Watchdog.org | Media Matters for America

Watchdog.org

Tags ››› Watchdog.org
  • Senators Explain How Fossil Fuel Groups Use Media To Spread Denial And Thwart Climate Action

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A group of U.S. Senators took to the Senate floor on July 11 and 12 to expose the “web of denial” that the fossil fuel industry has spun to block action on climate change. Essential to this effort is a media misinformation campaign that several senators described in detail.

    Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) remarked on the “unfortunate role” that the media has played in spreading misinformation by providing false balance on the science of climate change:

    Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) noted that “so-called experts” at the Koch- and Exxon-funded Heritage Foundation “publish op-eds and do interviews in media outlets around the country, talk radio, helping to spread disinformation or misinformation or what we sometimes call lies”:

    Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) noted that some of the same groups that deny climate science are also using the media to push for a “land grab” that would transfer public lands from federal to state control, which could pave the way for more drilling and mining:

    And Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) explained that the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, whose website Watchdog.org has been described as “delivering political propaganda dressed up as journalism,” has extensive ties to the oil billionaire Koch brothers:

  • Here Are The Corporations And Right-Wing Funders Backing The Education Reform Movement

    A Guide To The Funders Behind A Tangled Network Of Advocacy, Research, Media, And Profiteering That’s Taking Over Public Education

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Media Matters outlines the many overlapping connections in an echo chamber of education privatization advocacy groups, think tanks, and media outlets that are increasingly funded by a handful of conservative billionaires and for-profit education companies -- often without proper disclosure. 

  • The NH Union Leader Just Hired A Disciple Of The Koch Brothers To Run Its Editorial Page

    ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    The New Hampshire Union Leader has hired Grant Bosse, a former researcher at a think tank funded by the Koch brothers, to be the new editor of the paper's editorial page. In his previous role as a columnist for New Hampshire's Concord Monitor, Bosse defended the Koch brothers and once wrote that progressives who believe the billionaire industrialists are trying to control the Republican Party subscribe to a "conspiracy theory."

  • Scott Walker's Media Lapdog Marks His Presidential Campaign Launch By Whitewashing His Record

    Blog ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    WisconsinWatchdog.org marked Republican Governor Scott Walker's presidential announcement with an article that made no mention of the economic struggles Wisconsinites have endured under his tenure and praised Walker campaign chair Michael Grebe without disclosing its conflict-of-interest connection to him.

    While many members of Wisconsin's media have warned of Walker's "extreme" politics, "polarizing character" and disappointing economic record, WisconsinWatchdog.org cheered the governor's presidential campaign announcement in a July 13 article that praised his recall election survival and touted his successful crippling of unions. Watchdog.org said Walker is "once more on the precipice of history, set to bring his big government-reform message to the national stage."

    WisconsinWatchdog.org also made little mention of Walker's shaky economic record in its discussion of his qualifications to become president. The article praised him for enacting damaging tax cuts and dismissed widespread criticism that he drained the state of revenue by parroting the state Republican party's argument that the tax revenue "came from the hard-earned money of Wisconsin taxpayers, and it belongs to them."

    As local Capital Times reporter John Nichols told Media Matter's Joe Strupp, "The Wisconsin economic story is not a particularly good story. Wisconsin trails a lot of neighboring states in economic vitality; its job growth is not particularly good."

    WisconsinWatchdog.org previously tried to distort Walker's economic record by relying on a methodologically flawed report produced by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The "Rich States, Poor States" report by ALEC has been called "snake oil" by The Iowa Policy Project and labor advocacy group Good Jobs First for its promotion of deregulation and reliance on cutting public services. Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal called the maps in ALEC's report "a joke" because they ranked strong states like New York and California at the bottom of the list, and said, "ALEC is ranking states based on each state's level of deregulation and awarding the most deregulated states, but the outcomes seem to have very little bearing in where companies actually want to launch and do business."

    Bloomberg's more objective state ranking index, the Economic Evaluation of States, places Wisconsin in 38thplace using indicators like home prices and wage growth. Even by his own measure, Walker's record on job creation has come up short. His campaign promise to bring 250,000 new private sector jobs by the end of his first term "failed miserably" according to former mayor of Minneapolis R. T. Rybak, writing in an op-ed for The Hill. Fewer than 150,000 jobs were created during Walker's first term.

