Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who announced his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination this week, may appear moderate. But according to reporters who cover him regularly, the former Fox News host's tenure in the statehouse has included efforts to reduce collective bargaining, limit abortion rights, and fight marriage equality.
Ohio reporters who have covered Kasich closely raise several areas of interest for national media that have less experience covering him.
His efforts to cut state spending and balance the budget did reduce taxes, but put more of a burden on local governments, Ohio journalists point out. They also note his off-the-cuff style can lead to wandering speeches and incidents like the revelation that he called a police officer an "idiot" during a 2008 traffic stop.
"He can be quite a character sometimes, the national press doesn't know how to take him," said Shane Stegmiller of Hannah News Service and president of the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association. "You never know what he's going to say."
Stegmiller cited the "idiot" incident, which occurred before Kasich's 2010 election, but became public in 2011: "It blew up on him pretty big."
Then there are his often-forgotten fights against abortion and gay rights, according to Chrissie Thompson, a Cincinnati Enquirer state government reporter since 2013.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide stemmed from the Ohio-based Obergefell vs. Hodges case, in which plaintiff Jim Obergefell sued to be listed on his spouse's death certificate as the surviving spouse. Defendant Richard Hodges, the Ohio director of public health, is a Kasich appointee.
"The department of health was the lead defendant in Obergefell vs. Hodges in the gay marriage debate," Thompson said. "Kasich opposed same-sex marriage and he authorized the fight to protect our gay marriage ban."
"He had signed some abortion restrictions and those have resulted in the closure of some of our abortion clinics in Ohio," Thompson said. "He does not like to talk about it a lot."
Another issue that occurred during his first year in office was the proposal known as Senate Bill 5, Kasich's effort to clamp down on collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. Similar to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's more publicized union fight, the Kasich measure was passed and signed into law, but drew harsh criticism. It was eventually voted down overwhelmingly via a ballot referendum later that year.
"Senate Bill 5 was hugely controversial," recalls Laura Bischoff, a 14-year statehouse reporter with the Dayton Daily News. "They wanted to really gut collective bargaining rights for public employees and it sparked huge protests at the statehouse, bigger than I've ever seen."
Marc Kovac, statehouse bureau chief for Dix Newspapers and The Vindicator of Youngstown, agreed.
"Kasich was a staunch supporter of public employee collective bargaining reform, signing the former Senate Bill 5 into law and setting off a massive referendum effort that blocked that law from taking effect," he said.
Bischoff also pointed to Kasich's privatizing of some prisons, a move that drew corrections officer complaints about conditions and resulted in an audit that found 47 violations in one private institution.
"There is a question as to whether it saved money more than projected, the union that represents corrections officers said it was bad," Bischoff said. "There was one audit report that was really bad about conditions the inmates were living in."
Kasich's economic stimulus program, JobsOhio, is another point of contention, according to reporters. The private, non-profit agency was created to help spark job growth, but in a secretive fashion that exempts it from state open public record laws and limits state audit oversight.
"People didn't like the fact that it's now somewhat shrouded in secrecy with public money," said Jim Siegel, a Columbus Dispatch statehouse reporter since 1998. "There are concerns it could be used for cronyism. He believes in the private sector and letting the private sector do as much as possible on things. He's made efforts to privatize as much as he can."
And the job growth has been less than successful, Stegmiller says, noting the state's job growth rate for the past 32 months is at 1.73%, below the national average of 2.09%.
"While Ohio had gained back a lot of jobs, it lags a lot of states in job recovery," he said.
The state budget, meanwhile, is something Kasich touts as a success, journalists say. But the impact may be less positive than he lets on.
Reporters cite the claim that Kasich eliminated an $8 billion deficit and shored up the state's "rainy day" surplus fund. But in reality, he cut funding to local governments and school districts, forcing many to increase their own taxes and fees.
"By reducing their funding, now they are having to go to voters and ask for local levies to help make that up," said Jackie Borchardt of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. "The local government or school district is having to raise more revenue that way. In his first budget, he did slash spending for education. He cut it and local governments have said they continue to chip away at their funding."
And the $8 billion deficit Kasich touts wasn't really a deficit, according to the Enquirer's Thompson: "We never actually had a deficit, he used the word deficit and it was a projected shortfall."
Kasich supporters also brag about his big re-election victory in 2014, in which he beat Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald nearly 2 to 1. But what is often lost is that FitzGerald, then the Cuyahoga County Executive, was hit with a very public scandal after it was revealed the married candidate was found by police in a parking lot at 4:30 a.m. with another woman.
