In the wake of growing pressure on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) -- a shadowy right-wing group dedicated to pushing a conservative agenda at the state level -- and the exposure of its agenda and tactics, will local media finally acknowledge its influence on state politics when reporting on new legislation?
The Guardian reported on December 3 that ALEC has lost the membership of "almost 400 state legislators" and the funding of "more than 60 corporations" due to the organization's connection to controversial "stand your ground" laws, which received scrutiny following the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. In an effort to rebuild those relationships, ALEC is holding its States & Nation policy summit in Washington, D.C., this week. The event includes Republican legislators such as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), as well as several governors.
Legislators and businesses from around the country will gather to discuss this year's model legislation, which, as the Center for Media and Democracy has highlighted, will run the gamut of policy areas including legislation "opposing U.S. consumers' rights to know the origin of our food," "undermining workers' rights," "stripping environmental protections," and "limiting patient rights and undermining safety net programs." The last category includes legislation to turn Medicaid into a block grant program, similar to the proposal that Ryan has offered in his budget proposals.
State and local media outlets in the past have often neglected to identify ALEC-influenced legislation and failed to report on their state legislators' involvement with the group. A new wrinkle proposed this year by ALEC, however, directly affects state legislators. The Kansas City Star highlighted a document that was published by The Guardian that, although not adopted, would have required state chairs to take a loyalty oath: "I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first." As Star columnist Barbara Shelly wrote:
What? These are elected officials. They are to put the interests of their states and constituents first. Apparently at some level people realized that, because the draft job description was never adopted. But the very suggestion demonstrates ALEC's eagerness to control these lawmakers.
As legislative sessions begin next year, will state media outlets begin to question legislation offered by their state representatives, especially those who are known to be members of ALEC? Will state media outlets question their ALEC state chairmen about the loyalty oath and whether they are putting the interests of ALEC interests above those of their state and constituents?
ALEC's renewed push has essentially given local media a second chance to identify ALEC's influence in their states and potentially identify the corporate interests behind several pieces of legislation affecting their readers.
The Columbus Dispatch claimed that unemployment insurance [UI] benefits create a disincentive to work to attack President Obama's recent call to extend them into 2014. However, multiple economists have found that unemployment benefits are not disincentives to work during economic downturns, and that not extending them will hurt the economy and result in job loss.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch said Republican "political arguments" should not be blamed for the initial failures of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), despite the GOP's goal of obstructing of the law, hindering its rollout.
In a November 25 editorial discussing the ACA's rollout, the editorial board claimed that "political arguments" and "Republican boilerplate against the ACA" did not contribute to the failures of the rollout. From the Times-Dispatch:
Although President Barack Obama has accepted responsibility (sort of) for Obamacare's disastrous start, he continues to point fingers at others.
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank notes that Obama has whined about Republicans and the press. He has implied that GOP demands to repeal the Affordable Care Act have undermined the program's efficiency. Oh? Political arguments have no bearing on the mechanics of running Obamacare. Republican boilerplate against the ACA did not contribute to the fiasco. Conservatives may be reveling in the aftermath, but they did not cause the systemic failures.
The editorial fails to note the multiple instances of Republican obstructionism that have led to some of the problems with the law's implementation. As a November 1 Politico article noted, one of the causes of the flawed rollout was "calculated sabotage by Republicans at every step." The piece continued:
From the moment the bill was introduced, Republican leaders in both houses of Congress announced their intention to kill it. Republican troops pressed this cause all the way to the Supreme Court -- which upheld the law, but weakened a key part of it by giving states the option to reject an expansion of Medicaid. The GOP faithful then kept up their crusade past the president's reelection, in a pattern of "massive resistance" not seen since the Southern states' defiance of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.
The opposition was strategic from the start: Derail President Barack Obama's biggest ambition, and derail Obama himself. Party leaders enforced discipline, withholding any support for the new law -- which passed with only Democratic votes, thus undermining its acceptance. Partisan divisions also meant that Democrats could not pass legislation smoothing out some rough language in the draft bill that passed the Senate. That left the administration forced to fill far more gaps through regulation than it otherwise would have had to do, because attempts -- usually routine -- to re-open the bill for small changes could have led to wholesale debate in the Senate all over again.
On her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham repeatedly mocked then imitated the accent of a woman whose native language appeared not to be English as the woman made comments in protest of the Obama administration's record number of deportations.
On the November 21 edition of her radio program, Ingraham aired comments from a pro-immigration reform protest in which a woman states: "We are here to say to President Barack Obama, not one more deportations [sic]." The protest was ostensibly part of the national campaign by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) called NotOneMoreDeportation.com or #Not1More to protest and expose what immigrants' rights activists view as unjust Immigration laws. One of the campaign's aims is to "collectively challeng[e] unfair deportations."
