At least 16 U.S. newspapers have recently published op-eds by state officials of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch brothers' political advocacy group, urging state legislatures to oppose the EPA's plan to address climate change by limiting carbon pollution from power plants. These newspapers have consistently failed to disclose the authors' oil industry ties, and the op-eds themselves "misleadingly" cite statistics on electricity prices from an industry-funded study, as a media fact-checker has explained.
The Richmond Times Dispatch cited a misleading poll that showed waning support for Medicaid expansion in Virginia and failed to explain the questionable phrasing used by the pollster.
The Times Dispatch editorial relied on an April 24 poll conducted by Christopher Newport University (CNU) that found that 53 percent of Virginians oppose the expansion of Medicaid currently being considered by the General Assembly. While the editorial board claimed to "share [the] concerns" of the poll's critics, they still used the poll's results to validate the Republican strategy of obstructing Medicaid expansion. The Times Dispatch continued:
We suspect the poll reflects the GOP's success in tying Medicaid expansion to Obamacare. The consequences of the botched debut of the Affordable Care Act continue to resonate. Backers of the plan may complain about unfair reactions, but a political fact is a political fact. Obamacare put Medicaid on Virginia's agenda, yet Medicaid's predicaments would exist even if Obamacare had gone down in congressional defeat.
The poll's results quickly came under scrutiny, mostly due to the way in which the polling questions on expansion differed markedly from the university's previous questions on the topic. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities explained, previous polls about Medicaid expansion conducted by the university asked about expansion in a more neutral fashion, leading their February poll to find support for expansion. This time, the question highlighted each party's argument, reinforcing the Republican's "straw man argument that the federal government will renege on its commitment to fund nearly all the costs of the expansion":
What the pollsters do not fully acknowledge, however, is that they asked the question in two markedly different ways, making this a highly misleading, apples-to-oranges finding that doesn't necessarily show a shift in public opinion:
- § On February 3 the question was asked: Medicaid is a health care program for families and individuals with low income that is funded by both federal and state tax dollars. Currently, Virginia is faced with a decision about whether to expand the Medicaid program to cover an additional 400,000 mostly working poor Virginians who are uninsured. In general, do you support Medicaid expansion or oppose it?
- § But on April 24 poll the question was asked: In [the Medicaid expansion] debate, the Democrats propose to subsidize private insurance for 400,000 uninsured and low income Virginians by using federal Medicaid money that would otherwise not come to Virginia. Republicans oppose this expansion because they fear the federal Medicaid money will not come as promised, and also say the current Medicaid program has too much waste and abuse and needs reformed before it is expanded.
Thus, unlike in February, Virginians in the most recent poll were asked whether the state should expand Medicaid only after they were read the straw man argument that the federal government will renege on its commitment to fund nearly all the costs of the expansion. As we have explained, the history of Medicaid's financing shows that federal funding has remained remarkably steady for decades.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch said Republican "political arguments" should not be blamed for the initial failures of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), despite the GOP's goal of obstructing of the law, hindering its rollout.
In a November 25 editorial discussing the ACA's rollout, the editorial board claimed that "political arguments" and "Republican boilerplate against the ACA" did not contribute to the failures of the rollout. From the Times-Dispatch:
Although President Barack Obama has accepted responsibility (sort of) for Obamacare's disastrous start, he continues to point fingers at others.
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank notes that Obama has whined about Republicans and the press. He has implied that GOP demands to repeal the Affordable Care Act have undermined the program's efficiency. Oh? Political arguments have no bearing on the mechanics of running Obamacare. Republican boilerplate against the ACA did not contribute to the fiasco. Conservatives may be reveling in the aftermath, but they did not cause the systemic failures.
The editorial fails to note the multiple instances of Republican obstructionism that have led to some of the problems with the law's implementation. As a November 1 Politico article noted, one of the causes of the flawed rollout was "calculated sabotage by Republicans at every step." The piece continued:
From the moment the bill was introduced, Republican leaders in both houses of Congress announced their intention to kill it. Republican troops pressed this cause all the way to the Supreme Court -- which upheld the law, but weakened a key part of it by giving states the option to reject an expansion of Medicaid. The GOP faithful then kept up their crusade past the president's reelection, in a pattern of "massive resistance" not seen since the Southern states' defiance of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.
