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."
Emily Miller, the chief investigative reporter for Washington, D.C.'s Fox affiliate WTTG, told the crowd at a January 19 gun rights rally in Richmond, Virginia that the District "is not part of America" and told gun advocates in attendance that she is part of "this fight that we're all in."
Miller was one of several speakers at a rally organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), an extremist gun rights organization. VCDL participates in an annual Lobby Day event held each year at the Virginia State Capitol on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Many of VCDL's supporters attend the event with openly carried handguns and assault weapons, which is legal in Virginia. Advocates for gun safety also hold a separate rally each year.
While flanked by a man armed with an AR-15 style assault weapon and an openly carried handgun, Miller told the crowd, "It's great to be in Virginia, which is part of America where you recognize the Second Amendment. I came from D.C. this morning, which is not part of America, because they don't recognize the Second Amendment."
Five years after the Supreme Court opened the floodgates of campaign spending with its Citizens United decision, top newspapers in the three states with the most expensive judicial campaigns, Ohio, Alabama, and Texas, have largely failed to connect Citizens United with major changes in these races. The influx of money into state judicial elections following the decision has accelerated negative advertisements and campaign financing that may influence judges' decisions.
Emily Miller, the chief investigative reporter for Washington, D.C.'s Fox affiliate WTTG, is scheduled to speak at a rally organized by Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), a far-right pro-gun group. VCDL has previously published racially charged content in its newsletter and suggested violent action against the government may be an "option" for gun advocates.
For years, gun safety advocates and VCDL have held opposing Lobby Day events at the Virginia State Capitol on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Carrying guns is permitted inside the Capitol and the General Assembly Building -- many VCDL supporters show up to Lobby Day armed. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, during Lobby Day 2014, "The gun-rights advocates of the VCDL occupied the area of the Capitol Bell Tower in the morning, carrying a variety of weapons ranging from handguns to AR-15 rifles and wearing blaze orange stickers proclaiming 'Guns Save Lives.'"
Miller, who is a frequent source of conservative misinformation about gun violence, is scheduled to speak at a VCDL capitol grounds rally, according to the group's press release. Miller will share the stage with gun extremist Larry Pratt, who leads the far-right Gun Owners of America organization. Pratt is one of the founders of the militia movement of the 1990s and was forced to leave Pat Buchanan's 1996 presidential campaign after it was revealed he had spoken before white supremacist groups. Pratt has made headlines for his repeated insistence that politicians should have a "healthy fear" of being shot by one of GOA's supporters.
VCDL has also expressed extreme positions on gun regulation. During an April 2013 appearance on The Daily Show, VCDL president Philip Van Cleave said of background checks on gun sales, "We don't do background checks for the First Amendment."
Many news outlets are uncritically touting the State Department's conclusion that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not significantly worsen climate change without noting that this determination was based on an expectation of high oil prices. Some media outlets, however, have reported the significance of the recent plunge in oil prices, such as the Associated Press, which noted that "[l]ow oil prices could make the pipeline more important to the development of new oil sands projects in Canada than anticipated by the State Department ... and therefore is more likely to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming."
Media outlets covering the fight against greater competition in the broadband market should note the role that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) played in blocking competition in 19 states. The media has a history of ignoring ALEC's role in pushing model legislation.
The Wisconsin Reporter, a conservative news website funded by dark money, credited Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) with reducing unemployment and cutting taxes but failed to note that Walker's policies have resulted in a budget deficit.
In a January 14 article, the Reporter repeated some of the positive economic news Walker mentioned in his State of the State address on January 13, such as growth in private-sector jobs and a decrease in property taxes.
But the Reporter failed to note that the Walker administration is projecting that the state faces a $2.2 billion deficit for the 2015-2017 budget period. As the Wisconsin State Journal has reported, observers say this is partly because of the Walker-supported tax cuts:
Jon Peacock, director of the Wisconsin Budget Project, said the $2 billion in tax cuts enacted in recent years also share the blame [for the deficit].
"If lawmakers insist on making additional tax cuts, that will require even deeper cuts in the traditional sources of Wisconsin's strength, such as our public schools and universities," Peacock said.
The Chicago Tribune published an op-ed by the CEO of Caterpillar, a manufacturer of large construction equipment, which advocated for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline but failed to disclose Caterpillar's significant financial stake in the pipeline's construction.
The January 7 op-ed in the Tribune by Caterpillar chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman advocated for the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, a pipeline that would connect the Alberta tar sands in Canada to an existing pipeline in the United States. Oberhelman's op-ed touted the perceived benefits of the pipeline:
Think how manufacturers will help grow the U.S. economy if after more than six years of examination, review and debate, this pipeline is finally approved. Manufacturers can hire tens of thousands of workers to build a modern, state-of-the-art pipeline, delivering a project that will increase U.S. energy supplies.