Following the woman's comments, Ingraham said: "Wait, what did she say at the end? I can't -- I need a translator. I speak Spanish too. I'd rather have her just speak Spanish, at least I'd understand that." She then went on to affect the woman's accent:
Ingraham's comment that she would have preferred the woman speak Spanish are at odds with what conservative media figures have been saying for years -- mainly that immigrants who want to settle in this country have to learn to speak English.
Ingraham's mocking of the woman's accent is hardly the first instance in which a conservative media figure has ridiculed an immigrant whose native language is not English. On Fox News, contributor Jesse Watters repeatedly made fun of the accents of foreign-born immigrants in New York City. And Rush Limbaugh repeatedly mocked a speech by Chinese President Hu Jintao on his visit to the United States, speaking in mock Chinese to purportedly mimic how Jintao was speaking.
A Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial left out key details of the insurance market prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the affordability of current ACA plans to attack the law and claim it should be repealed.
The November 20 editorial discussed insurance companies terminating certain Americans' current health plans while claiming that those seeking insurance will have to pay higher costs under the new ACA-compliant plans:
So the insured were part of the problem all along. The people who were responsible enough to purchase coverage that fit their needs and their budgets, without being threatened with a penalty tax, were too dumb to understand they were actually buying "predatory" garbage. The people who gave themselves an economic incentive to take care of their health, who willingly paid cash for routine medical care, needed to be forced to pay even more for coverage they didn't want or need.
Obamacare strikes out on premium affordability, too. According to the Manhattan Institute, Obamacare is projected to increase individual-market premiums by 179 percent in Nevada, the biggest jump in the nation. Sticker shock, not technical failure, is the major reason why so few people are buying insurance from Obamacare exchanges. The Twitter account @MyCancellation documents the cancellation notices Americans are receiving, as well as their outrageous new premium quotes. One tweet this week read "From Alabama: Old plan canceled was $180/mo w/ $6,700 ded. New plan under #ACA $400/mo &ded nearly doubles $12,000."
Americans were lied to. No amount of revisionist history can save this law or make its awful consequences acceptable. Are you paying attention, Sen. Reid? Repeal and replace.
The issue isn't so much with the insured as the companies providing insurance. As the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute explained, "Pre-ACA, consumers faced a 'wild west' when buying health insurance." Providers were allowed to indiscriminately change plans and raise premiums without any safeguards. As Consumer Reports explained, the pre-ACA individual insurance market was "a nightmare" with many uninsured being unable to afford an individual plan, or if they did have insurance, most disliking their coverage. The article further noted:
Because of the new health care law people like these, who did nothing wrong except to have the bad luck to be stranded in the individual market, can now get health coverage at a price they can afford. Insurers can't turn them down or exclude coverage of the treatments they need the most. They can't slice and dice risk pools to drive longtime policyholders away. They can't charge them more because of pre-existing conditions.
In addition, insurance companies misled their clients by introducing non-ACA compliant plans without informing them that the plans they had would only be available for a short period of time, or in the case of Humana, sent threatening cancellation letters or letters that omitted crucial information about the ACA. As a Talking Points Memo investigation found, insurance companies around the country "have sent misleading letters to consumers, trying to lock them into the companies' own, sometimes more expensive health insurance plans rather than let them shop for insurance and tax credits on the Obamacare marketplaces," which could save consumers thousands per month.
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."
MediaTrackers Ohio attempted to distort local media coverage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by using badly flawed comparisons to claim the ACA's exchanges will lead to "sticker shock" for Ohio residents. MediaTrackers' analysis applies to a small slice of Ohio consumers and doesn't take into account important parts of the law.
Local media looking at MediaTrackers' effort should note several omissions in their reports:
As part of its analysis, MediaTrackers published several articles comparing the costs of insurance premiums for plans on Ohio's federally run ACA exchange to quotes for plans at eHealth.com, an online marketplace that allows people to shop for insurance. MediaTrackers looked at costs for 27-year-old women and men and 50-year-old women and men. In all the scenarios, MediaTrackers compared "Obamacare 'Gold' plans from [the Department of Health and Human Services] and existing policies with similar deductibles listed at eHealth."
As The New York Times explained, all health insurance plans starting on January 1 must include essential benefits from 10 health categories meaning consumers are not forced to purchase insurance through the exchanges in order to qualify under the ACA and can purchase private insurance if it is cheaper for them.
However, even using MediaTrackers' scenario, it is misleading to present today's plans and the new ACA-compliant plans as equal. Replicating MediaTrackers' scant methodology as closely as possible, the cheapest current plans do not have several of the health benefits required under the ACA. For example, picking the cheapest plan on eHealth.com in Columbus, Ohio, with a $1,500 deductible will allow a 27-year-old man to pay around $100 per month, but it will not include mental health, substance abuse, oral, or vision care -- all benefits required under the ACA.
