While many national outlets are dismissing the indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry as political payback, Texas journalists warn that such claims are misguided, incomplete, and the product of a "rush to judgment."
On August 15, news broke that Perry was being indicted for "abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant," both of which are felonies.
The charges relate to Perry's threatened and completed veto of $7.5 million in state funding for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit.
The case claims that the threat and veto were retaliation against Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat and the head of that unit, who ignored Perry's call for her to resign after she was convicted of drunk driving. At the time Lehmberg's unit was investigating corruption in a program Perry had heavily touted; if she had resigned, Perry would have appointed her replacement.
Following the announcement, a split has emerged among press covering the story. Much of the Lone Star State media has covered it as a valid legal proceeding and part of a greater picture of misconduct, while national media are treating Perry's indictment as mere politics.
The New York Times editorial board speculated that it "appears to be the product of an overzealous prosecution." Liberal New York magazine reporter Jonathan Chait labeled the indictment "unbelievably ridiculous." A USA Today editorial dubbed it a "flimsy indictment," while The Wall Street Journal called it "prosecutorial abuse for partisan purposes."
But Texas journalists say many on the national level don't know the facts and context and are too quick to judge from afar.
"The national pundits -- and some of them are very thoughtful people -- tend to focus first and most easily on the politics," said Wayne Slater, a columnist at the Dallas Morning News. "How does this particular event help or hurt that candidate in the potential horse race? Many reporters in Texas know Perry and are much more familiar with the details in this case, the fact that these are Republicans investigating this and that Perry has a history of hardball politics in forcing people out. This is a much more nuanced story than some in the Beltway understand."
Slater adds, "Rick Perry is getting good press because he has been masterful in the way he has framed this as a matter of partisan politics. Instinctively political journalists and reporters and outlets at some distance understand that Perry is winning the politics at the moment and that his narrative of events really comports with their general sense of how things work, that politicians threaten people and coerce people."
Forrest Wilder, who is covering the story for the Texas Observer, noted in a recent piece that the criminal complaint against Perry filed in June 2013 by Texans for Public Justice was assigned to a Republican judge who then appointed a former prosecutor in the George H.W. Bush administration as special prosecutor. In comments to Media Matters, Wilder said the charges were something "we should take seriously."
A recent study from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) claims that smog regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will cost the economy $270 billion. But the regulations, necessary to alleviate the unsafe smog pollution currently experienced by 140 million Americans, will likely achieve net benefits by reducing costs associated with medical expenses and premature deaths, while experts have said the NAM study uses "fraudulent" claims and is "not based in economic reality."
The Tampa Tribune has pulled a controversial column that alleged Disney is indoctrinating children with its "pro-gay agenda." The column, which was highlighted by Media Matters, had also drawn criticism from gay rights activists and Florida journalists.
On August 11, Douglas MacKinnon, who is listed on the since-pulled column as "Tribune staff," argued that Disney has been engaged in an underhanded effort to wrongly "indoctrinate" children. He also contended the company is trying to subtly push an agenda through its children's programming.
The piece, titled, "Disney's pro-gay agenda is disturbing," quoted an anonymous "former Disney executive" saying, "the company has taken direct aim at children to indoctrinate them about gay lifestyles and gay marriage through shows it airs on The Disney Channel and Disney XD."
MacKinnon later added:
The former executive said one of the more subtle techniques is to incorporate the colors of the gay-pride flag in as many shots as possible. The colors are woven in as a wink and nod to the gay community and show up on shirts, hats, posters, stacked cups and rings. The practice has been picked up by other children's networks and national advertisers. Disney also pushes the gay agenda by introducing openly gay characters and couples on its children's programing. Again, that is their right, but should they be in the business of entertaining children or indoctrinating them?
As of publication, Media Matters had received no response to requests for comment from the Tribune.* The column was removed midday today.
The newspaper posted several letters to the editor critical of the column, which termed it "boring" and "hate-filled." The Tribune's "letter of the day" on August 14 also focused on the column, stating it was "disturbing."
Prior to the column's removal from the Tribune website, several gay rights activists and journalists expressed concern to Media Matters about its stereotypical and offensive arguments. Among them, Nadine Smith, founder and CEO of Equality Florida and a former Tribune reporter.
"The first time I read it I thought it was satire," said Smith, who worked at the Tribune from 1989 to 1993. "It's absurd. He's so fixated on this bizarre, paranoid fantasy that he's actually missed the larger story. Businesses are speaking up and being very visible and speaking out quite publicly for equal rights."