The opposition was strategic from the start: Derail President Barack Obama's biggest ambition, and derail Obama himself. Party leaders enforced discipline, withholding any support for the new law -- which passed with only Democratic votes, thus undermining its acceptance. Partisan divisions also meant that Democrats could not pass legislation smoothing out some rough language in the draft bill that passed the Senate. That left the administration forced to fill far more gaps through regulation than it otherwise would have had to do, because attempts -- usually routine -- to re-open the bill for small changes could have led to wholesale debate in the Senate all over again.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch penned a misleading editorial to attack the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by incorrectly claiming income-based tax credits would not be verified, that caps on co-payments have been eliminated, and that the ACA will leave future Americans uninsured.
The October 23 editorial used the slow start of the exchange websites as a launching point to discount the entire law and its provisions as a failure. The editorial pushed several claims about the law including that it drops proof-of-eligibility requirements and it will leave millions of people uninsured in the next decade (emphasis added):
[The ACA] has failed so miserably that President Obama took to the airwaves to emphasize what a wonderful success it was, despite the website issues for which he offered "no excuses" -- and took no responsibility.
Besides, he said, "the Affordable Care Act is not just a website. It's much more." Indeed it is -- and there have been many more problems than just online technical roadblocks. The administration has delayed the employer insurance mandate for a year. It has dropped proof-of-eligibility requirements for exchange subsidies. And it has jettisoned caps on out-of-pocket expenses such as copayments and deductibles. Democrats and Republicans agree that the tax on medical devices should be repealed.
The ACA is not just a website -- and the glitches are not just web-related. Even if the law works exactly according to plan, a decade from now 31 million Americans will remain uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office. If that is success, be afraid of what failure could look like.
The Times-Dispatch's claim that the administration had "dropped proof-of-eligibility requirements" for individuals applying for tax credits to use towards the price of health care coverage bought on the exchanges is patently untrue. In fact, a strengthened income verification measure was part of the minimal concessions given to the Republicans to reopen the government after they held the entire law hostage leading to the government shutdown.
Furthermore, according to CNN Money the current verification methods will allow the IRS to recoup any over-payments from falsified information, meaning "anyone who might get a bigger subsidy than they are eligible for will have to pay back the difference to the IRS." According to CNN Money:
The final calculation of a subsidy's size will be done after the fact by the IRS.
"Your actual tax credit will be calculated based on your actual income that next April [when you file your federal tax return]," [Kaiser Family Foundation Senior Vice President Larry] Levitt explained.
Bottom line: Anyone who might get a bigger subsidy than they're eligible for will have to pay back the difference to the IRS.
And they may owe a penalty, too, since they must attest when applying for subsidies that they are not filing false information.
"If you report your income incorrectly, it will catch up with you because there's a reconciliation of these tax subsidies on your tax return. Come tax time you could see an enormous bill," said Linda Blumberg, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute's Health Policy Center.
The Times-Dispatch editorial also claimed that the administration had "jettisoned" out-of-pocket caps or limits placed on deductibles and co-payments. The editorial frames this as a permanent provision to the ACA. However, in reality, there has been a one-year delay in the implementation of the caps to better allow insurance companies to coordinate and fine tune logistical details so that caps can be calculated accurately. According to The New York Times:
The health law, signed more than three years ago by Mr. Obama, clearly established a single overall limit on out-of-pocket costs for each individual or family. But federal officials said that many insurers and employers needed more time to comply because they used separate companies to help administer major medical coverage and drug benefits, with separate limits on out-of-pocket costs.
In many cases, the companies have separate computer systems that cannot communicate with one another.
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said: "We knew this was an important issue. We had to balance the interests of consumers with the concerns of health plan sponsors and carriers, which told us that their computer systems were not set up to aggregate all of a person's out-of-pocket costs. They asked for more time to comply."
