Most of the largest newspapers in the Northeast corridor did not publish a single piece covering this winter's major snowstorms in the context of global warming, despite strong scientific evidence that climate change creates the conditions for heavier snowstorms. The major broadcast networks and cable news channels also provided scant mention of climate change in their discussions of the snowstorms, with the notable exception of MSNBC, which provided extensive coverage of the topic. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fox News, the Boston Herald and the Providence Journal featured content that used the snowstorms to deny climate science.
The New Hampshire Union Leader referenced the fictional character, Jack Bauer of the television show 24, to call those in favor of releasing the Senate report on CIA torture practices "wusses" and claim opposition to the agency's brutal techniques amounted to "whining."
The December 10, editorial defended the CIA's "enhanced interrogation program" by referencing Jack Bauer as evidence that real life is more complex than the "liberal politicians" behind the report make it seem (emphasis added):
Regarding the politically motivated and highly questionable U.S. Senate report on the CIA released this week, we wonder:
What would Jack Bauer make of these wusses?
Bauer, of course, is the fictional character from the TV series "24.'' He regularly and single-handedly saved America by beating the daylights and the information out of the bad guys with little regard for civil niceties.
We know, real life isn't like television make-believe. But that is precisely the point here. The liberal politicians behind this report are either terribly naive or terribly cynical or both.
Now it is easy to sit in judgment on those who had to find out, fast, who was out to destroy America and stop them. And this business that some brutal tactics make us the moral equivalent of our murderous enemies is garbage.
Sorry to disappoint the Senate Democrats who wrote and released this one-sided, misleading report, but we think most Americans are going to pay little attention to their whining. We certainly hope so.
The details of the Senate report shows that prisoners were subjected to a litany of harsh interrogation techniques including forced rectal feeding, being forced to stand on broken legs, waterboarding (simulated drowning), and sleep deprivation. In addition, the report found that no useful information was garnered from the use of these techniques.
The Union Leader also suggested those in support of the report should not fault the CIA because the agency was charged with "protect[ing] us from further attacks" with few restrictions after 9/11. However the CIA's tactics exceeded limits to interrogation techniques which were laid out by the Department of Justice. As Politico reported, the report detailed instances in which the CIA violated Justice Department legal opinions concerning how the agency should interrogate subjects while ignoring necessary safeguards like training requirements for interrogators.
Notable conservative Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a victim of torture during his five year captivity in a notoriously harsh North Vietnamese prison camp, also denounced the CIA's actions. During his Senate floor statement on the release of the report, Senator McCain explained that the use of torture is strategically ineffective and runs counter to the values of the United States:
I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering. Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored.
After blaming President Obama when gas prices were high, the New Hampshire Union Leader is now misleadingly crediting "oil companies and speculators" now that gas prices have dropped. However, analysts credit Obama's policies in part for the price decrease, a fact unmentioned by the Union Leader.
The December 8 editorial went after U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen - who has previously asked the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to "crack down speculation in commodities markets" - claiming the senator should apologize for previously blaming speculators and oil companies for rising gas prices, because speculators have recently played a role in falling prices. The editorial continued:
Bloomberg Businessweek reported that oil speculators played a role in the falling prices. "Since June, then, speculators have dumped the equivalent of 500 million barrels of oil onto the futures market," the magazine reported. That did not cause the price crash, which was mostly the result of increased supply. But speculators added to the downward pressure.
"Mostly they've been blamed for making prices go higher," the Bloomberg Businessweek report noted. "This time, though, the opposite is true."
Shaheen has spent years demonizing oil companies and speculators and trying to get Congress to investigate speculators and regulate them more heavily. But she only brings them up when prices are rising. That tells Granite Staters two things: 1) Shaheen has no idea how markets work; and 2) she is not above falsely accusing others of acting in bad faith if it will help her get elected.
But a previous Bloomberg Businessweek article explained that several of the previous surges in the price of gas during Obama's presidency were in fact due to "speculators - specifically noncommercial users" which is "jargon for investors who are buying up futures contracts not because they intend to use the oil, but because they think it's a good investment ... these are money managers betting that prices will go up."
