The Richmond Times-Dispatch failed to note that Virginia's education proposal to improve failing public schools is modeled after a Louisiana program which experts found does not lead to higher academic achievement.
A January 31 article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch discussed a new education initiative which hopes to take over failing Virginia public schools and allow a statewide school panel to run the schools until they reach higher achievement levels. As the article notes, these schools would be modeled after the Recovery School District (RSD) in Louisiana. From the Times-Dispatch:
In his most dramatic K-12 education initiative of this year, Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing to create a statewide school division that would take over management of such schools.
The concept, roughly modeled after the Recovery School District in Louisiana, is a novel construct in Virginia and has the McDonnell administration at odds with education groups that have embraced other parts of the governor's public school agenda.
Supporters cast the so-called Opportunity Educational Institution as a way to remove obstacles that have led to chronically underperforming schools.
The article does note that there is opposition to the proposal on several fronts, including constitutional concerns about the law and whether local tax dollars would be diverted to an un-elected board rather than local school boards. However, the piece fails to note that the Recovery School District in Louisiana -- on which the Virginia program would be partially modeled -- has had mixed results, and any positive gains may have been the result of one time funding due to Hurricane Katrina.
The Louisiana Recovery School District was established in 2003 to provide parents with children in failing New Orleans public schools with other alternatives. After Hurricane Katrina, the RSD stepped in to take over most of New Orleans public schools, turning them into charter schools with the potential after 5 years of returning control to the public school board once they sufficiently improve. Despite teachers in some schools unanimously asking to return to the public school system, no school has been granted permission to do so.
The schools have also, so far, failed to meet the benchmarks of success established by the RSD. While supporters of the RSD program claim that the schools are making progress as charter schools, they have not performed much better than when they were public schools.
An article in the Times-Picayune from highlighted a report which found that the "district-run RSD schools are the worst performing in the city," in 2012. In addition, a Times-Picayune editorial noted that the RSD schools had the lowest percentage of students -- 11.3 percent -- score high enough on the college admissions test to earn a TOPS scholarship from Louisiana, compared to 38 percent of all students in New Orleans.
A fact sheet provided by the nonpartisan Council for a Better Louisiana shows that RSD schools are lagging well behind the rest of the state's schools. RSD schools still have a majority of students performing below Louisiana's basic grade level of skills and knowledge in reading and English and 59 percent of college freshman have had to take remedial courses after graduating from an RSD school. Meanwhile, RSD schools spend almost $12,519 per pupil compared to a state average of $10,622.
A scathing report by Research on Reforms, an organization dedicated to improving New Orleans Public Schools, found that the RSD relied spun data to make it seem that their schools were hitting their target goals. From Research on Reforms:
When the 2012 SPS/letter grades were released, the RSD-NO was quick to respond with the spin that 2012 results again supported the claim that that the LDOE's model for turning around failing schools had been extremely successful. They claimed that their schools had made incredible gains in New Orleans for 2012 in spite of the fact that the failing bar had been raised from 65 to 75. The RSD's District Performance Score (DPS) increased from an "F" (69.2) to slightly above the new "F" cutoff score of 75. Its new DPS was 76.7 which is equivalent to a "D". ROR's position is that a label of "D" hardly qualifies any school district to rejoice. While not indicating failure, it does indicate that a district is performing very poorly academically.
Did the RSD-NO's DPS gain represent significant progress in 2012? When viewed in the context of the most important annual growth indicator of the LDOE, (i.e., the SPS Growth Target), it is not. Sixty-seven percent of the 60 RSD-NO schools failed to achieve their growth target for 2012. When viewed in this context, one would hardly consider the 7.5 point DPS growth of the RSD significant considering the performance of the majority of its schools. Also note that the RSD's public relations spinners have rarely, or never, addressed the significance of this extremely crucial school indicator when assessing gains or growth.
A report by the National Education Policy Center, which was criticizing another report touting the school district's progress, highlighted what they called "historic and racially targeted neglect" which the supporters of the RSD never take into account when discussing circumstances behind failing New Orleans schools. In addition, another Research on Reforms report found that the RSD was neglecting non-charter schools under its control -- specifically Marshall Middle School -- regardless of the schools' success.
The Times-Dispatch has a duty to its readers to expose the flawed history of the RSD, given that Virginia's education plan, as the newspaper notes, is modeled after Louisiana's controversial program.
The editorial boards of two newspapers owned by oil tycoon Philip Anschutz re-endorsed the controversial Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline project days after Nebraska's Governor approved a new route for the pipeline, but neither paper acknowledged the continued environmental danger of the project and both exaggerated the project's potential for job creation and consumer benefits.
