alone family planning providers the lowest priority in getting federal funding." The article further explains that out of the 37 clinics operated by Planned Parenthood in the state, only three provide abortions and that it is illegal to use federal funds for abortion procedures:
House Republican foes of abortions rights inserted language into Gov. John Kasich's mid-budget review bill that would strip Planned Parenthood of up to $1.7 million in federal funding controlled by the state Department of Health.
The language added by GOP abortion opponents, which mirrors a separate bill that sits in committee, reprioritizes federal family planning funds in a way that makes Planned Parenthood and other stand-alone family planning providers the lowest priority in getting federal funding.
"Clearly, the intent of this legislation is to make sure the federal funds are exhausted before Planned Parenthood has the opportunity to apply for it," said Gary Dougherty, state legislative director for Planned Parenthood. Dougherty [said] Planned Parenthood would lose about $1.7 million.
Dougherty said only three of the 37 family planning centers run by Planned Parenthood provide abortions, and noted that it's illegal under federal law to use federal funding for abortions.
In lieu of giving the funds to Planned Parenthood, the bill would give crisis pregnancy centers top priority for funding. As CityBeat, a Cincinnati news site, explained, the money would be used primarily to fund abstinence-only services. However, a 2013 report by NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio found that crisis pregnancy centers exhibit a "pattern of using medically inaccurate information and scare tactics" with their patients.
Ohio media reporting on Gov. John Kasich's (R) new education funding plan neglected to inform readers that the plan funnels millions of dollars in increased spending to private schools and charter schools whose operators have donated millions in campaign contributions to Kasich and Republicans in the state legislature.
The Akron Beacon Journal reported on the Kasich plan's significant enrichment of private school operators and the charter school management industry (emphasis added):
The $8.5 million expansion in the first year represents a 7 percent increase in allocations for vouchers. Based on the average voucher cost of $5,997, the additional funding could afford scholarships for more than 2,800 children by the end of the budget cycle in 2015.
The budget also expands funding for charter schools, adding an additional $100 per pupil for facility improvements at the privately operated alternative schools. That's an additional $11.9 million for charter schools based on the Beacon Journal's projection of 2011-2012 student enrollment figures.
The Beacon Journal didn't mention that the additional $11.9 million for charter schools represents a significant return on the investments of for-profit charter school operators who have helped fund Republican campaigns in Ohio for years. One such operator is David Brennan, whose White Hat Management is among the largest for-profit charter school operators in the state. Brennan and his immediate family contributed over $430,000 to Ohio Republicans in 2010, including $46,000 to Kasich's gubernatorial campaign, according to a Plunderbund.com review of state campaign disclosures. Brennan and another for-profit charter school operator, William Lager, have reportedly funneled over $4 million to Ohio Republicans since 2001.
Ohio's largest print news outlets -- including the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dayton Daily News, Toledo Blade, and the Beacon Journal -- not only ignored the financial connections between Kasich's charter-friendly plan and his campaign donors, they also failed to note that the charter school industry is receiving this boon despite consistently performing well below Ohio's traditional public school districts. Recently released report cards for the 2011-12 school year indicated that "while 92 percent of the state's public school districts scored effective or higher...only 26 percent of charter schools did."
Brennan's White Hat Management has a particularly poor record of academic success, according to reporting by NPR.org. NPR's examination found that for the 2010-11 school year, no White Hat school in Ohio earned higher than a "C" on the state report card, and most received a rating of "D" or "F." White Hat was also sued by the schools it manages for pocketing "at least 95 percent of the schools' tax funding."
Nevertheless, White Hat stands to benefit from Kasich's new plan. Unfortunately, Ohio's parents and students are not benefitting from adequate media focus on Kasich's continued financial conflicts of interest.
Major Ohio newspapers used right-wing framing to cover the re-emergence of a right-to-work movement in the state after recent right-to-work victories in Indiana and Michigan. Though the narrative is only just developing, the Toledo Blade and the Cincinnati Enquirer already failed to challenge the veracity of statements from the movement's special interest supporters.