Fox News dishonestly claimed that MIT economist Jonathan Gruber's comment that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) "was written in a tortured way" to minimize criticism proves that the law was passed deceitfully. In fact, Congress routinely crafts bills to fit legislative rules and politically acceptable limits, and health care reform was transparently debated for years with input from Republicans.
A Media Matters analysis of newspaper coverage of anonymously donated "dark money" in three battleground states shows that secret money's growing influence on elections has not necessarily translated to more awareness in the media. While some news outlets are reporting on the influence this new influx of money is having on politics, others are merely providing a platform for dark-money groups to further their causes.
The term "dark money" is used to describe organizations that do not disclose the identity of at least some of their donors and that use money from these anonymous donors to fund political ads, mailers, and staff to try to influence voters and policymakers. Even spending by these groups may be shielded from disclosure, depending on the type of ad they run. Dark-money groups focus heavily on specific policy outcomes and try to connect candidates to their desired outcome through advertising. These groups protect their donors by never officially endorsing a candidate and by limiting their political activity. This allows them to be classified as "social welfare" organizations under the tax code, which means they do not have to disclose their funding.
Spending by dark-money groups in this election cycle is nearing the $200 million mark and is expected to spiral even higher before Election Day. Much of the spending by these groups is focused on influencing Senate races in key states. Media Matters reviewed newspaper coverage in three states with competitive Senate races (North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Colorado) to see how they are covering this influx of anonymous outside funding. The results show large discrepancies in the quality of the coverage of dark-money groups, with some papers doing a significantly better job than others.
Of the three states analyzed, North Carolina's newspapers provided the best overall coverage of dark money influence. North Carolina's Senate race is expected to set a new record for outside spending, with $55.7 million spent so far, even without counting the non-disclosed money. The Raleigh News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer, the two largest papers by circulation in the state, went beyond reporting the existence of the groups and attempted to report which outside groups were spending money on which ads -- something these groups often fail to do themselves. The North Carolina papers also reported on how dark-money groups such as the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) are using their influence to lobby for specific policies, such as the group's successful campaign to block a special legislative session on economic development.
The Colorado newspapers' coverage of dark-money activity proved to be far less extensive than that of the North Carolina newspapers, producing just 13 stories since July 15. Colorado's Senate race is also poised to break records in outside spending. The Denver Post's coverage did not go into depth the same way North Carolina's newspaper coverage did, but it did highlight efforts by groups like Americans for Prosperity to influence voters with their door-to-door outreach.
Colorado's second biggest paper, The Gazette of Colorado Springs, produced few reports on dark money during the period analyzed. However, a partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News produced a report that covered many of the complexities of dark money. The article discussed outside spending by both conservative and liberal groups and explained the difficulty of tracking dark-money donors and the impact of their donations:
"Nonprofit political groups do not have to disclose donors," Viveka Novak, editorial and communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics said. "So we could only identify organizations that filed 990s (nonprofit tax forms) and that wouldn't include individuals or corporations, so there are still a lot of donors or donations no one would know about."
[Sheldon] Adelson, the Koch Brothers and many other politically active billionaires and multimillionaires across the political spectrum are able to maintain privacy and give endless funds after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which held that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.
"TV ads are number one, the overwhelming most important tool in winning one of these campaigns," Ciruli said.
In New Hampshire, dark-money groups have spent at least $4.3 million in the Senate race -- overwhelmingly in support of the Republican candidate, as of September 8. This subject has seen poor coverage from the state's largest newspaper, The Union Leader. While the paper mentioned dark-money groups in 11 articles, and another five articles mentioned the groups and specific policies, the paper's coverage mostly provided a platform for groups like AFP to spread their message and did not explain the groups' attempt to influence policy decisions or the Senate race. For example, in a September 30 article, the paper gave AFP state director Greg Moore a platform to attack the state's budget situation and blast the Affordable Care Act, something the group has also done in its advertising against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH):
Greg Moore, state director for Americans for Prosperity, blamed Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act for much of the shortfall in the two-year budget plan.
"The legislature gave the administration $57 million from the last, fiscally-responsible budget to spend, and expected that surplus to last for the entire, two-year budget, but Governor Hassan took her eyes off the ball and spent even more," Moore said. "Keeping within the budget takes strong executive action and discipline, but we aren't seeing that right now in Concord."
