Mired in conflicts of interest, Watchdog.org's Wisconsin Reporter has remained silent as new information emerges concerning Governor Scott Walker's (R-WI) role in a potential pay-to-play scandal. The site, which echoed defendants calling the investigation a "witch hunt," has previously defended Walker from the allegations of campaign finance violations in over 150 articles.
The Wisconsin Reporter has been a staunch defender of Walker against allegations of wrongdoing stemming from the "John Doe" investigations, the protected state probes into Walker's campaign practices and possible illegal campaign coordination. Since January 1 of this year, the Reporter has published 19 articles either defending Walker or denouncing the validity of the investigations.The Reporter's website includes a special series on the "John Doe" investigations titled "Wisconsin's Secret War," which currently has 186 total entries.
But the Wisconsin Reporter has been silent as evidence reportedly leaked from the very investigation it has covered so heavily revealed potential instances of pay-to-play between a local business man and the Walker administration.
At issue is over $1.5 million in donations made in 2012 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth (WCG), a group that defended the Governor during his 2012 recall election and is directed by Walker's campaign advisor, Yahoo News' Michael Isikoff reported on March 23. The donations were made by hardware store franchise owner John Menard Jr. According to Isikoff, in the years after Walker survived that recall election, Menard's business has benefited from "up to $1.8 million in special tax credits from a state economic development corporation that Walker chairs."
Before the evidence of Menard's donation to WCG became public, the Reporter defended Eric O'Keefe, director of the WCG, against allegations that he and the WCG improperly coordinated with Walker. In multiple articles the Reporter gave O'Keefe and the WCG a platform to deny wrongdoing and undermine the investigation by calling it a "witch hunt." While prosecutors have not commented on the case to the site, O'Keefe told the Reporter, "From its inception, this was a scam, a political pursuit." In an attempt to undermine the case, the Reporter highlighted the growing cost of the investigation, questioned the independence of the chief justice hearing the case, and promoted counter investigations into the prosecution.
The Reporter has not yet mentioned Menard's donation and subsequent tax breaks, a major development in the story that made national headlines. Their silence on the story highlights the conflicts of interest that surround the outlet's reporting on Walker and the "John Doe" investigations.
The Reporter is part of The Franklin Center, a group of web-based media outlets founded in part by EricO'Keefe. The Franklin Center's Watchdog.org media group -- which includes the Wisconsin Reporter -- claims they are "in no way partisan," however the Franklin Center received 95 percent of their funding in 2011 from Donors Trust, a conservative clearing house used to pump money indirectly into politics, and whose chief executive told The Guardian that no donations to the trust would go "to liberals."
The Franklin Center's ties to conservative Wisconsin groups goes beyond O'Keefe and the WCG. In an op-ed in The Capital Times, Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy reported that Franklin Center Director of Special Projects John Connors has also acted as president of Citizens for a Strong America, another conservative group funded by the Club for Growth which was named as a target of the "John Doe" investigation. After apologizing for not disclosing Connors' connection to the case, the Wisconsin Reporter continued to defend Walker and those involved in the investigation.
CORRECTION: This post originally stated that John Connors was personally named in the "John Doe" investigation. While it is unknown if Connors is personally named, he has acted as the president of Citizens for a Strong America, which is named in the investigation. This information was uncovered by the Center for Media and Democracy's Brendan Fischer, not The Capital Times as originally reported.
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.
Recent Media Matters studies found that local New York City television stations gave disproportionate coverage of crimes committed by African-Americans when compared to actual NYPD crime statistics. Studies consistently report that media over-representation of black people as criminals perpetuates racial stereotypes and can shape everything from personal bias to criminal justice outcomes.
Two Media Matters reports analyzing nightly news coverage show New York City outlets have named African-Americans as suspects in murder, theft, and assault stories at a rate at least 14 percent higher than reflected in actual NYPD arrest rates averaged over the last four years. Rashad Robinson, executive director of the civil rights group ColorOfChange, explained the negative impact of the media's overrepresentation of African-Americans as criminals:
In addition to reaching out to all four New York stations, ColorOfChange recently released a report card, "Not To Be Trusted: Dangerous Levels of Inaccuracy in TV Crime Reporting in NYC," evaluating the stations in light of Media Matters' latest study. Stations have been slow to react to the report; WNBC, the only station so far to comment, released a statement to Capital New York expressing a commitment to diversity and balanced reporting.