Several local media outlets published editorials and opinion pieces highlighting and praising CBS' faulty 60 Minutes Benghazi report. Now that CBS has apologized and withdrawn its report, will local media follow suit?
On October 27, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a report highlighting comments from security officer Dylan Davies, who went by the pseudonym "Morgan Jones" and said that he was an eyewitness to the September 12, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. After several inconsistencies surfaced in Davies' statements about the evening, CBS pulled its report, apologized to viewers, and said it would "correct the record" on the next edition of 60 Minutes.
Immediately following the 60 Minutes report, various local media outlets across the country published editorial and opinion pieces hyping the report and heralding it as evidence that President Obama and his administration were lying about the attacks. At least six local media outlets, including The Columbus Dispatch, The New Hampshire Union Leader, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Washington Times, The Charleston Post and Courier, and The Boston Herald, all hyped the CBS report with one outlet calling it a "damning report" while another said the administration's "coverup [is] being exposed." Pittsburgh Press writer Jack Kelly published a piece in the Post-Gazette claiming the report was "noteworthy for the new information provided -- in particular the interviews with 'Morgan Jones' and [Lt.] Col. [Andrew] Wood."
The 60 Minutes report reinvigorated the widely debunked myth that there are "lingering questions" about the Benghazi attack and continued to push a right-wing media narrative that the Obama administration has engaged in a cover-up in response to the attacks. The pervasiveness of the myth even hit Congress as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) threatened to hold up presidential nominations until questions surrounding Benghazi were answered.
Now that CBS has retracted its report, will local media outlets who also injected this misleading myth into their opinion pages do the same, or will they continue to rely on debunked information that misleads their readers?
The New Hampshire Union Leader rehashed debunked myths about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to misleadingly claim the law isn't working and is growing in unpopularity among Americans, even as polls show the law is gaining support despite initial flaws in rollout of the exchanges.
The October 22 editorial discussed a speech given by President Obama earlier this week in which he expressed disappointment in the exchange rollout's obvious issues but explained that the "essence of the law, the health insurance that's available to people, is working just fine." The piece disagreed, explaining that not only is the website flawed, but the entire law is not working:
The insurance can't be "working just fine" if people can't access it. Nor can it be "working just fine" if it costs more, is not what the insurance people want or need, and causes employers to drop coverage either because it does not meet the Obamacare insurance mandates or because paying the Obamacare fines is cheaper than covering employees.
Nothing about this law is "working just fine." Nor is the President's pathetic spin, which fewer Americans believe every day.
While there are flaws with the online enrollment system, which President Obama has acknowledged and his administration is in the process of fixing, the other accusations leveled by the Union Leader are misleading.
First, several studies have shown that costs for people purchasing insurance have gone down. According to a release by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 6 in 10 uninsured Americans will be able to pay less than $100 per month for health insurance coverage on the exchanges. In addition, the health care advocacy group Families USA found that up to 26 million Americans would be eligible for subsidies to reduce the cost of insurance. In fact, as a study by the Center for American Progress explains, the lower-than-projected premiums "will save the federal government $190 billion over 10 years and increase the law's deficit reduction by 174 percent to almost $300 billion. Lastly, a study by the RAND Corporation found that the law will help consumers lower their out-of-pocket costs in some cases by more than $1,000.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review highlighted a right-wing think tank study which found that premiums would significantly increase for 27-year-old Pennsylvanians without pointing out any other costs savings for young people due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The October 14 Tribune-Review editorial cited a study by the Commonwealth Foundation to claim "premiums [will] go up 121 percent for 27-year-old males and 62 percent for same-aged females in the Pittsburgh area." The paper also included sparse anecdotal evidence to come to the sweeping conclusion that there will be "outrageous cost hikes."
The Commonwealth Foundation, which has a dubious funding record from right-wing mega-donors and ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), published a study claiming that, compared to current insurance premiums on ehealthinsurance.com, 27-year-olds in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia would see their premiums rise significantly. Although left out of the Tribune-Review editorial, the study itself notes that "the comparison does not take into account the tax credits available to individuals" or "out-of-pocket costs, including co-pays and deductibles" which have been predicted to fall under the ACA.
By failing to note the impact of subsides, both the editorial and the study leave out a significant portion of savings that would manifest as a result of the ACA for young adults. According to a report by FamiliesUSA, almost 900,000 Pennsylvania residents would be eligible for premium tax credits or subsidies in 2014. Of that number, young adults -- those between the ages of 18 and 34 -- are "the likeliest age group to be eligible for premium tax credits, making up approximately 36 percent of all those who are eligible."