    The governor's strong stance against raising taxes in the face of deficit spending created a budget fight that delayed his presidential candidacy announcement. While neighboring Minnesota has raised taxes and seen economic growth, Walker's continued push for spending cuts had members of his own party rebelling against his budget, which passed with the largest legislative Republican opposition so far in his tenure.

    The Walker budget that finally passed last week included controversial and possibly economically harmful changes. Chief among these are a $250 million-dollar cut to higher education, provisions to weaken tenure protection at state schools, elimination of wage protections for construction laborers working on state projects, and the replacement of a provision that said workers must be paid a "living wage" with wording that says workers must only be paid "minimum wage." Current minimum wage in Wisconsin is projected to remain at $7.25 per hour until at least 2018.

    WisconsinWatchdog.org's support of Walker comes as no surprise -- the website formerly known as the Wisconsin Reporter has a long history of defending him. During the "John Doe" investigations into possible campaign finance violations during Walker's 2010 and 2012 campaigns, WisconsinWatchdog.org ran more than 180 articles pushing back against his critics.

    As part of the Franklin Center's Watchdog.org media group, WisconsinWatchdog.org operates aspart of a collective of state-based media outlets that use funding from the likes of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers to push conservative views and misinformation into state policy conversations. The Franklin Center also receives funding from the Bradley Foundation, which is run by Walker's campaign chairman, Michael Grebe. Though WisconsinWatchdog.org's article mentions Grebe, his position, and a reprints a quote from the Weekly Standard praising his experience, it never discloses Grebe's position as president and CEO of the Bradley Foundation.

  • How Scott Walker's Watchdog Is Using ALEC Data To Defend His Economic Record

    Blog ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    WisconsinWatchdog.org used a methodologically flawed report from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to whitewash Wisconsin's economic performance under Governor Scott Walker despite many analysts pointing to budget deficits and declining economic performance.

    An April 8 WisconsinWatchdog.org (formerly branded as the Wisconsin Reporter) report lauded Wisconsin's jump from 17th to 13th place in this year's index of "economic competitiveness" compiled by the controversial right-wing group ALEC. Watchdog.org's report praised the recently passed right-to-work law -- legislation that weakens unions by baring mandatory fees from non-union workers -- though admitted the new legislation was not passed in time to be considered for ALEC's index. However, Walker's deep tax cuts were cited by both Watchdog.org and ALEC as a major reason for the state's jump in the index:

    The Rich States, Poor States report emphasizes the relief property taxpayers have experienced in recent years. Buoyed by better-than-expected state revenue over the past two years, Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature pushed hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts, particularly relief on the property tax side. Wisconsin taxpayers had for years seen their property taxes rise before the recent round of cuts.

    Walker's latest two-year budget proposal includes another $280 million in property tax reductions.

    "Just as I promised, property taxes by the end of 2016 will be lower than they were in 2014. That means lower property taxes for six years in a row," Walker said in his budget address in February.

    "Due to property tax relief and other pro-growth reforms, Wisconsin's economic outlook ranking increased four spots," said Jonathan Williams, vice president of Center for State Fiscal Reform at ALEC and co-author of Rich States, Poor States.

    "While the effective date of Wisconsin's recent right-to-work law missed the 2015 edition's cut-off date, I predict that this new policy will increase the state's economic outlook ranking in the 2016 edition of this report," he added.

    ALEC's analysis has come under some scrutiny, most notably in a joint critique of ALEC's rating system by The Iowa Policy Project and labor analysis outlet Good Jobs First who called ALEC's index "snake oil," and claimed that in promoting tax cuts, the slashing of public services, and other ALEC agenda items, "the [report] provides a recipe for economic inequality and declining incomes for most citizens and for depriving state and local governments of the revenue needed to maintain public infrastructure and education systems."

    Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal also criticized a previous version of ALEC's report saying that maps based on the report were a "a joke," because "dynamic economies like New York and California are ranked near the bottom, while un-dynamic economies like Indiana and Wyoming are ranked near the top." He continued:

    Obviously ALEC is ranking states based on each state's level of deregulation and awarding the most deregulated states, but the outcomes seem to have very little bearing in where companies actually want to launch and do business.

