Oklahoma paper smears conservative groups as “controversial” for advocating bipartisan education reforms

One fact of politics that has not received much attention is that many of America’s most conservative geographic areas are also home to radical left media outlets that regularly produce stories sneering at the values of their neighbors.

In Oklahoma, one of the most conservative states, the perfect example of this is the Tulsa World newspaper which frequently derides conservative ideas and groups. The publication provided a perfect example of this tendency earlier in the year running a piece that smeared several well-established and accomplished conservative organizations as somehow being “controversial.”

World reporter Kim Archer made the allegation in an an October 8 story focusing on upcoming legislation proposing a way for dissatisfied parents to be given significant power to overhaul failing schools. After giving the who, what, when, and where of the matter, Archer treated readers to this amusing interlude:

“The parent trigger movement was spurred by two controversial conservative groups, Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is financially supported by billionaires such as the Koch Brothers and Phillip Anschutz.
“Walden Media produced ‘Won’t Back Down.’ The company is a division of The Anschutz Corp, which owns the Oklahoma Publishing Co., publisher of The Oklahoman newspaper in Oklahoma City.

“The film also is being distributed by 20th Century Fox. The company is owned by Rupert Murdoch and News Corp., which owns Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.” 

Talk about a vast right-wing conspiracy

In truth, yes, Heartland and ALEC support parent-trigger legislation, but they came late to the party. If anyone “spurred” the parent-trigger movement, it was liberal Berkeley grad Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, whose “idea for a parent trigger law developed over the course of a career in progressive Democratic politics,” as Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported. (Mr. Austin worked in the Clinton White House from 1994 to 1999, and was an early Obama supporter). “The nerve center for the parent trigger movement is the downtown Los Angeles headquarters of Parent Revolution.”

The first parent trigger law was introduced by California state Sen. Gloria Romero, a leftist Latina Democrat from East Los Angeles who viewed the fight for parent-trigger legislation as “a civil-rights fight.”

But what about those “controversial” conservative groups, Heartland and ALEC?

For starters, the AP Stylebook says “controversial” is “an overused word; avoid it.”

Moreover, as Joy Pullmann, a Heartland Institute research fellow, points out: “Heartland and our work is only controversial to people of an extreme leftist bent. Perhaps the reporter wishes to identify herself with such a group, but in that case she ought to be open about it.”

Archer and her editors are open about no such thing, but somebody’s bias is evident with the clownish use of an upper-case “B” for those nefarious “Koch Brothers.” (Seriously, Tulsa World? Even the Melendez brothers don’t get an upper-case B.)
Pullman also observes that “Congress, for example, has a 7 percent approval rating and is host to constant argumentation, but I bet she would never label the U.S. Congress ‘controversial.’ Controversy about Heartland is largely a manufactured smear by leftist special-interest attack groups.”

Ditto for ALEC, which continues to be bullied by a veritable who’s who of the organized left. And as Investor’s Business Daily rightly noted, journalists, “who normally pride themselves as champions of free speech, have decided to play along with this campaign rather than call it out.” It’s much easier simply to label ALEC “controversial” and move right along.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of 7 percent approval ratings, it’s worth noting that, according to a survey conducted in February by SoonerPoll (the very firm used by the Tulsa World), only 7.7 percent of respondents in metropolitan Tulsa identify themselves as somewhat or very liberal. By contrast, 52 percent identify themselves as somewhat or very conservative.
Do Tulsa World reporters refer to the liberal Tulsa World editorial board as “controversial”? They don’t? How about if the center-right coalition organized an intimidation campaign against the newspaper and its advertisers—then would the World qualify as “controversial”?

As a fifth-generation Oklahoman who was born in Tulsa, a longtime reader of Heartland Institute publications, and an ALEC member who has written for the ALEC magazine, I can assure you that more Tulsans embrace the views of Heartland and ALEC than those of the Tulsa World editorial board. Indeed, more Tulsans agree with the goals of the Koch brothers’ grantmaking than with Tulsa World editorials (or, for that matter, much of the agenda journalism that appears in the World’s news pages). If the World wants to commission SoonerPoll to nail down the exact percentages on any of this, I’ll be happy to go halvsies with them on the cost.

Yes, conservative ideas are “controversial” to journalists living in a liberal bubble—“a “professional journalistic elite,” says Walter Russell Mead, that has “lost touch with the needs and interests of its audience.”
Editor’s Note: This commentary, reposted with permission, first appeared at the Media Research Center’s “Newsbusters” website, here