Caps on out-of-pocket spending remain an important part of the ACA and will save American families billions of dollars each year. In 2011 alone it was estimated that families spent $24.7 billion more than the ACA's cap threshold.
Finally, the Times-Dispatch made the inaccurate claim that the ACA, by design, will leave 31 million Americans uninsured. The editorial states that these individuals would remain uninsured "even if the law works exactly according to plan," suggesting the health care reform measure never intended this group to gain coverage. This analysis is flawed for two reasons. First, the law assumed states would participate in the Medicaid program given the low cost and high benefit structure of expansion, which, due to Republican obstructionism has not happened, potentially leaving 6 to 7 million people uninsured. However, a second flaw in their argument is that many of the remaining uninsured people are undocumented immigrants who were barred from gaining coverage thanks to strong Republican opposition and the lack of Republican support on current immigration reform measures.
The Richmond-Times Dispatch hyped a concern that "nobody will check" to ensure that people who request subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are actually qualified to do so, despite several safeguards and penalties in place designed to prevent fraud.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch published an editorial dismissing the alleged "fear and disinformation" surrounding hydraulic fracturing to claim it is "not so toxic," but admitted the process is not safe enough for Virginia.
The September 11 editorial attacked opponents of hydraulic fracturing -- also known as fracking - claiming that they "have waged a campaign of fear and disinformation" about the process, which is "not so toxic as its foes make it out to be."
But the Times-Dispatch quickly pivoted to denounce fracking in Virginia's George Washington National Forest, which provides drinking water to millions of people. As the editorial explains, it's still a process "that uses strong chemicals and relies on heavy machinery," which is "a lot to introduce to a largely pristine landscape":
The U.S. Forest Service is completing a 15-year management plan and soon will decide whether to permit fracking in George Washington. While fracking is not so toxic as its foes make it out to be, it remains an industrial process -- one that uses strong chemicals and relies on heavy machinery. That is a lot to introduce to a largely pristine landscape.
Granted, the federal government owns far too much real estate -- particularly out west. Public lands should not be categorically sealed off from private use. The George Washington Natural Forest, however, is not just any old lump of real estate. It is a treasure that merits close guarding.
The Times-Dispatch's NIMBYism is clearly concerning. It is understandable that the editorial board would not want to contaminate the drinking water and decimate the beauty of Virginia's natural landscape, but it is unclear why it is willing to tolerate such damage in another state. The Times-Dispatch's reasoning that public lands should be targeted because "the federal government owns too much real estate - particularly out west" is misleading, as approximately 3,400 wells, or about 90 percent of those drilled on Federal and Indian lands, are already "stimulated using hydraulic fracturing techniques."
The Richmond Times Dispatch's A. Barton Hinkle attacked Obamacare with several falsehoods in his latest Sunday column by blaming the president for the delays in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and ignoring the role of an obstructive Republican majority in the House. Hinkle also overlooked Virginia's role in regulating health care navigators, those charged with guiding the uninsured to the best coverage, and instead suggested the federal government would be careless with private information.
The Richmond Times Dispatch editorial board attacked progressive groups for appearing hypocritical in their defense of the Affordable Care Act birth control mandate while decrying Virginia's sodomy law. However, this represents a faulty comparison as birth control is legal and has definitive medical purposes while the state's sodomy law has been found unconstitutional and provides no medical benefit.
In the August 15 editorial, the Times Dispatch discussed recent activities by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and ProgressVA criticizing comments made by Virginia's Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that allies should be willing to "go to jail" to fight against the federal mandate for contraception. The Times also noted ProgressVA's criticism of Cuccinelli's continued defense of the state's anti-sodomy law. The editorial goes on to accuse the progressive groups of hypocrisy, saying they want to "keep government in the bedroom" by supporting a law subsidizing birth control but "out of the bedroom" by not supporting the sodomy law:
So the AG is supposed to help keep government in the bedroom by supporting a law subsidizing birth control, but keep government out of the bedroom by not supporting the sodomy law. All clear?