While the use of dark-money groups is not one sided, conservative groups are far more likely to use this route to shield wealthy donors and ensuing spending. As the Brennan Center for Justice noted, in this election cycle, "Overall, 80 percent of pro-Republican nonparty expenditures came from dark money groups, compared to 32 percent of outside spending favoring Democrats." This is not a new trend for conservative supporters, as spending by nondisclosing groups has clearly favored Republican candidates over the past four election cycles:
The problem with dark-money groups, as the Brennan Center's analysis noted, is that "the lack of transparency in the majority of outside spending in competitive races leaves voters unable to evaluate the political messages they see" and that these groups "threaten to make a mockery of contribution limits and their prophylactic effect on corruption and influence buying." This sentiment was echoed by University of Louisville political science professor Laurie A. Rhodebeck in the Los Angeles Times, saying that the flood of dark-money spending is "detrimental to voters because if they don't know who is behind the money, they can't judge whether to trust the ad or not."
The scale of the problem is considerable. The Boston Globe reported on October 22 (emphasis added):
The impact is visible online and on television. One of every 16 television ads in US Senate races from January 2013 through August were paid for by a single group, Americans for Prosperity, according to the nonpartisan investigative Center for Public Integrity and advertising tracking service Kantar Media. AFP serves as a nonprofit advocacy arm of the political network backed by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
The Brennan Center found that during the 2012 election, "three-quarters of outside expenditures were made after September 30, and one-half were made in just the last three weeks of the campaign." This suggests that newspapers in these key battleground states still have the opportunity to report on how dark money is influencing their elections.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of the top newspapers (by circulation) in three highly contested states. The papers analyzed were North Carolina's News and Observer in Raleigh and The Charlotte Observer, New Hampshire's Union Leader, and Colorado's Denver Post and the Colorado Springs Gazette. The Concord Monitor, New Hampshire's second largest newspaper, was excluded because it is not in the Nexis database. The search term "((outside or independent or nondisclos! or non-disclos! or undisclosed or dark or secretive) w/5 (money or expenditure or spending)) or (Americans for Prosperity) or (Crossroads GPS) or (U.S. Chamber of Commerce) or (Patriot Majority USA) or (Concerned Veterans for America) or (Freedom Partners)" was used to search for reports on dark-money spending from July 15, 2014, when the Federal Election Commission's quarterly report was released, through October 24. While dark-money groups do not have to disclose all spending to FEC, as other groups do, this date aligns closely with the increase in outside spending.
The publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader penned an editorial attacking the Obama administration's response to the ongoing Ebola crisis and suggested the president apply a travel ban on the affected countries, advice that has been roundly rejected by major healthcare and infectious disease experts as detrimental to relief efforts.
In an October 7 editorial, Joseph W. McQuaid blasted the administration as "incompetent" for relying on screening to prevent the spread of Ebola and instead suggested that a general travel ban to the region be administered:
Sending American soldiers to West Africa to assist with the Ebola epidemic makes sense only if it helps contain the disease over there. That would include making as certain as possible that those troops are protected while there and properly quarantined when they return home.
As for allowing travelers from affected West African nations to enter the United States at this time, that is crazy. It is yet another example of the most incompetent President we have ever seen.
Screening for symptoms of a deadly infectious disease that may not show up for weeks is not the answer. A travel ban to and from West Africa is what is needed, now.
McQuaid and other right-wing pundits who have called for a travel ban are ignoring experts who say a ban would actually impede Ebola relief efforts. The heads of the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, and independent advisers to the World Health Organization (WHO), all argue that reactionary measures such as a travel ban are ineffectual and could actually destabilize affected countries, worsening the spread of the virus. The WHO, advocating against a travel ban in October 2014, explained that while exit screening is not 100 percent effective, "completion of a screening questionnaire and testing for the presence of fever represent the best available indicators of risk."
The New Hampshire Union Leader rejected the factually accurate claim that the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision would result in gender discrimination while pushing the myth that the forms of contraception discussed in the case were actually abortion-inducing drugs.