A conservative columnist for the Tampa Tribune criticized the Walt Disney Co. for allegedly pushing a "pro-gay agenda," asserting that the company is using its programming to "indoctrinate" children about "gay lifestyles and gay marriage."
In his August 12 column, Douglas MacKinnon - a former aide to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush - charged that Disney was peddling the "gay agenda" to "impressionable children" by exposing them to "openly gay characters and couples":
Beginning with the takeover of the company by Michael Eisner in 1984 and continuing under the leadership of Robert Iger since 2005, it can be argued that Disney has been working overtime to redefine "family values."
Back in the late 1990s when I worked with former Sen. Bob Dole, I had the pleasure to interact with Iger. He was professional, respectful and could not have been more kind or considerate. Since taking over, he has only made the company more profitable. But beyond his fiscal responsibility to shareholders, does Iger have an even greater responsibility to impressionable children?
Disney has made no secret that it pushes a pro-gay agenda. That is most certainly its right. But where does the company draw the line? A former Disney executive I spoke with told me the company has taken direct aim at children to indoctrinate them about gay lifestyles and gay marriage through shows it airs on The Disney Channel and Disney XD.
The former executive said one of the more subtle techniques is to incorporate the colors of the gay-pride flag in as many shots as possible. The colors are woven in as a wink and nod to the gay community and show up on shirts, hats, posters, stacked cups and rings. The practice has been picked up by other children's networks and national advertisers.
Disney also pushes the gay agenda by introducing openly gay characters and couples on its children's programing. Again, that is their right, but should they be in the business of entertaining children or indoctrinating them? [emphasis added]
MacKinnon never explains what harm might be caused by featuring gay-inclusive programming - suggesting that he sees an inherent harm in simply letting children know that gay people exist and have families.
MacKinnon's attack on Disney's alleged "pro-gay agenda is just the latest in the columnist's history of rabid right-wing rhetoric.
A recent national report from the Government Accountability Office found that a higher regulatory standard is needed to ensure that drinking water sources are protected from fracking wastewater practices. But the largest circulating newspapers of the states with the highest levels of fracking production -- therefore among the most vulnerable to its risks -- have ignored this study.
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.
As Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) faces a repeal effort at the ballot box, Houston media outlets need to do a better job of correcting right-wing misinformation about the ordinance, holding its opponents accountable, and ensuring that LGBT advocates are no longer pushed to the sidelines of the debate.
HERO is likely headed to the November ballot after a coalition fighting to repeal the measure announced that it had collected 50,000 signatures to place HERO up for a repeal vote.
On May 28, the Houston City Council voted 11 to six to approve HERO, which prohibits discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. A coalition dubbing itself "No Unequal Rights" immediately launched a repeal drive, and the campaign's July 3 announcement that it had collected nearly three times the required signatures sets the stage for a divisive four-month slog. The repeal fight is likely to be especially damaging for Houston's LGBT community; scholars note that public referenda on LGBT rights can easily become dominated by misinformation campaigns.
In the coming months, Houston media outlets have the opportunity to correct their frequently problematic and misleading coverage of HERO . Here's how:
HERO opponents have focused particularly on the measure's protections for transgender people, asserting that affording transgender individuals equal access to gender-appropriate facilities will make it easier for sexual predators to assault women and children. But the transgender bathroom myth is completely baseless. Independent experts in states and cities that have already adopted transgender protections report no problems stemming from the laws, with one sexual assault victims' advocate calling the myth "beyond specious."
Still, in the month after HERO passed, local media outlets in Houston gave significant play to the transgender bathroom myth.
The coalition leading the repeal crusade might be called "No Unequal Rights" - ostensibly because the ordinance grants "special rights" to the LGBT community. But the ordinance establishes the same non-discrimination protections that already exist in several Texas cities.
Outlets should note that HERO isn't just an LGBT ordinance. It bans discrimination based not only on sexual orientation or gender identity, but also sex, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, genetic information, or pregnancy.
Fox News claimed that a move to protect an endangered jumping mouse from ranchers who graze cattle on public lands is "going to run [them] out of business" for a mouse they "can't even find," but the mouse is a critical part of the food chain that can be protected if ranchers simply don't let their cattle trample on its habitat.
