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."
Although the Dayton Daily News accurately reported on the agricultural industry's effect on dangerous algae blooms in Lake Erie, it failed in its original reporting to identify climate change as a crucial factor in creating ideal conditions for the algae growth.
A recently released report by researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science found toxic cyanobacteria -- which also plagues Grand Lake St. Marys in Ohio -- in Lake Erie, creating a smelly coating on the water's surface and causing the death of "untold numbers of marine creatures by hypoxia" in 2011. As explained in a piece in Atlantic Cities, two main factors were to blame: the agriculture industry's spreading of phosphorus-based fertilizers, which ran into the lake, and climate change, which fed the algae with warmer temperatures and weak water circulation:
Who's to blame here? The likeliest culprit is the agricultural industry with a helping hand from global warming, according to researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science. The scientists conducted a detailed postmortem on the 2011 muck-up using satellite imagery and computer models. As in past years, the process began with farmers spreading phosphorus-based fertilizer in the fall to prepare for spring planting. Because of ideal growing conditions, they were especially fertilizer-happy in the autumn of 2010.
Much of this fertilizer was then washed into the lake by rain, where it acted as a "nutrient load" (aka dinner) for a legion of tiny microorganisms. The river washing was especially intense in May 2011, because a number of massive storms swept great amounts of sediment into Erie. The algae was not only well-fed but encouraged to grow by warmer temperatures and a weak water circulation that kept the stuff near the sunny surface. The result was a bumper year for algae farmers, which might actually become a thing in the future if the algae-based biofuel industry ever gets off the ground.
While the Dayton Daily News reported on the agriculture industry's effect on the short-term algae blooms, it missed the connection to climate change, which could have longer term effects on algae blooms, according to the report's findings. On March 30, the paper published a piece discussing the algae bloom's effect on fishing in the lake. On January 19, it published a piece on Lake Erie's algae bloom diverting attention away from the algae problem at Grand Lake St. Marys, highlighting agriculture's role in the algae bloom:
Governor John Kasich said recently, "We are making progress," but did not elaborate about the problems at Grand Lake St. Marys. He, too, realizes the problems at Lake Erie have taken center stage.
The only real "progress" will come when the last farmer stops pouring manure on his land without safeguards against runoff into the lake. Achieving that goal might mean such steps as mandatory filter strips in the watershed, hauling away manure, created wetlands in every feeder stream and any other innovation that comes along.
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.
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.