The Cincinnati Enquirer parroted the demand of the state and regional chambers of commerce that right-to-work in Ohio "needs the law to compete" with Indiana and Michigan." From the December 11 article:
As neighboring Michigan moved Tuesday to become a "right-to-work" state - and 10,000 protesters jammed the lawn of its Capitol - Ohio groups who support the laws say Ohio has to follow suit or watch jobs leave.
"When we are working with companies who want to investigate locations, the first question on their list is right to work," said Phillip Parker, president and chief executive officer of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. He later backed off his statement at an afternoon press conference, but there are other indications the fight may be coming to Ohio.
A group called Ohioans for Workplace Freedom is gathering signatures to put the issue on the fall ballot. They need 385,253.
"Indiana has done this. Michigan will. What choice will Ohio have," tea party activist Chris Littleton of West Chester told the Toledo Blade this week. "This is economic jet fuel for job creation, wage growth and a vibrant Ohio economy. If two border states do this, how can Ohio afford not to do this?"
Meanwhile, the Toledo Blade reported on December 11:
As Michigan lawmakers prepare today to make the Wolverine State the latest right-to-work state, petitions are circulating on Ohio streets to put a similar issue directly before Buckeye voters.
"People are ready to double-down. ... Michigan has revitalized a lot of our effort," said Chris Littleton, former president of the Ohio Liberty Council, the closest thing Ohio has to a statewide Tea Party group.
He said the petition effort was sidetracked by the 2012 elections, but a meeting of regional volunteers last week was energized by what's happening in Michigan. The goal is to gather roughly 380,000 signatures needed by early July to qualify for the November, 2013, election.
"Indiana has done this," he said. "Michigan will. What choice will Ohio have? This is economic jet fuel for job creation, wage growth, and a vibrant Ohio economy. If two border states do this, how can Ohio afford not to do this?"
The assertion made by the Ohio chambers and the Tea Party source -- that Ohio won't be able to remain competitive without a right-to-work law now that its neighbors have passed them -- will likely be repeated in the coming months, even though it runs contrary to expert opinion.
The Center for American Progress and the Economic Policy Institute both found that right-to-work laws have "no significant positive impact" on employment and "no statistically significant impact" on job growth. Hofstra University professor Lonnie Stevans found that right-to-work laws yield "little or no gain in employment and real economic growth," and studies show that right-to-work states have lower wages among both union and non-union workers.
The Economic Policy Institute also debunked the claim that right-to-work plays a primary role in a company's decision to open shop in a given state when they found "not a single" business executive in Indiana who said right-to-work "made the difference" to their decisions:
Not a single company says it came to Indiana because of RTW
[The Indiana Economic Development Commission (IEDC)] is a vocal advocate for RTW. Yet, while the agency reports that scores of companies have "communicated" that RTW "will factor into their decision-making process of where to locate," the commission's Legislative Update report does not identify a single company that says RTW made the difference in their decision to locate in Indiana. The commission offers quotes from a number of executives who praise RTW, but not a single one says it made the difference to their decisions.
Deputy editorial page editor Kevin O'Brien used his weekly platform in the pages of The Cleveland Plain Dealer to parrot national conservatives by encouraging the Republican-led House of Representatives to continue its policies of obstruction and explaining that people who voted for President Obama are either socialists or consider the president to be a "fun fad."
In his November 7 column titled "It's twilight in America," O'Brien also argued that Obama is "bent on [America's] fundamental transformation" -- a prospect furthered by a "rogue Congress" that passed the president's healthcare bill in spite of "what was then popular." O'Brien called on the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to continue acting as a "firewall" of obstructionism. He wrote (emphasis added):
For the half of America that understands the peril in which their country stands, the House remains the firewall, just as it has been these last two years. And for at least two more years, the House will not let us down.
It all seems the perfect recipe for gridlock, and gridlock probably will seem to be the result.
But in this presidential term, nothing as healthy as gridlock will be achieved, because Barack Obama's re-election changes everything.
Absent a miracle, the president will achieve the fundamental transformation he desires for America.
The passage of Obamacare by a rogue Congress that ignored what was then the popular will has put this country on a course toward socialism and a different popular will.
