If you’ve followed the Dispatch (or this site) this week, you’ve no doubt seen the recent drumbeat at just how regrettable it is that labor won’t sit down and try to work out a compromise on Senate Bill 5. I’ve called it a totally manufactured story by the Columbus Dispatch. A story designed to present Kasich as willing to compromise but labor as unbending. It turns out, I wasn’t too far off.
Here’s the timeline of how this all became public, as told by the Dispatch yesterday:
On Sunday, a Dispatch editorial called for proponents and opponents of Senate Bill 5 to reach a compromise that would require public employees to pay more for their health care and pensions but would strip away the bill’s provisions that aren’t related to controlling government costs.
Yesterday, sources told Dispatch reporters that informal discussions between two people affiliated with the defense of Senate Bill 5 and representatives from the Ohio Education Association and the AFL-CIO took place about six weeks ago, but labor backed away.
What amazing luck that the Dispatch found confirmation that SB 5’s supporters have tried the very course of action the Dispatch advocated on Sunday. But wait a second, that’s not what the Dispatch editorial actual said. Here’s what the Dispatch editorial claimed on Sunday:
Gov. John Kasich previously has made overtures to union leaders for compromise, but so far, union leaders have not reciprocated.
Who were the people seeking to make a deal with labor on SB 5? On Sunday, the Dispatch’s editorial page said the offer came from Governor Kasich, but the news division two days later subtly backed away and said it was two people affiliated with the defense of Senate Bill 5. Why the walk back, and what does that say about the pro-SB 5 advocates pushing labor to cut a deal with them? It says they weren’t from Governor Kasich’s office after all.
And that explains part of the reason labor would walk away. Because if such talks didn’t include someone with authority to speak for the Republicans in the House and Senate and the Governor, then there was nobody at the table who had any real authority to make a compromise.
But who were the two people affiliated with the defense of Senate Bill 5? And how did the Columbus Dispatch editorial board seem to know about this deal before its own newsroom? Simple…because the Dispatch essentially was one of the people representing pro-SB 5 interests at the meeting.
Mike Curtin is the former Vice-Chairman and COO of the Dispatch Printing Company. He’s still quoted by Ohio media outlets as speaking for the Dispatch even though he’s technically retired, like on the casino issue in Columbus for example:
Dispatch associate publisher emeritus Mike Curtin told NBC4 that his company partnered with Penn National on last year’s successful Issue 2 campaign to move the casino to the west side. Curtin said the Dispatch Printing Company contributed $400,000 to the campaign, as well as editorial support for the move. During the campaign, Curtin said Penn National executives promised to annex the casino into Columbus so the city would capture $8 million in annual casino host city tax revenue.
Curtin said the Dispatch Printing Company is taking legal action to hold Penn National to its promises.
Wait, the Dispatch got so involved in an election issue, negotiated a deal, and then endorsed their own deal? Does this sound familiar?
“This is inserting the newspaper and the owners directly into the process. It’s unprecedented and entirely inappropriate for a newspaper to be doing,” Penn spokesperson Bob Tenenbaum said. “This is making the news rather than reporting the news.”
Yes, the same Mike Curtin that in 2009 blasted Penn National’s constitutional amendment in the Dispatch for mandating a casino in the Arena District, then negotiated a deal to amend the casino amendment to move it out of there, had the Dispatch endorse his plan, and donate $400,000 to the cause.
We already talked about how at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce presentation “We Are Ohio” made advocating that the Chamber take a neutral position, Curtin and Curt Steiner (former OSU lobbyist, former Voinovich chief-of-staff, former chief-of-staff to Speaker Jo Ann Davidson) pushed the “We Are Ohio” campaign on the possibility of working out a deal with Kasich to avoid having to have a referendum issue.
And guess what editorial he was pushing on Twitter this weekend?
We have now been informed that it was they who called the meeting with a representative from the OEA and Ohio AFL-CIO to discuss a deal.
So, let’s recap. A major Dispatch honcho who has a history of using his status within the Dispatch to make news that favors his politics and then have his paper report it and editorial pages applaud it, sets up a meeting with some labor leaders to work out a deal on SB 5. The meeting doesn’t go well, likely because neither Steiner or Curtin can really promise the labor unions anything because they have no clear authority to negotiate a deal that requires the involvement of the GOP legislature and Kasich, and frankly, they have little leverage given the current polling on the issue.
Then the Dispatch follows up the editorial advocating for someone to try to attempt a deal with a news story that such an attempt as advocated by the Dispatch was tried, but the labor leaders walked away – never mentioning that one of the most influential figures at the Dispatch just happens to be behind the attempt to broker a deal and then the editorial lecturing labor to make such a deal.
This is more than just a story about a media outlet have a political bias in its coverage of a story. This is about a media outlet becoming the story.
This is about a media outlet that hides its role in creating the news and, in so doing, failing to disclose highly relevant evidence that puts that story in its proper context.
There was no offer from Governor Kasich. There was an attempt by Mike Curtin and Curt Steiner to try and avoid an issue that could cause lasting damage to the Republican Party in Ohio. And when they, who had nothing to really offer in the deal, didn’t get two labor leaders to immediate leap at the chance to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, they unleashed the Dispatch on them.
The Dispatch isn’t just in the tank for John Kasich. On Sunday, they said that they actually represent him in official government matters.