The editorial boards of the Colorado Springs Gazette and The Oklahoman claimed that the Obama administration should approve the pipeline now that TransCanada -- the corporation seeking to build the pipeline -- has rerouted the project because it won't have a negative environmental impact. But in fact, the risk of a spill over environmentally sensitive areas remains. Keystone XL will carry tar sands oil, which is potentially more corrosive and difficult to clean up than regular crude oil, according NPR. The existing Keystone pipeline has had 14 spills, and the new route will still cross a large aquifer and, according to some groups, will still cross the environmentally sensitive sandy soil around the Sandhills.
Despite these issues, The Oklahoman editorial claimed that "U.S. customers will get the benefit" if the pipeline is built. However, the pipeline will not lower gasoline prices for consumers any noticeable amount, and some experts believe it could raise gas prices for consumers in the Midwest. Much of the oil, after being transported over American soil, will be shipped overseas.
And while The Colorado Springs Gazette editorial claimed the pipeline could create "179,000 American jobs" by 2035, these numbers are wildly inflated. That figure actually represents 179,000 "person-years of employment" -- a job for one person for one year -- and comes from an analysis funded by TransCanada that independent analysts have called "dead wrong," "meaningless," and "flawed and poorly documented." According to a Washington Post article, TransCanada admitted that the project would only create around 6,500 construction jobs for two years. Independent analyses have found even less job creation, with one study by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute finding that the pipeline would create as few as fifty permanent U.S. jobs.
Editorial bias in the Gazette and Oklahoman isn't surprising -- both papers are owned by billionaire oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz. It's hard to take Anschutz's papers seriously given their distortions of the benefits oil and gas drilling, their dismissal of the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction, and their failure to acknowledge the dangers of climate change.
Media outlets cherry-picked facts from a recent Health and Human Services report on the Head Start education program to promote the myth that the program is a failure. However, neither the HHS report nor other studies confirm those claims, and reports actually show the program has had a positive impact both early on and later in students' lives.
ABC News published a story which quoted several members of the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) but failed to disclose the organization's ties to nativist John Tanton, who is affiliated with a designated hate group, and ignored the organization's well-established credibility problems.
On January 14, ABC News reported on a conference held by CIS, which attacked "legalization programs for undocumented immigrants":
Analysts from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a think tank that advocates reduced immigration levels and stricter enforcement of current immigration laws, said today that legalization programs for undocumented immigrants typically lead to fraud and increased illegal immigration.
ABC provided a platform for CIS representatives to voice their opposition to a variety of proposed immigration measures, but ABC failed to provide background on CIS, despite the group's long history of anti-immigrant rhetoric, ties to nativist organizations, and lack of credibility.
The Center for Immigration Studies was started in 1985 by John Tanton, an anti-immigrant nativist with ties to other anti-immigrant organizations such as NumbersUSA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Southern Poverty Law Center-labeled hate group. From the Southern Poverty Law Center:
Although you'd never know it to read its materials, CIS was started in 1985 by a Michigan ophthalmologist named John Tanton -- a man known for his racist statements about Latinos, his decades-long flirtation with white nationalists and Holocaust deniers, and his publication of ugly racist materials. CIS' creation was part of a carefully thought-out strategy aimed at creating a set of complementary institutions to cultivate the nativist cause -- groups including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and NumbersUSA. As is shown in Tanton's correspondence, lodged in the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Tanton came up with the idea in the early 1980s for "a small think tank" that would "wage the war of ideas."
And while Tanton never actually ran CIS, his correspondence shows that as late as 1994, nine years after it was started, Tanton, who remains on FAIR's board of directors today, saw himself as setting the "proper roles for FAIR and CIS." He raised millions of dollars for the think tank and published the writings of top CIS officials in his racist journal, The Social Contract. He maneuvered a friend on to the board of CIS -- a man who shared his interest in eugenics and who attended events with Tanton where white nationalists gave presentations. Through it all, CIS pumped out study after study aimed at highlighting immigration's negative effects.
ABC also failed to note that CIS studies have also been the subject of frequent criticism. The Southern Poverty Law Center has previously called into question the group's findings, stating that CIS often reaches baseless conclusions which are "either false or virtually without any supporting evidence." The Center for New Community has also scrutinized CIS and even warned professional journalists that CIS is not a "credible voice in the debate on immigration."