Let the construction begin and manufacturers will hire laborers, welders, mechanics, clerks, engineers and office managers. Although some argue that the bulk of hiring will be insufficient -- only 42,000 temporary construction-related jobs and far fewer permanent ones -- think about it this way: Putting 42,000 people to work is like employing every undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Creating more than 42,000 jobs -- even temporary jobs -- is no small matter, especially when the United States faces historically low labor participation rates like we do now.
Let the construction begin, and see the benefits to local communities as they absorb the more than $2 billion in worker payments from Keystone XL jobs.
However, while the paper did disclose the fact that Oberhelman is the CEO of Caterpillar, it left out the significant financial benefit the construction of the pipeline would have for Caterpillar. A Forbes article from March 2013 quoted the then-Canadian Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, as saying that, "the oil sands are the largest market in the world for Caterpillar mining trucks." Indeed, even the Keystone XL pipeline website highlights Caterpillar as one of the companies that would benefit from the pipeline's construction.
In addition, a letter from the Vice President of Caterpillar, Kathryn D. Karol, to Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) in support of the Keystone XL pipeline explains that Caterpillar has a "keen interest in the approval" of the pipeline as "the world's leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbine, and locomotives ... With energy related products and services accounting for over one-fourth of [Caterpillar's] business."
Conservative news outlet Watchdog.org released a six-part series defending dark-money organizations -- politically focused groups that conceal the identities of their donors -- but failed to disclose its own funding from the Koch brothers and other conservative dark-money players.
The Watchdog.org series, titled "A License to Speak: The Dark Money Deception," defends the use of dark money in support of political initiatives. In the series, Watchdog.org claimed that regulation of dark money ensnares private citizens in government bureaucracy and dampens free speech, and it compared dark-money organizations to civil rights groups that protected members' identities out of concern about violent reprisals.
The Franklin Center, publisher of Watchdog.org, is funded largely in part by one of the biggest conservative dark money spenders, Donors Trust, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group that pools large donations for support of conservative causes while protecting the identity of the donors. As Mother Jones reported, Donors Trust is the "dark-money ATM" for conservative causes across the country and is heavily supported by right-wing billionaires Charles and David Koch:
Founded in 1999, Donors Trust (and an affiliated group, Donors Capital Fund) has raised north of $500 million and doled out $400 million to more than 1,000 conservative and libertarian groups, according to Whitney Ball, the group's CEO. Donors Trust allows wealthy contributors who want to donate millions to the most important causes on the right to do so anonymously, essentially scrubbing the identity of those underwriting conservative and libertarian organizations.Wisconsin's 2011 assault on collective bargaining rights? Donors Trust helped fund that. ALEC, the conservative bill mill? Donors Trust supports it. The climate deniers at the Heartland Institute? They get Donors Trust money, too.
Donors Trust is not the source of the money it hands out. Some 200 right-of-center funders who've given at least $10,000 fill the group's coffers. Charities bankrolled by Charles and David Koch, the DeVoses, and the Bradleys, among other conservative benefactors, have given to Donors Trust. And other recipients of Donors Trust money include the Heritage Foundation, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, the NRA's Freedom Action Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Federalist Society, and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, chaired by none other than David Koch.
The Franklin Center is among the major benefactors of Donors Trust, receiving 95 percent of its funding from the group in 2011. A Harvard University discussion paper on news coverage and state government quoted Franklin Center president Jason Stverak as saying, "I ran a Republican Party. We disclose that fully on [the Franklin Center] website. But at the end of the day it's the same standard that you would hold Fox News, CNN, the New York Times, New York Post, Fargo Forum from my home state of North Dakota to -- you will judge any news organization based upon the content that they produce."
In addition, Donors Trust's chief executive Whitney Ball told The Guardian that donations from the trust, like those made to the Franklin Center, are not given to progressive causes. "It won't be going to liberals," Ball said. This agenda is clearly expressed in the journalism produced by Watchdog.org. For example, after the Franklin Center launched a Watchdog affiliate in Maine, the Portland Press Herald noted the questionable work of the Watchdog sites:
According to a story written last spring by Laura McGann in Washington Monthly, Franklin Center Watchdog websites across the country have engaged in a similar pattern of investigative muckraking.
"As often as not, their reporting is thin and missing important context, which occasionally leads to gross distortions," wrote McGann. She detailed several instances in which Watchdog websites broke stories, which after additional phone calls turned out to be misleading or untrue.
"This sort of misleading reporting crops up on Watchdog sites often enough to suggest that, rather than isolated instances of sloppiness, it is part of a broad editorial strategy," wrote McGann, who is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University and a former editor of the Washington Independent, a liberal D.C. news source.