Racial bias in crime reporting is not limited to New York City. Studies in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles found that people of color are more likely to appear as perpetrators in media coverage of crime. Researchers at the Heinz Endowments' African American Men and Boys Task Force found that in Pittsburgh, not only did "[c]rime stories [lead] all news topics" linked to black men, but these stories also "tended to get more prominent play in the news, with stories more likely appearing atop the news page or at the beginning of the evening newscast."
Racial over-representation in news reports has real effects on news media consumers. Evidence presented in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media suggests that overrepresentation of African-Americans as criminals "strengthens the cognitive association between Blacks and criminality in the mind" of the audience.
In The Black Image in the White Mind, authors and Professors Robert Entman and Andrew Rojecki explained that exposure to images and reports of African-Americans as criminals reduces white viewers' empathy and "heightens animosity" towards African-Americans. Entman and Rojecki added that the media's overrepresentation of blacks as criminals could also "reduce apparent and real responsiveness of White-dominated society to the needs of poor minorities":
To the extent local television news thereby undermines the fragile foundations of racial comity, it could reduce apparent and real responsiveness of White-dominated society to the needs of poor minorities, especially Blacks. The result, in turn, is continued employment discrimination and government unresponsiveness to the urban job loss and economic dislocation that has so traumatized the inner city -- and consequent breeding of crime.
Four major broadcast television stations in New York City have continued to give disproportionate coverage to crime stories involving African-American suspects, a Media Matters analysis found. Between August 18 and December 31, 2014, the stations' late-night news broadcasts on weeknights still covered murder, theft, and assault cases in which African-Americans were suspects at a notably higher rate than the rate at which African-Americans have historically been arrested for those crimes in New York City.
The Arizona Republic recently published an editorial promoting Concerned Veterans for America's efforts to privatize much of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While the group is presented by the Republic as an impartial veterans organization, it is actually a right-wing group backed by Charles and David Koch and headed by a Fox News contributor.
In a March 12 editorial, the Republic editorial board highlighted President Obama's visit to the Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital, during which he reportedly plans to hold a round table to discuss reforming the VA. The editorial board lamented that the president has allegedly failed to invite any "real reformers" to the meeting, holding up Concerned Veterans for America as an example:
If there is to be any genuine, lasting and positive reform coming from this failure to care for American veterans, the real reformers need to gain the president's ear. The president needs to hear from more than those who advocate more of the same, albeit with a lot more money.
But they don't appear to have been invited to the president's round table Friday.
Concerned Veterans for America has produced the most significant reform proposal for the VA hospital system, advocating that the enormous government division turn over much of its operations to the private sector while emphasizing care of maladies unique to the military.
No CVA representative was invited to the president's table at the Phoenix VA, although the Washington-based group expressed its eagerness to participate.
In expressing support for the Concerned Veterans of America (CVA), the Republic failed to provide the important context that the group is heavily backed by the Koch brothers. In 2014, The Washington Post identified CVA as an "organization that is part of the of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers' political network." The paper also listed CVA as part of a "coalition of allied conservative groups" that were "backed by a donor network organized by the industrialists Charles and David Koch" that raised more than $400 million during the 2012 election cycle. The group was also active in the 2014 midterm elections, conducting a "10-city 'Defend Freedom Summer Tour,'" and airing misleading ads targeting Democratic congressional candidates.
The Sunlight Foundation reported that during the 2014 campaign cycle, Freedom Partners, another Koch-affiliated group, transferred "valuable" local television ad contracts to CVA, which the organization argued "illustrates just how tightly some organizations connected to the Koch brothers operate."
The group's partisanship on VA issues caused Stars and Stripes columnist Tom Philpott to write that "in my 37 years covering veterans' issues, I have never seen veteran issues used more cynically or politicized more thoroughly than during the past several years." Philpott lambasted CVA for "posing as a vet advocacy group and being rewarded for it":
In the thick of this is Concerned Veterans for America, posing as a vet advocacy group and being rewarded for it. CVA press releases usually are partisan attacks. Its spokesman, Pete Hegseth, an Iraq war vet and Republican who ran for a U.S. Senate in 2012, is quoted often by major news outlets without mention of press reports associating CVA with the Koch brothers, libertarian billionaires who create public interest groups to oppose big government. That's fine. That's protected speech. A CVA spokesman told me last year it won't reveal donor information.
What should upset vets is the use of select facts about VA and its programs to reinforce fears rather than give reliable information. Last week a CVA press release hit a new low in purporting to document "lies" Shinseki told in congressional testimony, dropping any veil of respect for a decorated, combat-disabled soldier with a long and stellar career.
Syndicated radio host Michael Berry commented on the beating of a teenage girl at a New York City restaurant by saying, "You know why white lives matter? Because that's what white people believe. The dirty little secret is, black people don't believe that black lives matter."