In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) finalized protection for the endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, which is at risk of extinction chiefly due to excessive cattle grazing. On July 7, Fox News' Fox and Friends hosted rancher Mike Lucero to lash out against the potential that fences will be erected to further protect the local streams that form the mouse's habitat from his cattle. Co-host Steve Doocy suggested that because Lucero has not seen the jumping mouse, it may not even exist anymore, calling it "crazy" that "they're doing all this to protect a mouse that might not even be there":
The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse is generally nocturnal and hibernates for about nine months a year. It's also "precariously" endangered with only 29 "small" surviving populations, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. So it's not that surprising that Lucero has not seen one of these mice, which are critical because their extinction could disrupt the entire food chain. Jay Lininger of the Center for Biological Diversity explained in a Tech Times article: "They're a highly sought-after food source for a variety of snakes, foxes, and birds like redtail hawks. The entire food chain suffers if the jumping mouse blinks out." The jumping mouse is a "bellwether species" for the Southwestern stream habitats critical to their survival, according to Brian Byrd of WildEarth Guardians. The mouse's stream habitat, critical to preserve clean water in the region, has been degraded primarily due to damaging livestock practices.
While Lucero claimed that protection of the mice's stream habitats will force him "out of business," ranchers can simply pipe water from the river to their cattle rather than letting them go to the river in order to more responsibly graze, according to Lininger. Details such as this have been left out of local media coverage, including an article by New Mexico's largest newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, titled "Endangered mouse may cost NM ranchers their livelihood" and from the right-wing Franklin Center's New Mexico Watchdog.org.
A Tampa Tribune editorial celebrating the Supreme Court's decision to allow companies to discriminate against certain types of birth control in their insurance plans furthered the flawed concept that the government was forcing companies to provide "life-ending morning-after pills." In fact, the scientific community has found that the disputed forms of contraception are not abortifacients.
Conservative media are calling the Environmental Protection Agency's clarification of the Clean Water Act an "unprecedented land grab" that will regulate "nearly every drop of water." However, the proposed revision, which will help protect the drinking water of 117 million Americans, will not add any new categories of waters but will clarify that upstream sources will be protected from pollution.
Houston media outlets helped spread misinformation about the city's newly enacted non-discrimination ordinance, parroting the talking points of anti-LGBT groups working to repeal the measure.
On May 28, the Houston City Council voted 11 to six to approve the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which prohibits discrimination based on categories including race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Opponents of the ordinance, led by the Houston Area Pastors Council, immediately announced a repeal drive and have spent the month of June attempting to collect the 17,000 valid signatures needed to put the measure up for a vote in November.
Anti-LGBT activists, like Texas Values' Jonathan Saenz and Fox News' Mike Huckabee, focused particularly on the measure's protections for transgender people, asserting that the protections will make it easier for sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms. That myth has been extensively debunked by independent experts in states and cities that have already adopted similar protections.
But the transgender bathroom myth played a prominent role in local media coverage of the ordinance. During the month that HERO opponents collected signatures for a repeal effort, Houston news outlets repeatedly cited the myth without attempting to debunk it according to an Equality Matters analysis:
What's especially disconcerting is how local reporters themselves often appeared to buy in to the transgender bathroom smear. A June 26 report from Fox affiliate KRIV's Andrea Watkins illustrated this kind of problematic coverage:
Houston media outlets have failed to hold anti-LGBT activists accountable for the misinformation they have spread about the city's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), currently the focus of a repeal effort. Media outlets have allowed myths about the ordinance's protections for transgender people to go unchallenged and have disproportionately cited anti-LGBT groups and advocates in their reporting on the measure.
UPDATE (6/30/14): According to the Minneapolis City Pages, KSTP News Director Lindsay Radford was "in touch with [Hubbard's] camp" and said that Hubbard "isn't actually 'sponsoring' the conference ... [b]ut Hubbard did provide the Heartland Institute with a $1,000 check for an award to be given out during it." However, Hubbard is listed as a co-sponsor on the Heartland Institute's website:
When asked why KSTP has aired climate denial, Radford responded, "[j]ust like any story, we strive to give all sides." However, climate change is the classic case of a story where giving "all sides" can be misleading because the scientific facts lie firmly on one side. As New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan explained, the public wants "real answers" not false balance:
Simply put, false balance is the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side. And many people are fed up with it. They don't want to hear lies or half-truths given credence on one side, and shot down on the other. They want some real answers.