A recent Union Leader editorial suggested Fmr. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) were partly to blame in failing to prevent the mass kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram, because they did not designate the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in 2012. However, Clinton was the first to designate top Boko Haram leaders as terrorists, and many international organizations and experts on Africa agreed that designating the group as an FTO at that time was premature, as it would cut off foreign aid to the region, negotiation lanes with the group, and raise the profile of the organization.
The May 14 editorial accused Secretary Clinton and Senator Shaheen of delaying FTO designation of Boko Haram in an attempt to protect President Obama's al Qaeda-focused foreign policy agenda. The editorial continued by praising then-Senator Scott Brown's sponsoring of a 2012 bill seeking to list Boko Haram as an FTO, and claiming Secretary Clinton and Senator Shaheen were unwilling to prevent a "real war on women":
Designating Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, like admitting Benghazi was a terror attack, would have undermined -- during a presidential election year -- the President's narrative that he had curtailed the spread of Islamist terror. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee aided the President by killing the Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act. Shaheen, ever the loyal partisan, sat in silence as a few senators tried in vain to weaken the group that two years later would kidnap hundreds of schoolgirls in an actual war on women, not the imaginary one in which Democrats accuse Scott Brown of taking part.
What does Scott Brown have to do with this? He was the sponsor of the Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act. The man who tried in vain to stop a real war on women and on education (Boko Haram means Western Learning Forbidden) is accused of being anti-woman by allies of a senator who did nothing to stop those wars.
Despite the attempt by the Union Leader to cast Scott Brown as the real hero by attacking Shaheen and Clinton, the paper glossed over key facts which explain why the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Secretary Clinton decided, at the time, not to designate the group an FTO.
The New Hampshire Union Leader used a widely criticized study to attack the Affordable Care Act (ACA), claiming that insurance premium rates will be increasing exponentially in New Hampshire. However, the study has been panned for its low response rate while the data found in the study is at odds with official data provided by the state.
A Union Leader editorial highlighted a survey first reported in Forbes and conducted by Morgan Stanley which purports to show that premium prices will increase nationally mostly due to the ACA. The Union Leader used one aspect of the survey's findings, that premium prices will increase 90 percent on the individual market in New Hampshire, to attack the ACA and claim it will not bring down premium prices as originally intended:
The stunning news this week was that health insurance premiums in New Hampshire are up 90 percent under the Affordable Care Act, according to a regular survey of health insurance brokers by Morgan Stanley's health care analysts. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, writing in Forbes, relayed that the Morgan Stanley team attributed the increase to four factors directly related to Obamacare: "the age bands that don't allow insurers to vary premiums between young and old beneficiaries based on the actual costs of providing the coverage, the new excise taxes being levied on insurance plans, and new benefit designs."
Despite the Union Leader and Forbes' ringing endorsement of the findings, the study has come under withering scrutiny. The study itself explains that "the trends among the individual insurers" are not as useful as the aggregate trends due to the fact the observations were much smaller. Indeed, for New Hampshire, there was only one registered response to the survey. Only two states produced double digit responses, California with 14 and Idaho with 31.
As a post by local television state WMUR 9 explained, "21 percent of all survey respondents were from Idaho" while in New Hampshire, "they said they talked to one person, who they don't name." The piece went on to explain that because of the study's low response rate for New Hampshire, WMUR did not run the story saying, "it's all based on one anonymous person's opinion."
Numerous local newspapers failed to identify the fossil fuel funding behind Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, while allowing him to publish op-eds across the country misleadingly attacking a potential tax credit for wind power, while ignoring subsidies for the oil and gas industries.
A New Hampshire Union Leader editorial attacked the gender pay gap as "complete hooey," ignoring several studies that show a clear discrepancy in wages between men and women while dismissing the benefits of equal pay.
The February 9 editorial criticized New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan's decision to back an equal pay bill being considered by the state legislature, saying the gender wage gap is "complete hooey" and that "no serious scholar believes it." The editorial instead claimed women's' life choices were the biggest reason for the gap:
A 2009 Labor Department study of the issue reached "the unambiguous conclusion that the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action."
That "multitude of factors" consists largely of life choices -- work hours, number of children, etc. For instance, Bureau of Labor Statistics data on full-time employees show that never-married women earn 95.8 percent of what men earn, but married women with children under 18 earn 76.3 percent.