On the March 12 edition of his Houston-based show, Berry described video footage of the beating, in which four girls attacked a 15-year-old girl at a McDonald's in Brooklyn. At first, Berry claimed, "I'm not going to tell y'all the skin color because it's not relevant." After delivering his description of the brutal attack, Berry asserted that "you can blame this problem on anything other than the root cause. But the reality -- and this is what makes people so uncomfortable with our show -- is this one fact that we are about to state. We have people living in our country who are savages. Absolutely, positively savages. To engage in this kind of behavior."
From the March 10 edition of iHeartRadio's Mickelson In The Morning:
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The Star Tribune of Minneapolis cited a misleading statistic about carrying concealed guns from pro-gun group Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC) without disclosing the group's pro-gun slant or that it is run by discredited gun researcher John Lott.
CPRC research was cited in a March 2 article on a recent increase in the number of permits to carry a concealed gun issued to Minnesotans. Arguments in favor of carrying concealed weapons were bolstered by the article's citation that "[t]he Crime Prevention Research Center found that states with a high percentage of gun ownership often had low violent-crime rates."
The article identified CPRC as "a nonprofit organization that studies the connection between firearms and crime," a description that fails to adequately inform readers about the nature of the group.
CPRC is run by discredited gun researcher John Lott, who often manipulates statistics about gun violence in order to advance a misleading pro-gun agenda. Armed With Reason, "a blog dedicated to academically refuting pro-gun myths," describes Lott -- the inventor of the now-debunked "more guns, less crime" hypothesis -- as "the most prolific and influential writer on the topic of gun violence and gun control."
According to Armed With Reason, Lott touts false claims about gun violence "repeatedly in articles and TV appearances" and has committed "ethical transgressions" in his pursuit of pro-gun research:
While [Lott's] initial research was groundbreaking, further examination revealed numerous flaws. Today the "more guns, less crime" hypothesis has been thoroughly repudiated. On closer inspection his impressive credentials reveal an academic nomad, never able to secure a place in academia. His ethical transgressions range from accusations of fabricating an entire survey, to presenting faulty regressions, to creating elaborate online personas to defend his work and bash critics, to trying to revise his online history to deflect arguments. And this doesn't even begin to cover the whole host of false claims and statistics he has peddled repeatedly in articles and TV appearances.
The CPRC statistic cited by the Star Tribune -- that "states with a high percentage of gun ownership often had low violent-crime rates" -- is misleading because it gives the erroneous impression that the concealed carry of firearms is associated with lower crime rates. In fact, credible academic research has proven the opposite to be true.
From the March 2 edition of iHeartRadio's Mickelson In The Morning:
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Throughout the debate over Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), the Fox TV affiliate in Houston, KRIV, has uncritically repeated the widely debunked myth that HERO would allow sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms, contributing to public misunderstanding of the ordinance.
For the past year, Houston has been embroiled in a debate over the ordinance. HERO, which passed in May, bans discrimination on the basis of characteristics like sex, race, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Opponents of HERO have since fought to put the measure up for a public repeal vote, baselessly claiming that the law would allow male sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms by pretending to be transgender. Experts in states and cities that have similar laws on the books have debunked this horror story, calling it "beyond specious."
Fox 26's reporting is symptomatic of the kind of "he said, she said" journalism that often derails public debates about even basic legal protections for LGBT people. In order to appear balanced, news outlets will uncritically repeat both sides' talking points in their reporting without resolving which side is actually telling the truth.
Journalism is about more than just repeating talking points and hoping audiences can figure out the truth. It's about actually doing the work to dispel falsehoods about issues that are important to the public. Fox 26 should be working to expose lies about Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance, not peddling them to a broader audience.
Video created by Coleman Lowndes.
From the February 26 edition of iHeartMedia's The Ken Matthews Show:
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Emily Miller, chief investigative reporter for Washington, D.C. Fox affiliate WTTG (Fox 5), has given different accounts of a 2010 "home invasion" in order to "squeeze the story for additional terror" in support of her pro-gun advocacy, The Washington Post's Erik Wemple reported.
Miller has recently faced scrutiny because she works for Fox 5 as a reporter who frequently covers local gun laws while also appearing at local pro-gun rallies as an activist for gun rights. WTTG, for the first time, identified Miller as "a proponent of Second Amendment rights" before her latest report on D.C. gun laws.