The circumstances of that incident remain unclear. But things got worse when it was found he had been driving without a license for about 10 years.
"He won 86 out of 88 counties in 2014, but he was running against a very weak opponent," Thompson said about Kasich's last election.
A Media Matters analysis of major U.S. newspapers reporting on the alleged "war on coal" found that newspapers provided one-sided coverage of the issue and seldom mentioned the coal industry's negative environmental and health impacts or its efforts to fight regulations. Out of 223 articles published in major U.S. newspapers this year mentioning the phrase "war on coal," more than half failed to mention underlying issues that account for the coal industry's decline and the need for regulations. Further, less than 10 percent of articles mentioned harm caused by the coal industry or how the coal industry is fighting against regulations aimed at protecting miners and reducing pollution.
A Columbus Dispatch editorial revived attacks against the problems associated with the flawed rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which have largely been fixed, to continue to attack the law as a whole. Yet, despite pointing out flaws from early in the process, the editorial neither mentions the thousands who have received insurance coverage through the law nor the other benefits the law provides Ohioans.
The June 12 editorial discussed the confirmation of Sylvia Burwell as the new secretary of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services but immediately pivoted into a discussion of the flawed rollout of the health care exchanges, reviving old issues such as the Healthcare.gov website's initial technical problems. The Dispatch used the launch problems to claim that "The Affordable Care Act remains a deeply flawed law that was an ill-though-out, politically driven document."
Reviving attacks on the initial rollout of the law leaves out 8 months of improvements and stated plans for future fixes. After website issues were addressed, thousands more Americans were able to use the website in November to enroll for health care coverage, contributing to the 8 million people who gained health insurance nationally due to the ACA and surpassing expectations. In addition, as Wired reported, a new group of programmers has been working on "Marketplace 2.0" which will add new features and a simpler interface to the website for the next enrollment period beginning November 15.
Despite the Dispatch's focus on the initial rollout, the law is much more than a website and has provided tangible benefits to Ohioans that the editorial omitted. According to the Dispatch's own reporting, 155,000 Ohioans selected affordable plans through Ohio's federally run exchange as of May. Moreover, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, 308,000 Ohioans were able to obtain insurance through Medicaid, with 184,670 enrolling as newly eligible through the hard fought Medicaid expansion plan pushed by Gov. John Kasich (R). The numbers reflect the gains in insurance coverage but only provide a small glimpse at the law's overall impact leaving out the myriad benefits the law brought to Ohioans including allowing young adults to remain insured on their parent's plans until 26, barring insurance companies from rejecting people with pre-existing conditions, and ensuring that insurance rates are not going to increase just because of the applicant's gender or that someone would be dropped from coverage because of illness.
This post has been updated for clarity.
A Columbus Dispatch editorial claimed the IRS was attempting to punish employers for sending their employees to Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges instead of providing employer-based insurance. However, the rule would ensure that employers don't get a special benefit for sending their employees to the exchanges, which they are still allowed to do, while preserving the employer-based health care system.
The May 30 editorial criticized an IRS rule first reported in the New York Times that claimed the rule meant that the IRS would stop "any wholesale move by employers to dump employees into the exchanges" by subjecting certain businesses to a tax penalty of $100 per day for each worker that is sent to the individual marketplace instead of provided insurance by the employer. The Dispatch, which has often used its editorial page to mislead about the ACA, extrapolated this claim to float the theory that "the move is an acknowledgement" by the administration that people don't like the exchanges and the law is making things worse for "millions of Americans":
In this context, a report in The New York Times over Memorial Day weekend takes on greater meaning. The story revealed that the Internal Revenue Service has issued a rule that punishes employers that end company-sponsored health plans and dump employees onto the new government health-care exchanges.
The move is an acknowledgement that many who have gone to the exchanges have found the policies more expensive and less desirable than expected. The law has made things worse for millions of Americans in the name of extending coverage to a relatively small number of people.
The Dispatch's theory that the new rule is an effort to shield people from the exchanges and the purported ill effects of the law is not accurate. The IRS rule is actually an effort to ensure that certain companies can't take advantage of a loophole allowing them to take tax deductions for moving their employees to the exchanges. As Modern Healthcare explained, the rule is intended to prevent companies from "double-dipping" by "threatening massive fines against companies that offer employees tax-advantaged money to help them buy federally subsidized health plans on the Obamacare insurance exchanges." The article continued:
The need for the new IRS rules came about because tax consultants have been aggressively hunting for ways to combine the tax write-offs that come with traditional group coverage with the federal subsidies available to buy individual coverage through an insurance exchange, said Joel Ario, a managing director at Manatt Health Solutions and a former HHS director over insurance exchanges.
