Clean energy policies are under attack in Ohio, led in force by members of an organization that connects corporations including fossil fuel interests to legislators. But this connection, to the American Legislative Exchange Council, is being overlooked by the state's major newspapers.
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."
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.