    The economic reality in Wisconsin proves the lack of credibility of WisconsinWatchdog.org's ALEC index coverage. Notably, the state's 2015-2017 biannual budget approved by Walker is projected to produce a nearly $2 billion budget shortfall. While that number is based on requests from agencies that will largely go unfulfilled, the Associated Press noted that "the budget will be about $650 million short by mid-2017 [if] spending [continues] at current levels."

    Bloomberg's Economic Evaluation of States also largely disproves the ALEC report, instead ranking Wisconsin 35th in the country overall and showed that major economic indicators like wage growth and home prices in Wisconsin lag behind the national median:

    While job growth in Wisconsin was up in the month of February -- the last month where data is available-- long term measurements place the state in a three way tie for "38th place in private-sector job growth." WisconsinWatchdog.org did disclose near the end of it's report that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) "showed Wisconsin posted a private sector job-creation rate of 1.16 percent between September 2013 and September 2014," half of the national average but dismissed it by claiming, without evidence, other economic factors contested the BLS data and showed Wisconsin's "turnaround."

    Wisconsin Watchdog.org's promotion of ALEC's favorable assessment of Walker's economy comes as no surprise as the outlet has consistently defended Walker against campaign finance violation allegations and is heavily funded by an organization whose top executive is Walker's former campaign committee chair.

  • The Pay-To-Play Allegation Walker's Watchdog Isn't Defending

    Blog ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    Mired in conflicts of interest, Watchdog.org's Wisconsin Reporter has remained silent as new information emerges concerning Governor Scott Walker's (R-WI) role in a potential pay-to-play scandal. The site, which echoed defendants calling the investigation a "witch hunt," has previously defended Walker from the allegations of campaign finance violations in over 150 articles.

    The Wisconsin Reporter has been a staunch defender of Walker against allegations of wrongdoing stemming from the "John Doe" investigations, the protected state probes into Walker's campaign practices and possible illegal campaign coordination. Since January 1 of this year, the Reporter has published 19 articles either defending Walker or denouncing the validity of the investigations.The Reporter's website includes a special series on the "John Doe" investigations titled "Wisconsin's Secret War," which currently has 186 total entries.

    But the Wisconsin Reporter has been silent as evidence reportedly leaked from the very investigation it has covered so heavily revealed potential instances of pay-to-play between a local business man and the Walker administration.

    At issue is over $1.5 million in donations made in 2012 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth (WCG), a group that defended the Governor during his 2012 recall election and is directed by Walker's campaign advisor, Yahoo News' Michael Isikoff reported on March 23. The donations were made by hardware store franchise owner John Menard Jr. According to Isikoff, in the years after Walker survived that recall election, Menard's business has benefited from "up to $1.8 million in special tax credits from a state economic development corporation that Walker chairs."

    Before the evidence of Menard's donation to WCG became public, the Reporter defended Eric O'Keefe, director of the WCG, against allegations that he and the WCG improperly coordinated with Walker. In multiple articles the Reporter gave O'Keefe and the WCG a platform to deny wrongdoing and undermine the investigation by calling it a "witch hunt." While prosecutors have not commented on the case to the site, O'Keefe told the Reporter, "From its inception, this was a scam, a political pursuit." In an attempt to undermine the case, the Reporter highlighted the growing cost of the investigation, questioned the independence of the chief justice hearing the case, and promoted counter investigations into the prosecution.

    The Reporter has not yet mentioned Menard's donation and subsequent tax breaks, a major development in the story that made national headlines. Their silence on the story highlights the conflicts of interest that surround the outlet's reporting on Walker and the "John Doe" investigations.

    The Reporter is part of The Franklin Center, a group of web-based media outlets founded in part by EricO'Keefe. The Franklin Center's Watchdog.org media group -- which includes the Wisconsin Reporter -- claims they are "in no way partisan," however the Franklin Center received 95 percent of their funding in 2011 from Donors Trust, a conservative clearing house used to pump money indirectly into politics, and whose chief executive told The Guardian that no donations to the trust would go "to liberals."