"There are two mutually exclusive worlds, and there are people who keep trying to figure out how to use money from one in the other," Ario said. "That's what the IRS is trying to prevent."
A recent editorial in The Columbus Dispatch dismissed the impact of federal budget sequestration on jobs and the economy in Ohio, claiming it "did not cause the sky to fall." However, past editorials and news reports published by the paper highlighted the economic repercussions on Ohioans that would result from the cuts.
The Columbus Dispatch incorrectly claimed that an effort by the Census Bureau to achieve a more accurate health care picture will eliminate the ability to gauge whether the law has achieved the goal of insuring the previously uninsured.
The April 28 editorial criticized a decision by the Census Bureau to alter the way it measures who has insurance coverage in an effort to achieve clearer results, claiming instead that the change "will make it impossible to get an apples-to-apples picture of how many Americans reported having health-insurance coverage before and after the law."
On April 15, the Census Bureau announced it would change the way it determines who had or did not have insurance coverage in the Current Population Survey (CPS) in an effort to obtain more accurate results. This process began under the Bush administration and, according to the Census Bureau, is "the culmination of 14 years of research." A statement released by the Bureau explained the reasoning behind the change:
The recent changes to the Current Population Survey's questions related to health insurance coverage is the culmination of 14 years of research and two national tests in 2010 and 2013 clearly showing the revised questions provide more precise measures of health insurance through improved respondent recall.
This change was announced in September 2013 and implemented because the evidence showed that reengineering the questions provides demonstrably more accurate results. The Census Bureau only implements changes in survey methodology based on research, testing, and evidence presented for peer review.
Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, reinforced this when he told The New Republic that the Current Population Survey (Census) was never really an accurate way to measure the uninsured. That's because the question asked by the Census measured the insured as a point in time, "but it's of course always been ambiguous what point in time."
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.
The Columbus Dispatch has pushed several myths about what health care enrollment numbers mean for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace, falsely claiming that not enough young or previously uninsured people have signed up and that people who have signed up for but haven't paid for an insurance plan will doom the law.
The Columbus Dispatch borrowed from a Wall Street Journal editorial to forward the unproven assumption that the Obama administration delayed the employer mandate in an effort to prop up the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) individual market. But evidence shows the market was considered stable prior to this delay.
In a February 21 editorial, the Dispatch, which is no fan of the ACA, cast the Obama administration's decision to delay the employer mandate -- which, when enacted, will force companies with more than 50 full-time employees to provide subsidized health insurance -- until 2016 as a bid to save the law from failing and "to shore up the fiscal underpinnings of the health-care exchanges," a theory it pulled from a Wall Street Journal editorial that advocated for the repeal of the health care law:
And what's behind this latest change? Many immediately saw it as another move to protect Democratic lawmakers who are up for re-election in November from the fallout of the health-care mess.
The Wall Street Journal last week offered another reason for the delay: to shore up the fiscal underpinnings of the health-care exchanges. The Journal points out that "people are supposed to be eligible for subsidies (to buy insurance on the exchanges) only if their employers don't offer insurance. Since the White House is releasing many more businesses from the mandate's obligations, many more people will suddenly qualify to join the exchanges."
This would improve the demographic balance needed to ensure that the health-care law is fiscally sound, because the law relies on charging healthy people more for health insurance in order to subsidize the costs of those who are sicker.
However, experts considered the insurance market stable at least a month before the Obama administration issued the delay. As The Washington Post's Wonkblog noted on January 14, the risk of a "death spiral" was over:
The risk of a "death spiral" is over. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that if the market's age distribution freezes at its current level -- an extremely unlikely scenario -- "overall costs in individual market plans would be about 2.4% higher than premium revenues." So, in theory, premiums costs might rise by a few percentage points. That's a problem, but it's nothing even in the neighborhood of a death spiral.
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.
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."
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?
A Columbus Dispatch editorial attacked parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by regurgitating popular myths and misconceptions, including the falsehood that many companies are cutting workers' hours due to the employer mandate, that young and healthy Americans are choosing to not pay for health insurance, and that the role of "navigators" is limited to only assisting with enrollment, despite evidence showing none of these claims are based in fact.
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.