Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Journal Sentinel Swallows GOP Propaganda

It was the nation’s only daily newspaper to fall for an anti-Obama business "survey."

By - Sep 30th, 2012 09:48 pm
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Last week, a Republican polling group called Public Opinion Strategies released a survey that was supposed to prove how dreadfully manufacturers are doing under President Barack Obama. Just one daily newspaper in America fell for the survey: the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Its front page was headlined “Manufacturers blame uncertain economy for lack of growth,” with a story telling readers “a negative business environment is turning the American dream into a nightmare,” according to Jay Timmons, the National Association of Manufacturers president and chief executive officer. “The findings of this survey,” he declared, “show that manufacturers and other small businesses have a starkly negative outlook for their future.”

All this doom and gloom seems surprising given recent surveys showing manufacturers aren’t contracting but expanding. One survey found that 73 percent of small and medium-sized manufacturers had added staff in the last six months, and that a third expected to add more staff in the next six months and 53 percent expected to maintain the same number of staff.

Another survey found that mid-sized manufacturers were seeing increases in customer demand and revenue and that 90 percent of companies expected to keep and increase the number of U.S. employees.

How could the survey the Journal Sentinel reported find such different results? Well, you see, the survey never asked companies if they expected to expand. Instead, it asked questions intended to get a negative reply, for instance asking companies about any financial sacrifices. Just 25 percent said they had made or even “considered” doing things like laying off employees, which suggests many companies could be expanding, but the survey never asked about this.

The survey also asked businesses whether President Obama’s regulations have hurt or helped business, with no in-between response allowed. And it found 54 percent of companies tend to believe India and China are more supportive of business than America. Given how China has rigged the deal for its companies, its amazing just 54 percent said the U.S. does less to support businesses.

The conservative Washington Times did note this survey as part of a round-up story summarizing various reports on the state of business. But no other daily newspaper reported the results and only the JS devoted an entire story to the survey.

Perhaps that’s because other newspapers could see all the red flags tagging this survey as suspicious. For starters, it was done by Public Opinion Strategies, which touts itself  “the leading Republican polling firm.” The company was founded by four Republicans, including Neil Newhouse, who is Mitt Romney’s pollster and made the infamous statement that “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

On September 10, Newhouse wrote a blog predicting that “The reality of the Obama economy will reassert itself as the ultimate downfall of the Obama Presidency, and Mitt Romney will win this race.” Like clockwork, just two weeks later his company released its survey of manufacturers showing how dreadful the economy was supposedly doing under Obama.

The survey was overseen by two of Newhouse’s co-founders: William “Bill” McInturff was the lead pollster for John McCain in his 2008 campaign and worked on the “Harry and Louise” ads that helped kill the Clinton health plan of 1993. Also overseeing the survey was Glen Bolger, whom Roll Call once noted “has quickly emerged as the pollster of choice for House and Senate Republicans.” Bolger got considerable media play for his observation that Obama “is in danger, though, of becoming Jimmy Carter: Likeable, but unable to lead the country out of difficult times.”

These Republicans, in turn, were hired to do this survey by two groups that sound very nonpartisan: the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB). In fact, both have a history of targeting Democrats for attacks.

In August, NAM made a six-figure ad buy in Ohio indicting Washington regulators and calling on voters to tell Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown “it’s time to stand up for Ohio workers and manufacturers.” NAM also founded the American Justice Partnership, which has helped fund ads bashing Dems.

Just four days before the survey covered by the Journal Sentinel was released, the AP reported that NAM and its partner group NFIB had purchased ads saying the expense of complying with federal regulations is killing job creation. Their ads targeted Democratic congressional candidates in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The NFIB claims to represent small businesses, but as the Huffington Post recently reported, the left-leaning Center for Media and Democracy did an analysis concluding the NFIB lobbies on issues that favor large corporate interests rather than small-business concerns and has received millions in secret contributions from groups associated with Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers. The report found that 100 percent of NFIB’s advertising budget supported Republicans or opposed Democrats.

The obvious bias of the two business groups and Public Opinion Strategies calls into question its survey, and would need to be disclosed in any well reported story. Perhaps that’s why no daily newspaper did a story on the report. The Journal Sentinel not only reported it, but gave it front page coverage, failed to note any of the conflicts for those who completed and commissioned the survey, and ran quotes from the head of NAM that exaggerated the survey’s findings.

The JS reporter for this story, Rick Barrett, is a quiet, hard-working journalist who keeps his head down and follows orders. It’s possible he suggested this story, but I doubt it, and either way it’s the duty of editors to raise questions about any possible problems with the survey. That clearly didn’t happen here.

The Journal Sentinel is under constant fire from conservative talk radio and its fans for its alleged “liberal bias,” and its editors are clearly trying to convince the public this is not the case. I can’t think of a more powerful — and wrongheaded — example of that effort than its coverage of the manufacturers survey. How sad to see a Pulitzer-Prize winning newspaper stoop this low.

8 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Journal Sentinel Swallows GOP Propaganda”

  1. Wilbur Wood says:

    A great story on the Journal’s terrible story.

  2. Bill Sell says:

    I used to get promos inviting me and my business to join the NFIB and another similar organization whose name I cannot remember. These ads were laden with right-wing issues of the day, flags, definitions of freedom that stop after taking care of their one freedom, unmentioned in the Constitution, the right to start and run a business, and ( so long ago ) maybe the ERA. It was tempting to join at a time when I was insecure about my business – am I doing the right thing, am I networking effectively?

    Today I’m not sure they are so clever with small business, besides that they just might not need us anymore as a small business is now defined as something south of $50 million a year – it is to laugh. But I do believe a small business has more in common with workers and their need to bargain collectively.

    It would behoove some unions to consider the small business as part of their political strategy. We do not have levers of power to get all by ourselves the kind of government that would help: good schools, health care coverage, pension protection, worker training, safe reliable public transportation, liberal arts education – there are companies that need people who know how to think. And we do not want levers of power that make women subservient to men. Thanks, Bruce, between the lines here I detect the demise of an earlier, and more effective, Republican engine.

  3. The NFIB publishes a monthly survey of small business, reporting on their optimism, earnings, hiring plans, and so forth. Based on this report, this is a group that clearly is doing better than four years ago, by any of the measures reported.

    Oddly, a number of the measures peaked around 2005 and were declining even before the recession hit.

  4. Keith Schmitz says:

    Thanks for running this Bruce. I was very shocked to see the Journal put this as the lead story, especially since both organizations are wholey owned subsidiaries of the GOP. Not sure if they were fooled into put up this story or if is the paper’s right wing bent.

    For a more balanced view of what small business thinks, go to http://www.smallbusinessmajority.org.

    Locally for a more balanced approach to businesses, small business owners should check out http://www.wisconsinbusinessalliance.com.

  5. happy days says:

    Good Article. The Journal Sentinel is a very conservatively-biased newspaper and this is just another example of that.

    I do not buy their newspaper or visit jsonline. There are few alternatives to Milwaukee news. I go to captimes.com for state news.

    What Milwaukee media outlet is not biased?

  6. Stacy Moss says:

    Dear Mr. Murphy,

    You made my day.

    This is a very sad story for our city. But it’s a cynics delight.

    Seriously, you have to admit, it would be a lot less interesting for you and your devoted readers
    if the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel changed direction.

    That would be like water running up hill.
    Good for a laugh, but bad in the long run for homeowner’s basements.

  7. Bill Sweeney says:

    Look at the bright side. No other daily newspaper in the US did a story on the survey. That’s good news, at least for the rest of the country.

  8. James G. says:

    Great watchdog reporting. We need this more often in times like this.

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