A news organization that runs several ABC and NBC affiliates nationwide is co-sponsoring a Heartland Institute conference promoting climate denial, in line with its chief executive's views, which have seeped into the stations' reporting.
In July, the Heartland Institute will host its annual conference railing against the scientific consensus that humans are the main cause of climate change. The conference was nearly ended in 2012, after funders fled the organization for running a short-lived billboard campaign comparing those that accept climate change to the Unabomber. The co-sponsors of the 2014 conference, who pay anywhere from $150 to $10,000 and are asked to "[w]rite at least one story" before and after the event,* are mostly right-wing groups such as the Heritage Foundation, the Media Research Center, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Leadership Institute. However, one group stands out: Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., an American television and radio corporation that owns several ABC and NBC affiliates across the country.
Hubbard Broadcasting is run by billionaire Stanley Hubbard, who, according to Rolling Stone, has said that global warming is "the biggest fraud in the history of America." Hubbard has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to political candidates (most of whom are Republicans) both individually and through his corporation. He supported former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who denies man-made climate change, in the 2012 Republican primary for president. He was a major funder of a now-defunct group founded by Newt Gingrich that promoted increased extraction of fossil fuels. Hubbard has also told the Koch brothers, billionaire Republican donors who made their fortune in the oil industry, that they can "count" on him and attended at least one strategy conference run by the Kochs.
Hubbard Broadcasting's flagship station, KSTP-TV, an ABC affiliate broadcasting on Channel 5 in the Twin Cities and surrounding area, has cast doubt on climate change by citing the Heartland Institute. In September 2013, the news station conveyed false balance by hosting Heartland Institute CEO Joseph Bast to cast doubt on findings from the "Intragovernmental [sic] Panel on Climate Change." KSTP did not give any background information about Bast, who claimed in the 1990s that smoking "in moderation has few, if any, adverse health effects." In 2008, KSTP reportedly aired a 10-minute video by the Heartland Institute titled "Unstoppable Solar Cycles" that espouses the long-debunked claim that recent climate change is being driven by changes in the sun. The station's chief meteorologist has also suggested that the sun, rather than human activities, is the primary driver of climate change.
Hubbard stations WNYT and WHEC, which serve parts of New York State, have also seen the impact of their CEO's climate denial. In 2008, former WNYT anchor Ed Dague suggested at his Times-Union blog that his popular former colleague Lydia Kulbida was let go in part because she resisted inserting climate denial into the news:
Lydia Kulbida was a member of the union's "mobilization committee" and had resisted some of management's attempts to insert Hubbard family opinions into news content. The Hubbards do not believe in global warming and have distinct views about unionization. My belief is that her salary didn't make her a target for the cutback but her activism and attitude did.
WHEC's chief meteorologist, like KSTP's, also denies climate change. At a Tea Party rally in 2010, WHEC's Kevin Williams claimed the "Earth is not warming." Williams has also promoted climate denial on Twitter.
A Boston Globe columnist compared anti-gay groups fighting against marriage equality to activists who fought against Jim Crow-era racism, attacking marriage equality supporters for trying to "redefine" marriage.
In a June 18 op-ed, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby touted the upcoming March for Marriage in Washington, DC - an event sponsored by the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM). The march is likely to be a largely astroturfed event and will be attended by some of the most extreme anti-gay voices in America.
According to Jacoby, however, the anti-gay activists attending the march should be compared to the civil rights heroes who fought against Jim Crow era discrimination:
It would certainly be easier to make peace with the new order, especially considering the aggressiveness and hostility that many "marriage equality" activists deploy against those who oppose gay marriage.
Then again, much the same could have been said a century ago to those who insisted -- in the depths of Jim Crow -- that the cause of civil rights and racial fairness was worth fighting for. They too must have heard with regularity that they were on the "wrong side of history." The promise of Reconstruction was long gone. In much of the country, black enfranchisement was a dead letter. The Supreme Court had ruled 7-1 in Plessy v. Ferguson that racial segregation -- "separate but equal" -- was constitutional. The president of the United States was a white supremacist on whose watch black employees were fired from government positions, and public facilities in Washington were segregated.
Honorable voices argued that blacks had no realistic option but to make the best of a bad situation. But there were others who insisted that the lost spirit of abolitionism could be revived, that Jim Crow could be fought and eventually overturned, that "separate but equal" was based on a falsehood and would ultimately prove untenable. They founded the NAACP in 1909, launching a movement that would eventually transform America. [emphasis added]
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.