Cuccinelli's stance is just as muddled. He can't very well say he is simply fulfilling a duty by defending one law while he urges individuals to break another one.
While the editorial correctly points out that Cuccinelli, who is running for Virginia governor, has a "muddled" stance on this issue, it is an unfair characterization for the editorial to claim the progressive groups are also being inconsistent.
First, birth control has many purposes that have nothing to do with the "bedroom." A study by the Guttmacher Institute found in 2011 that 1.5 million women use oral contraceptives solely for noncontraceptive purposes. In fact, many of these women use oral contraceptives to treat issues such as migraines and acne or to reduce cramps and menstrual pain:
The study--based on U.S government data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG)--revealed that after pregnancy prevention (86%), the most common reasons women use the pill include reducing cramps or menstrual pain (31%); menstrual regulation, which for some women may help prevent migraines and other painful "side effects" of menstruation (28%); treatment of acne (14%); and treatment of endometriosis (4%). Additionally, it found that some 762,000 women who have never had sex use the pill, and they do so almost exclusively (99%) for noncontraceptive reasons.
Two Virginia media outlets are pushing gubernatorial candidates to lift a ban on uranium mining in Virginia while ignoring the state's particular vulnerability to environmental and health risks from mining.
In a March 21 editorial, The Richmond Times-Dispatch advocated for uranium mining, highlighting a study by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission which found that a radium and uranium refinery had no health or environmental effects on people in the surrounding area.
But the facility at the study's focus does not actually mine uranium at their site, it refines it. And in locations where they do mine, there are environmental differences between Canada and the United States. Cale Jaffe, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Canadian mines are located in areas with different climates and are more isolated from population centers. Indeed, a comprehensive report by the National Academy of Sciences found that storms and erosion from rainfall could pose a risk to uranium mines:
Virginia is subject to relatively frequent storms that produce intense rainfall. It is questionable whether currently-engineered tailings repositories could be expected to prevent erosion and surface and groundwater contamination for as long as 1,000 years. Natural events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, intense rainfall, or drought could lead to the release of contaminants if facilities are not designed and constructed to withstand such events, or if they fail to perform as designed.
A study by the city of Virginia Beach found that a "catastrophic failure" -- due to a natural event for example -- of a uranium containment structure could lead to radioactive substances contaminating drinking water for an extended period of time.
Canadian mines have also faced significant environmental problems in the past, according to a Southern Environmental Law Center report. On three occasions Canadian mines have flooded or contaminated waste water has leaked from these projects.
Virginia Watchdog, the Virginia affiliate of the Franklin Center For Government and Public Integrity -- a right-wing group which provides free statehouse reporting to local newspapers but receives large amounts of money from anonymous conservative donors -- similarly ignored the risks posed by Virginia's climate, instead quoting a Washington Times editorial in favor of uranium mining and the company who wants to mine the area.
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.
As Republican lawmakers in Virginia moved to further tighten the state's voter ID requirements, the state's two largest newspapers abandoned the larger factual context of the debate by failing to report the scarcity of voter fraud and the state's history of voter disenfranchisement.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch and Norfolk's Virginian-Pilot reported that both a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee and the Senate Privileges and Election Committee approved separate bills that would further tighten Virginia's voter ID requirements. The newspapers each employed a he-said/she-said presentation of the debate and failed to inform readers of the fact that in-person voter fraud -- the kind of fraud ID laws are supposedly meant to mitigate -- is extremely rare.
From the Times-Dispatch, which characterized the arguments for and against the proposed photo identification election bill in shallow back-and-forth fashion:
Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, the sponsor of Senate Bill 1256, has said it would help ensure integrity in elections and deter voter fraud, while critics said it would further disenfranchise poor, elderly and minority voters.
Democrats, voting groups and civil rights organizations accuse Republicans of attempting to suppress the vote.