Cleveland.com, the news portal for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Northeast Ohio Media Group (NOMG), is grossly misrepresenting an ordinance that would protect transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations, falsely claiming the measure will open public restrooms to both genders.
The Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would close a loophole in the city's non-discrimination law that currently allows places of public accommodations to deny transgender people access to restrooms and other facilities.
The ordinance would bring Cleveland's non-discrimination law in line with those of dozens of other major cities - including nearby Columbus -- by essentially removing an exemption in current public accommodations law which allows businesses to refuse bathroom access to transgender people based on their gender identity. That exemption reads:
(g) Nothing in this section shall be construed to establish unlawful discrimination based on actual or perceived gender identity or expression due to the denial of access to bathrooms, showers, locker rooms or dressing facilities, provided reasonable access to adequate facilities is available;
Removing the loophole is a common sense solution aimed at alleviating the discrimination and violence that transgender people often face when using restrooms that don't correspond with their gender identity.
But Cleveland.com has repeatedly mischaracterized the ordinance in its reporting, claiming that the measure will open all restrooms up to both sexes.
A Tampa Tribune editorial supporting former Gov. Jeb Bush's decision to explore the possibility of running for president claimed that his past business dealings, which include questionable investments, taxpayer bailouts, and failed ventures, "add to his qualifications" to be president.
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."
Conservative media outlets both nationally and in California are campaigning against Gov. Jerry Brown's nominees for the state judiciary, attacking their political leanings and complaining about their "race, gender, or sexual orientation," in a baseless effort to suggest the nominees are unqualified and selected "strictly for reasons of affirmative action."
The recent round of attacks were given a national platform in a November 26 Wall Street Journal editorial, which, while questioning the lack of judicial experience of some of Brown's nominees, largely focused on whether the ideological leanings of Brown's nominees are similar to his own. The California Supreme Court was previously dominated by judges appointed under Republican governors, but Brown's picks, Journal columnist Allysia Finley complained, "have tilted the court left."
California media were more specific, and honed in on whether the nominees were from "the right racial groups," as San Francisco Chronicle editorial writer Marshall Kilduff put it. Ignoring the fact that multiple high court jurists had not previously served as judges before their appointments (such as current Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and former Chief Justice and California governor Earl Warren), Kilduff also criticized Brown's nominees for a lack of experience with "sleepy jurors." But as The Los Angeles Times reported, Brown has no flat rule against trial or appellate experience with respect to his nominees -- similar to his choice for the San-Francisco-based appeals court, "Brown's picks for the Los Angeles-based appeals court were all sitting judges, suggesting he considers bench experience valuable."
The criticism of Brown's attempts to diversify the bench got uglier, however, after the Journal weighed in. The Metropolitan News-Enterprise, a Los Angeles legal newspaper, recently ran a column from Roger M. Grace, flatly concluding Brown's nominees were "bereft of credentials," and were "apt to be named ... strictly for reasons of affirmative action":
Surely, race should not be, ever, a factor in choosing judges.
It simply doesn't relate to a person's capacity to serve in a judicial role.
Yet, the reality is that to Jerry Brown, being a non-white is a huge plus for a seeker of a judgeship.
And so we return to young [Lamar Baker, former US Deputy Assistant Attorney General]. He is almost certain to be appointed to the state's intermediate appellate court--and would probably be under consideration for the Supreme Court were there any more vacancies. He, like [former U.S. deputy attorney general and current California Supreme Court nominee Leondra] Kruger, is an African American.
He has all the qualities that Brown is looking for in a justice.
And what he lacks -- the know-how and wisdom that can only be derived from experience -- is of no concern to the man once known as "Governor Moonbeam."
He's not called that anymore. But the lunar influences on him are as strong as ever they were.
Also apt to be named to the appeals court, strictly for reasons of affirmative action, is Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin. He's openly gay. That, and his law degree from Harvard, are probably enough to cinch an appointment -- unless the governor views him as being too old (he's 55) or holds against him his judicial experience.
From what I've seen, Lavin is a result-oriented jurist, lacking in intellectual honesty. But that sort of thing would, of course, be of no interest to Brown.
A Media Matters analysis of major U.S. newspapers reporting on the alleged "war on coal" found that newspapers provided one-sided coverage of the issue and seldom mentioned the coal industry's negative environmental and health impacts or its efforts to fight regulations. Out of 223 articles published in major U.S. newspapers this year mentioning the phrase "war on coal," more than half failed to mention underlying issues that account for the coal industry's decline and the need for regulations. Further, less than 10 percent of articles mentioned harm caused by the coal industry or how the coal industry is fighting against regulations aimed at protecting miners and reducing pollution.