Given the chance to change that course with this election, Americans -- by a very thin margin in the popular vote -- declined.
O'Brien also attempted to explain to readers exactly why voters would have chosen Obama over GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney (emphasis added):
Some declined because they just don't see a problem. For young voters, especially, Obama is a fun fad -- a celebrity president who promises them all sorts of wonderful things that are either free or that someone else will pay for. Many of them will come to their senses when they realize they're permanently worse off than their parents, but that will take time.
Some declined because they actually see socialism as a desirable outcome. They have been fed the progressive line from kindergarten through graduate school, and they believe it sincerely. They also plan to be among the elites who, in a more enlightened country, will make the decisions for the rest of us. To them, Obama is a kindred spirit.
Some declined because a bigger, more activist, more paternal government benefits them directly, either by employing them or by providing for them in other ways. Mitt Romney may not have been right about their numbers -- his off-the-cuff reference to 47 percent of the population was a little high -- but he was right about their existence, their political priorities and their strength in the voting booth.
But I think most declined because they're simply afraid of what lies ahead. Rather than facing the problems of incipient fiscal calamity and sociocultural rot, they opted for more reassurances from an Obama-led Washington that all will be well if we just tax more and spend more.
O'Brien's message to Ohioans echoes the themes national conservatives have been pushing since Election Night -- to encourage more GOP obstruction and to explain away Obama's re-election by dismissing half of the electorate as wards of the state or people who just want "free stuff."
Meanwhile, editorial boards at Ohio newspapers in nearby Columbus and Toledo argued that the president won re-election because Republicans followed the conservative movement too far to the right. From the Toledo Blade:
Republicans must step out of the shadows of the party's far-right wing. If the Tea Party continues to dictate the Republican Party's platform, the GOP not only will fail to broaden its base, but also will continue to alienate traditional, more moderate Republicans.
And the Columbus Dispatch noted:
Now it's time for responsible Republicans to take their party back from the fringe that loses them elections. It's not true that Republicans needed better candidates. They had excellent contenders. The problem was that the electable ones couldn't leap the lunacy barrier erected by the right wing.
As fact-checkers and media figures continue to slam the Fox News-turned-GOP convention slogan "We Built It," more business owners have come out of the woodwork to claim that they built their own businesses -- seemingly without the help of government. The Toledo Blade's convention coverage followed suit by dedicating several paragraphs to the latest small business owner to claim he "built it," despite evidence to the contrary.
Small business owner Steve Cohen -- a Republican Party adviser on small business issues since 2011 and the president of Screen Machines Industries in Etna, Ohio -- was given a speaking spot at the convention to discuss his business and how he "did build [his] company."
From the Toledo Blade:
Other speakers included Steve Cohen, president of Screen Machine Industries, a family-owned manufacturer of construction and mining equipment in Etna, Ohio, who listed problems he said can be helped or hurt by government, such as patent theft, tariffs, and unfair trade practices, regulations, and taxes.
"In addition, our international competitors do not have to face the upcoming costs associated with funding a multibillion-dollar health-care plan, overreaching emission standards, and the unnecessary war on coal. These factors create a tremendous disadvantage in the global market place, he said.
"And yes, we did build this company," Mr. Cohen said, using the line used by almost every speaker at the podium in the convention.
The problem with the Blade's presentation of Cohen's comments is that Cohen didn't, in fact, "build it" on his own. Cohen's company has received more than $2 million in federal contracts, including $220,000 in funds from Obama's stimulus program.
Given the continued distortion of Obama's comments for political advantage and the prominence of business owners who have supposedly "built it" on their own -- when in fact they have received millions in government funds -- one would expect the Blade to provide honest context for the public comments of political partisans.
The Detroit Free Press and Toledo Blade uncritically reported the false assertion by Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for Sen. John McCain, that Sen. Barack Obama would increase taxes on 21 million small businesses. In fact, Obama has proposed rolling back President Bush's tax cuts only on "people who are making 250,000 dollars a year or more," and according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center's table of 2007 tax returns that reported small-business income, only 481,000 of those returns are from filers with taxable incomes of more than $250,000.