    The Franklin Center's ties to conservative Wisconsin groups goes beyond O'Keefe and the WCG. In an op-ed in The Capital Times, Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy reported that Franklin Center Director of Special Projects John Connors has also acted as president of Citizens for a Strong America, another conservative group funded by the Club for Growth which was named as a target of the "John Doe" investigation. After apologizing for not disclosing Connors' connection to the case, the Wisconsin Reporter continued to defend Walker and those involved in the investigation.

    CORRECTION: This post originally stated that John Connors was personally named in the "John Doe" investigation. While it is unknown if Connors is personally named, he has acted as the president of Citizens for a Strong America, which is named in the investigation. This information was uncovered by the Center for Media and Democracy's Brendan Fischer, not The Capital Times as originally reported. 

  • Right-Wing Media Falsely Drag Steyer Into Oregon Gov. Scandal

    ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Conservative media outlets are broadly attacking clean energy and the environmental movement by falsely alleging that prominent environmental philanthropist Tom Steyer has "deep ties" to the recent scandal involving Cylvia Hayes, the fiancée of former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber who failed to publicly disclose that she was being paid by a clean energy group while also advising Kitzhaber on clean energy issues. In reality, there is no evidence that Steyer funded Hayes, or that Steyer has any other connection to the scandal.

  • Dark-Money Outlet Whitewashes The Effects Of Scott Walker's Economic Policies

    Blog ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    The Wisconsin Reporter, a conservative news website funded by dark money, credited Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) with reducing unemployment and cutting taxes but failed to note that Walker's policies have resulted in a budget deficit.

    In a January 14 article, the Reporter repeated some of the positive economic news Walker mentioned in his State of the State address on January 13, such as growth in private-sector jobs and a decrease in property taxes.

    But the Reporter failed to note that the Walker administration is projecting that the state faces a $2.2 billion deficit for the 2015-2017 budget period. As the Wisconsin State Journal has reported, observers say this is partly because of the Walker-supported tax cuts:

    Jon Peacock, director of the Wisconsin Budget Project, said the $2 billion in tax cuts enacted in recent years also share the blame [for the deficit].

    "If lawmakers insist on making additional tax cuts, that will require even deeper cuts in the traditional sources of Wisconsin's strength, such as our public schools and universities," Peacock said.

  • Koch-Funded News Outlet Defends Dark-Money Organizations

    Blog ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    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.

  • Watchdog.org's Attack On Al Franken Confuses Time Warner With Time Warner Cable

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL CALVERT

    Right-wing website Watchdog.org incorrectly reported that Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) has received donations from Time Warner Cable to accuse the senator of hypocrisy in advocating for net neutrality. In fact, the donations in question have come from media corporation and separate entity Time Warner.

    Watchdog.org's Minnesota bureau reported that Franken has received $33,450 from Time Warner Cable lobbyists since 2009, painting him as a hypocrite for supporting net neutrality as a result:

    U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has made his name in the latter part of his first term as a crusader for net neutrality and a huge critic of billion-dollar mergers of multimedia companies.

    And while his ire has been focused on Comcast, the nation's second largest media conglomerate, he's been raking in cash from competitor Time Warner Cable, the third-largest, according to profits.

    Since 2009, Franken has raised $33,450 from lobbyists from TWC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit dedicated to tracking political spending.

    The Center for Responsive Politics reveals, however, that those donations came from Time Warner, an entirely separate company. Time Warner is a media corporation that owns HBO, Castle Rock Entertainment, and Warner Bros., among other content producers. Time Warner Cable Inc. is a cable and telecommunications company.

    Franken has extensively denounced Time Warner Cable's proposed merger with Comcast, the largest cable and internet provider in the country.

    Image at top via Flickr user John Taylor using a Creative Commons License.

  • California's Plastic Bag Ban: Myths And Facts

    ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL & DENISE ROBBINS

    On September 30, California became the first state to ban the use of plastic bags in stores, leading to a barrage of misinformation from various media outlets claiming the ban would actually hurt the environment. However, these contrarian claims are undermined by research showing that previous bans and taxes have reduced energy use and litter, while doing no harm to the economy.