The legislation would disallow pay secrecy policies that keep employees from discussing their pay with co-workers, making it easier for women to ensure they are being paid equally. Currently, employers are required to pay equal wages to men and women but can prevent employee discussion of compensation. As the National Women's Law Center explained last month, pay secrecy policies "can keep women in the dark about their pay, making pay discrimination nearly impossible to detect." States like Vermont, New Jersey, and New Mexico have recently enacted this type of legislation, strengthening women's and workers' rights in their states.
The New Hampshire Union Leader relied on anecdotal evidence from past elections to revive the misleading threat of voter fraud to endorse voter ID laws that restrict the right to vote.
In a January 27 editorial, the Union Leader cited two cases of potential fraud that it claims justifies the paper's support for strict photo ID laws:
Adam Kumpu of Milford was fined $1,000 and his mother, Janine Kumpu of Milford, was fined $250 for the fraud. Janine Kumpu obtained an absentee ballot in her son's name, and he used it to vote in Milford last November. He also voted in person in Keene.
That was proven fraud. Then there is the mystery of a vote recorded in Caitlin Legacki's name in the 2012 general election. The bloggers at Granite Grok reported last week that someone voted in Manchester in 2012 under the name of former Jeanne Shaheen spokesperson Caitlin Legacki.
We confirmed with the city clerk's office that a vote under Legacki's name and address was recorded. But Legacki moved out of New Hampshire shortly after the 2008 election (in which she voted) and was in St. Louis on Election Day 2012, working for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill. "It certainly was news to me" that she was checked as having voted in Manchester in 2012, she told us last week.
The Union Leader's anecdotal evidence is futile since neither case was prevented by the voter ID law in place in New Hampshire prior to the 2012 election, nor do the examples prove the law's effectiveness in deterring the minuscule amount of fraud that occurs in elections. New Hampshire's voter ID law requires an eligible photo ID, or voters must sign an affidavit confirming their identity and intention to vote. The Kumpu family example would not be stopped by stricter ID laws as absentee ballots are counted after the polls close in New Hampshire, thus making the redundant vote unpreventable solely with voter ID legislation. The second case, as the editorial noted, could have been a simple mistake, and was not prevented by the ID law. In addition, it does not show any proof that anyone engaged in fraud.
The New Hampshire Union Leader attacked a push to expand Medicaid to the state's low-income residents, claiming that legislators should focus on job growth instead. However, studies show that expanding Medicaid will create jobs, spur economic growth, and cut health care costs for New Hampshire residents.
The New Hampshire Union Leader misleadingly used the findings of a study on Oregon's Medicaid expansion to attack the program, claiming it did not improve the health of patients and led to increased emergency room visits, and warning that New Hampshire "must not fall into that trap." However, contrary to the Union Leader's assertion, studies of Oregon's expansion show improvements in preventable diseases and mental health, and while ER visits were shown to rise initially, the number of people using the ER has dropped as people become more educated about their insurance coverage.
In a January 7 editorial, the Union Leader, which has a history of misinforming the public on Medicaid expansion, said Medicaid expansion is an effort to "move working-class and eventually middle-class Americans into government dependency." The paper claimed this would have a devastating effect on New Hampshire because the program is "poorly designed" and "does not even achieve its stated goals," using a recently released Harvard study of Oregon's 2008 Medicaid expansion experiment to show how the program "did not improve health outcomes or reduce health care costs" and "even increased visits to hospital emergency rooms."
But the Union Leader's claim that Medicaid did not improve health outcomes is inaccurate and fails to tell the whole story. A digest of the study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research contests the Union Leader's claims, saying the report found "higher healthcare utilization, lower out-of-pocket medical expenditures and medical debt, and better self-reported health." Past reports on Oregon's Medicaid experiment have also shown improvements in mental health and chronic disease detection among those covered by the expansion.
Two of New Hampshire's top newspapers, the Union Leader and Concord Monitor, ran weekly opinion columns from members of the Josiah Bartlett Center (JBC), a Koch brother-funded ally of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), but failed to disclose the authors' conservative funding allowing them a platform to air their conservative agendas and legitimizing the viewpoints of their special interest backers.