In her book Emily Gets Her Gun ...But Obama Wants to Take Yours and while serving as the gun blogger for the conservative Washington Times, Miller described becoming involved as a gun advocate after a home she was watching for a friend was burglarized on January 1, 2010. The incident led Miller to write a series of articles on navigating the requirements to own a gun in D.C. which turned into a book that also alleged President Obama is plotting to disarm Americans. In conservative media circles Miller has become a go-to voice for pro-gun commentary and she often shares her burglary account to set up her often misleading arguments in favor of looser gun laws.
In a February 26 article, Wemple, who writes a reported opinion blog on the media, described how Miller has changed her account of the burglary in order to "please" a pro-gun audience.
In her first post for Washington Times' gun blog and in her book Miller described encountering "a man coming from the house" and hours later realized he had been inside and taken her wallet after receiving a phone call from her credit card company.
But in subsequent tellings, including a dramatization of the story by the National Rifle Association for it's All Access series, Miller claimed to have encountered the man inside of the home and needing to "talk him out of the house without" being harmed.
From the February 24 edition of iHeartMedia's Mickelson in the Morning:
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Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson misrepresented the constitutional law that requires states to provide public school education to undocumented children in the United States. In fact, the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution clearly mandates that states and local educational agencies are obligated to provide these children with equal access to public education if other children in that state are receiving a similar benefit.
On Mickelson's Feb 19 radio show, Mickelson criticized the Iowa Farm Bureau for wanting to raise the gas tax, alleging instead that the state could save money by not funding undocumented students to go to public schools. Mickelson rationalized this attack on "the children of Mexico" by dismissing as "magical thinking" the long-standing Supreme Court ruling in Plyler v. Doe, which found that not providing public education to undocumented children in a school district was unconstitutional discrimination prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and called providing education to these children a "scam" while claiming that there is no "mandate" requiring school districts to spend money educating undocumented children (see transcript below):
But Mickelson completely botched the Supreme Court's decision and relevant constitutional law.
Contrary to his explanation, the Court did not set an independent "spending mandate" on behalf of undocumented students. Rather, the Court concluded that if a state or local jurisdiction chooses to offer public education, it cannot constitutionally withhold this benefit based on immigration status, just as it cannot on account of race. In other words, the Court held that if a state chooses to offer public education to its residents, the Equal Protection Clause prohibits it from irrationally discriminating among its beneficiaries.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's plan to launch what some are calling a "state-run news service" is drawing harsh criticism from Indiana news outlets who say the move is a blatant effort to bypass the press and spin information.
Pence, a Republican, will create Just IN, a website that will seek to break news about his administration and utilize state press secretaries headed by a former reporter to provide written stories for news outlets. The website will launch in February, according to The Indianapolis Star, which obtained documents detailing the project.
The Star added that "the endeavor will come at some taxpayer cost, but precisely how much is unclear. The news service has two dedicated employees, whose combined salary is nearly $100,000, according to a search of state employee salary data."
Local outlets across the country have been strapped for cash and cutting back on statehouse coverage, conservative outlets have attempted to fill the void by offering free access to their own slanted stories. Pence's proposal appears to be a similar effort to flood the state with free "journalism" in the hopes that desperate papers and news stations are willing to run such work.
But Indiana news outlets were quick to condemn the approach as a clear effort to bypass an independent press, with one editor declaring it "troubling," and another calling it "uncomfortable."
"I can't imagine a scenario where we would" print Just IN stories, Jeff Taylor, editor and vice president of The Star, told Media Matters. "You don't pick up news stories from government agencies and use them as news stories that have been vetted and given the kind of scrutiny that you give to the information that we report."
"There's a big difference between press releases that can lead to legitimate stories where reporters can ask questions and look into information and sift between factual information and something that might have an agency behind it," he added.
"It's not the Associated Press, it's not our coverage, we wouldn't run it verbatim anywhere because it's not independent news," said Bob Heisse, editor of The Times of Munster. "No, we certainly wouldn't use any of that."
Bob Zaltsberg, editor of The Herald Times of Bloomington, said anything from the governor's office would be treated as a news release, not a publishable story.
"We wouldn't take anything from a state-run news agency and just publish it as news, we would do our independent reporting," he said, adding that it appears the governor's office is trying to control the message.
"It seems like they want to go into competition with the mainstream news media that's trying to watch out for what government does," he added. "It's trying to control the message in a way that's not healthy for democracy."
He and other editors said the move comes as many publications have been cutting back on Indiana statehouse coverage in response to budget cuts.
"There has been a tremendous cutback in statehouse reporters there, we haven't had a statehouse reporter in decades," Zaltsberg said. "What's really telling is they are organizing this and they are going to have reporters and break news and that makes everyone in the media nervous and apprehensive and very uncomfortable. It makes me very, very nervous."