Meanwhile, the Virginian-Pilot balanced a pro-voter ID anecdote from a House panel witness who found "that someone else had voted under her name in 2008" against "a variety of other speakers -- representing groups from the League of Women Voters to the NAACP," who opposed the ID requirement "as costly and unnecessary, saying it would disenfranchise minority, elderly and low-income Virginians."
The Times-Dispatch and the Virginian-Pilot ignored objective realities about the kind of "voter fraud" Sen. Obenshain claimed to be fighting. According to NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, in-person voter fraud is "more rare than getting struck by lightning." Investigations by The New York Times, News21 and Demos have all found little or no evidence of in-person voter fraud, and there are no credible claims that voter fraud swayed the outcomes of any major election in 2012.
The editorial board of the Times-Dispatch acknowledged the scarcity of voter fraud in an editorial on January 17, describing voter impersonation as "virtually nonexistent" and noting that "the evidence of need for [tightened voter-ID requirements] is almost as scant as the evidence of Bigfoot." Yet this fact remained absent from the newspaper's January 30 news coverage of the voter ID debate.
Furthermore, both newspapers missed an opportunity to inform readers about Virginia's history of race-based voter disenfranchisement -- a history that remains procedurally relevant thanks to the Voting Rights Act, which (via Section 5 of the Act) requires states like Virginia to receive approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court before they may finalize changes to their electoral system.
Virginia media followed in the footsteps of the Associated Press, which failed to note the importance of the VRA in a similar story about a Republican voter ID push in North Carolina earlier this month. While the Virginian-Pilot acknowledged the existence of the VRA in the lawmaking process, it failed to explain the state's history of voter disenfranchisement, which is why the VRA Section 5 applies to Virginia. The Times-Dispatch failed to mention the Act at all.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli proposed an agreement with power companies that would repeal state incentives for clean energy programs and save the companies money, but the Associated Press and the Richmond Times-Dispatch failed to note that Cuccinelli, who is running for governor in 2013, recently received major contributions from Dominion Power, Koch Industries, and other companies that could directly or indirectly profit from the proposed agreement.
From the Times-Dispatch:
Customers of Virginia's two big electric power companies likely will save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 12 years under an agreement worked out between the state Attorney General's Office and the utilities.
The proposal would repeal the state's bonuses for renewable energy programs and building fossil-fuel power plants. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said in a report in November that the bonuses have not produced intended environmental gains or encouraged power plant construction.
The article noted that the proposal would "reduce Dominion Virginia Power's revenue requirements by $38.5 million," and provide the following benefits to the power companies:
• expanding the financial performance limits defining when the companies "overearn" or "underearn" compared with their state-authorized rate of return; and
• allowing utilities to recover the costs of catastrophic natural events and early power plant closings, because of new environmental rules or factors beyond the companies' control, during the biennial review period they occur for financial reporting purposes.
A Dominion Power statement called the proposal "another step forward for Dominion Virginia Power's customers."
Neither the Times-Dispatch nor the Associated Press mentioned that Cuccinelli has recently received $10,000 in campaign contributions from Dominion Power's political action committee and another $50,000 from the Koch brothers, who are deeply invested in the oil and gas industry. Other large contributions from the fossil fuel industry have been recorded, including Alpha Natural Resources, a coal company notorious for its dangerously poor safety record.
A two-part Media Matters examinantion of the largest newspapers in CO, NH, NV, OH, PA and VA from July 1-August 15 and from August 16-October 31, 2012 revealed a variety of shortcomings in the way clean energy and regulatory issues are covered by those publications.
Numerous media outlets seized on a dubious January London Sunday Times report which claimed that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 2007 statement on Amazon rain forests was "unsubstantiated" and without scientific basis in order to attack the IPCC's credibility and global warming science in general. However, The Sunday Times has now retracted that claim, noting, "In fact, the IPCC's Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence." Will these media outlets follow suit?
Articles in The Washington Times and the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported assertions by Doug Jones -- a former University of Virginia football teammate of Sen. George Allen (R-VA) -- that he never heard Allen "use any racially disparaging word." But neither article identified Jones as a member of Allen's re-election campaign.