One of ABC's sources, CIS executive director Mark Krikorian, has a history of making insensitive remarks about other ethnic groups. He has previously claimed that "Haiti's so screwed up because it wasn't colonized long enough," that foreign-nationals who aren't raised in the United States could become terrorists, and that Muslims are a "vicious people." In addition, Krikorian has stated that the United States should deny pregnant women entry to the U.S. because someone "visiting Disneyland" could give their child American citizenship (while referring to said child using the derogatory phrase "anchor baby"). None of Krikorian's past rhetoric was documented by ABC.
Unfortunately, ABC isn't the only major news outlet to treat CIS as a reasonable voice in the immigration debate. The nation's top seven newspapers cited CIS and other anti-immigrant groups over 250 times from January 2010 through June 2012. The New York Times cited the group several times despite publishing an exposé on the organizations unsavory ties with Tanton. NPR has also featured Krikorian as an alternative voice to Jose Antonio Vargas during an immigration debate, despite his harsh views on immigration.
The Wisconsin State Journal failed to note specific health and environmental risks associated with taconite mining -- such as increased levels of mesothelioma among miners and groundwater contamination -- in an editorial and news story on a mining reform bill that conservative members of the legislature have made a priority for 2013.
The Orange County Register advocated for expanded use of the controversial drilling technique known as fracking by citing an industry-funded study -- peer-reviewed by an expert with industry ties -- that concluded fracking is safe for California. From the editorial, titled "No need to fear fracking":
But the center [for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute] and its co-plaintiffs ignore the result of a recently released fracturing study, which was required as part of a 2011 legal settlement between community and environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Plains Exploration and Production Co., owner and operator of the Inglewood Oil Field in Los Angeles County.
The 206-page study, the first of its kind in the state, examined the threats fracturing posed to air and water, not to mention risks of increased seismic activity caused by drilling. It concluded there was no danger to public health and safety.
Indeed, the weight of objective scientific evidence suggests that fracturing is a safe technique. Properly regulated, there is no reason for California to restrict it.
Despite the Register's ringing endorsement of the findings, experts have challenged the study on several fronts. First, critics of the study voiced concern that the study did not look at the long-term impact of fracking and instead focused on the near-term impacts. Second, the study was conducted by the company with a financial stake in the outcome. As Damon Nagami of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote in a blog:
We also are keenly aware that this study was funded by PXP, an oil company, and peer reviewed by at least one expert, John P. Martin, with ties to the oil and gas industry. Therefore, we need additional review from independent experts who have no financial stake in the study's outcome. We will be seeking our own experts, but I also would recommend that California agencies with the appropriate expertise take a close look at this study and provide the public with their comments.
As Desmogblog.com noted, the expert, John P. Martin, has a questionable history surrounding his role as an independent peer reviewer. Martin, who runs JP Martin Energy Strategy, has worked in various sectors of the oil industry and is tied to the controversial SUNY Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute, which came under fire last year when it published a study that had ties to the oil industry. The Institute closed in November.
In addition, far from being the conclusive silver bullet study the OC Register purported it to be, the study was viewed by public officials in California as a step, not a solution. The Los Angeles Times notes:
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes the communities around the field, advised caution.
"The point is, we have more than one peer reviewer here," Ridley-Thomas said. "It's hardly done; it is up for further examination, further discussion and this is an important step in the process, but hardly a conclusive one."
As Media Matters has previously noted, experts have linked fracking to earthquakes and groundwater contamination and believe the practice could have a negative impact on California's agriculture and wine industry.
The Oklahoman relied on the "absence of compelling evidence" and the comments of a single geologist to conclude that the largest recorded earthquake in Oklahoma's history was not tied to fracking, despite mounting evidence that indicates otherwise. In doing so, the paper dismissed mounting evidence linking underground injection of wastewater to earthquakes at large, continuing its attempt to cast doubt on science and shut down policy debates that could affect the paper's owner, billionaire oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz.
In a December 11 editorial, The Oklahoman dismissed the links between oil and gas exploration and earthquakes by saying "unless proven otherwise," any assumption of what caused the earthquake "should go to nature" instead of being attributed to mankind. From The Oklahoman editorial (emphasis added):
Ties go to the runner in baseball. Assumptions about nature, when apparently tied, should go to nature. Unless proven otherwise.
This is the heart of the discussion on whether the largest recorded earthquake in Oklahoma history was manmade rather than an act of nature. Some believe that oil and gas exploration activity in the area of the epicenter caused the quake. That's an assumption, as is the belief that earthquakes are natural phenomena always caused by nature and never by mankind.
We subscribe to the view that in the absence of compelling evidence that a natural phenomenon was caused by human activity, we should assume it was caused by nature. But we live in a time when science-based policymaking is highly politicized and a portion of mankind dislikes humanity to the point of suspecting that many "natural" events (such as hurricanes) are the unnatural result of people.
The editorial points to one seismologist, Oklahoma Geological Survey's Austin Holland, who said, "until you can prove that it's not a natural earthquake, you should assume it's a natural earthquake." However, experts believe that the November 2011 earthquake and other events in Oklahoma -- such as the drastic increase from six earthquakes between 2000 and 2008 to 850 earthquakes between January 2010 and March 2011 in Oklahoma County -- point to a link between fracking-related activites, specifically wastewater injection, and seismic activity. Similar links have also been made in Dallas, Texas , Ohio, and Arkansas. Scientists from the United States Geological Survey also presented a report in April that found that "seismicity rate changes" in Arkansas and Oklahoma "are almost certainly manmade," although it remains unclear if the changes were related specifically to fracking or to the rate of oil and gas production.
Even shale development corporations have voiced their concerns that their activities may have contributed to seismic activity. Cuadrilla Resources, the only company in Britain using hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas, admitted in a report that earthquakes near Blackpool, England were likely caused by their work in the area. From the Huffington Post:
The only company in Britain using hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas from shale rock said Wednesday that the controversial technique probably did trigger earth tremors in April and May.
But a report commissioned by Cuadrilla Resources, which is drilling for gas in the area outside the northwestern English coastal resort town of Blackpool, cautioned that the tremors, measuring 1.9 and 2.8 on the Richter scale - were due to an unusual combination of geology and operations and were unlikely to happen again.
The Oklahoman editorial is the second editorial in two weeks to criticize the use of science in policy making. On November 28, the paper told policymakers to ignore science because it could hurt jobs and increase economic hardship "in the name of global warming theories" its editors don't believe are valid. In fact, since the paper was purchased by oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz, whose company sued a town that banned fracking, the paper has dismissed the links between fracking and groundwater contamination and written two previous editorials attacking the connection between fracking-related activities and seismic activity.
Despite the mounting evidence that oil and gas extraction could be harmful to our planet, The Oklahoman continues to disregard science and shut down any debate that might hurt its owner's financial interests.
Following renewed interest in a proposal to raise the minimum wage in New York, the New York Post attacked the measure as a job killer, despite significant research indicating no substantial link between job losses and wage increases. In fact, studies show the proposed minimum wage increase would benefit New York workers.
Democrats have been seeking a 17% hike in the minimum wage, to $8.50 from $7.25, for a while. [Republican Senator Dean] Skelos and his fellow Republicans, who've controlled the Senate for the past two years, have blocked it.
Yet on Tuesday, the [National Federation of Independent Business] painted a sobering picture of what such a hike would do: Besides killing 22,000 jobs, some $2.5 billion in economic output would vaporize.
"Raising the minimum wage," said Mike Durant, the NFIB's New York director, "will affect the smallest businesses that can least afford higher labor costs, and they'll respond by finding ways to reduce or limit the number of jobs they create."
Depending on inflation, the group says, costs for entry-level workers would soar by as much as 66% by 2022 -- "more than many small businesses can handle."
Some 70% of the lost jobs would come from small businesses, the very engine of job creation.
The Post's assertion that small businesses would be most affected is dubious. Most workers in New York who make minimum wage are employed by larger chains, not by small businesses. According to testimony by National Employment Law Project Staff Attorney Tsedeye Gebreselassie:
Despite misconceptions, the majority of low-wage workers are, in fact, employed by large chains, not small mom-and-pop businesses. Two-thirds of all employees work in firms of at least 100 workers (and half of all employees work in firms with more than 500 workers).
In addition, the larger companies are already paying their workers less and are therefore likely to have to increase wages for their employees in light of a new minimum wage policy. A Fiscal Policy Institute study found that New York retail employers with over 500 workers paid their workers 25 percent less on average than smaller retail employers. As for the claim of massive job losses, another study by the Fiscal Policy Institute found that job growth for small businesses actually grew faster in states with higher minimum wages.
In fact, numerous studies have shown that historically, unemployment is not linked to an increase in minimum wage. A Fiscal Policy Institute study conducted after New York increased their minimum wage in 2004 found that over the next three years, "total employment in the state [had] grown by 3.0 percent." A National Employment Law Project study found that even during times of economic downturn, increases in the minimum wage did not lead to job losses among teens -- part of a group of people the Post has previously targeted as being most affected by a minimum wage increase.
Despite the fearmongering over job losses and slowed economic output, a minimum wage increase would actually have a substantial positive impact on New York workers. Raising the minimum wage would benefit about one million workers in the state, which is just over 11 percent of all New York workers. In addition, it would bring its minimum wage closer to other states in the Northeast such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont -- all which have a higher minimum wage than New York.
Unfortunately, this attack on minimum wage is not new for the Post. Earlier this year the Post editorial board wrote a similarly misinformed piece about minimum wage increases in New York.
The Columbus Dispatch published an article discussing a new proposal to drug test welfare beneficiaries, failing to point out that drug testing laws are expensive, medically unsound, and have previously been found unconstitutional. In addition, reports indicate that welfare recipients are no more likely to use illicit drugs than the rest of the general population.
Top Ohio newspapers failed to adequately highlight the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) influence on recent asbestos legislation in the state.
On December 4, the Ohio Senate passed an ALEC-inspired bill that curbs the ability of asbestos victims to file lawsuits for damages. From Legal Newsline:
A bill meant to stop the duplication of asbestos lawsuits has passed the Ohio state Senate.
The bill, which passed the Senate by a 19-14 vote, would require anyone to reveal all asbestos claims filed by them or for them. If they don't do so, the person could face perjury charges. The bill made it through Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. It passed the House in January.
Critics, however, say the measure would slow legitimate claims. And they say the bill would make Ohio the first state with such claim restrictions even though Ohio is among the states with the biggest backlog of asbestos claims.
The Dayton Daily News and Cincinnati Enquirer both failed to link the harmful asbestos bill to ALEC in their original reporting, despite it being covered in other states and nationally. Only the Columbus Dispatch ran an original story that noted the piece of legislation was an ALEC model bill, while the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Dayton Daily News published AP versions of the story that briefly mentioned ALEC. None of the stories highlighted the several legislators who supported the bill who are also known members of ALEC.
Ohio has the 8th highest rate of death in the nation from mesothelioma and asbestosis with 1,328 total mesothelioma and asbestosis deaths from 1999 to 2008. Ohio is one of several states to pass an ALEC inspired bill attempting to limit the damages victims of asbestos exposure can seek. This year alone, legislation attempting to curtail victims' rights has been passed in Michigan, Arizona, Idaho, and Utah. The Minnesota legislature also passed an ALEC inspired bill, however it was vetoed by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (D).
In 2001, ALEC and manufacturing company Crown Holdings, Inc. jointly crafted model legislation which attempted to limit the amount in compensation victims of asbestos-related diseases received from companies who exposed their workers to asbestos. Coverage of the model bill in Minnesota from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune revealed that this "national effort" was being undertaken by the "$8 billion can manufacturer to shield itself from costly asbestos lawsuits." Even the general counsel to Crown Holdings, William Gallagher, announced in testimony before the Michigan House Judiciary Committee that the laws passed in other states were based on ALEC model legislation and urged Michigan to enact a similar law.
Unsurprisingly, several legislators involved in the crafting of the Ohio asbestos bill are or were members of ALEC. A Cincinnati Enquirer article -- while completely omitting any ALEC mentions -- cited several legislators who sponsored and voted for the bill including the bill's originator Rep. Louis Blessing Jr., Senate President Tom Niehaus, Sen. Bill Seitz and Sen. Bill Coley. All four have known ties to ALEC according to the Center for Media and Democracy's project, ALEC Exposed.
Despite the many news reports and facts linking this bill to ALEC, Ohio newspapers generally failed to produce original content which makes the link. The Cincinnati Enquirer published a piece of original content that made no mention of ALEC. The Dayton Daily News published one original news story which did not mention ALEC. In addition, the Daily News published two AP stories on the bill, but only one of which made the ALEC connection. The only paper to run an original story mentioning ALEC was the Columbus Dispatch which, buried at the bottom of a story on legislative action banning Internet cafes, wrote a short blurb on other lame-duck legislative action:
Following a spirited debate, the Senate approved House Bill 380, which is aimed at victims of on-the-job asbestos exposure who try to pursue two avenues for damages. It would require workers to disclose all asbestos claims they have filed. Critics say it would block legitimate claims. The bill is based on model legislation from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. The bill passed 19-14, with four Republicans, including Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, joining all Democrats in opposition.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer and Dayton Daily News both ran an AP version of the story that referenced ALEC at the end of the story:
The bill stems from model legislation developed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which has drawn attention for the entree it's recently gained at statehouses through efforts including opulent, corporate-backed conferences not always subject to normal disclosure rules.
None of this coverage -- the original content as well as the AP article -- mentioned the direct and extensive links between the bill's sponsors and ALEC, even when mentioning those legislators in their reporting.
Ohio papers are not alone, however. When the ALEC asbestos bill was passed in Michigan neither of the state's two biggest newspapers covered the connection.