We’ve come to expect that the editorial boards of major newspapers will have a political bias, and the Columbus Dispatch is no exception. We all know the Dispatch owners and editors lean right. They support Republican candidates and attack Democrats. We expect that. It’s not a new story. We don’t, however, expect an editorial board to twist the truth and to intentionally deceive its readers just to support a political agenda, but that’s exactly what the Dispatch decided to do yesterday.

Because of the pay wall Dispatch.com recently added to their website (more on that soon), you may not be able to see the editorial that spoiled my morning – and for that you should probably be thankful.  But trust me when I tell you: this is the most overtly political, and least accurate piece I’ve read in the Dispatch’s editorial section in recent memory – and that’s saying something.

According to the piece:

[Governor] Ted Strickland [was responsible for] leaving an $8 billion state budget shortfall for Kasich to fix.

Let’s start with the first part: the supposed $8 billion “shortfall”.

This figure is calculated by looking at the difference between how much you expect to spend on the next two year budget vs how much revenue you have to work with. And while the Dispatch wants you to believe that this “shortfall” was some kind of deficit left over by Strickland’s spending spree, that is not technically or even legally possible. Each two-year budget is required to be balanced, and all of Strickland’s budgets were.

As a matter of fact, Strickland’s final budget not only didn’t result in a deficit, it actually ended up with a nearly ONE BILLION DOLLAR SURPLUS – something else the Dispatch fails to mention.

Every new Governor has to go through the budgeting process – and they need to come up with their own way to fill the holes. It’s nothing new.

Strickland faced a shortfall and he received some extra, one-time money from the federal stimulus to compensate. John Kasich faced a shortfall and he got some extra, one-time cash from privatization schemes like selling prisons. Strickland bargained with state workers to take cost savings days and he cut executive branch salaries and benefits in order to meet his budget shortfall. Kasich took money from cities and schools.  That’s how the budgeting process works.

Ultimately, Strickland didn’t “leave” anything for Kasich except an extra billion bucks.

It’s also worth mentioning that the actual shortfall was NOT $8 billion, as the Dispatch claims. It was closer to $6 billion.

And while the Dispatch loves to praise Kasich for his budget cutting, the fact is: General Revenue Fund spending actually increased by 5 BILLION DOLLARS under Governor Kasich.  You’ll never read that fact in the Dispatch’s editorial pages, but it didn’t slip past the conservative Buckeye Institute which praised Strickland’s budgeting as being more fiscally responsible than Kasich’s:  “After a brief respite in 2010 and 2011 (kudos to Governor Strickland), Governor Kasich’s proposed General Revenue Fund budget continues that nineteen-­year pattern of spending increases greater than inflation.”

The same Dispatch editorial also distorts the unemployment rate numbers in an attempt to claim that the recent month-over-month drop in Ohio’s unemployment rate, from 7.3% to 7.2%, and similarly small increases in the unemployment rate of other states like Michigan, means that Kasich is an economic genius and Obama is destroying America’s economy. The stunning leaps in logic they make, based on the smallest possible set of data points, absolutely astound me.

But if the state’s turnaround was engineered by the federal government, how does one explain that the rest of the country, on average, is faring worse than Ohio? Why hasn’t the supposed Obama magic worked in neighboring Michigan, which saw its unemployment rate tick up to 8.6 percent from 8.5 percent last month? In fact, in June, 27 states saw unemployment rates rise.

My jaw literally dropped when I read this paragraph. Do they really expect anyone to believe we can look at one set of month-over-month unemployment rate changes – one tenth of one percent in the states they mention – and make large scale assumptions about who is to blame/praise for years worth of changes?

You only have to look at the starting and ending rates while Obama was in office to know that their analysis is complete and total BS.

In July 2009, the year Barack Obama took office, Michigan’s unemployment rate was 15%. FIFTEEN PERCENT! And now it’s 8.6%.

In July 2009, Ohio’s unemployment rate was 10.6%. Now it’s 7.2%.

The national unemployment rate was 9.50% in July 2009. Now it’s 8.20%.

The Dispatch insists Kasich “deserves a nod for a brighter economic picture in Ohio” not “the current administration in Washington” – and their only proof is a single month’s worth of unemployment number changes of +/- .1%.

They completely fail to mention that, since Obama took office, the US unemployment rate has dropped 1.3%, Ohio’s has dropped 3.4% and Michigan’s has dropped an amazing 6.4%!

But somehow John Kasich is personally responsible for all of Ohio’s economic success because our unemployment rate dropped .1% last month and Michigan’s rate went up .1%?  Give me break.

Context is important, people. And you really need to look at more than a single month’s worth of data to make big assumptions about who is really responsible for any successes or failures.   And even then, it’s very difficult to give absolute credit to any individual or administration just because they happen to be in power during a dip or spike in one specific economic indicator.  I have no doubt that the Dispatch editorial board knows this. And if they don’t, then they shouldn’t be running a damn newspaper.

According to the disclaimer on the Dispatch’s editorial page, editorials are “intended to be seen as the voice of the newspaper” and, as such, are “unsigned”. This makes a lot of sense, since I can’t imagine anyone would personally want their name associated with this shameful political attack.

The numbers presented in this editorial are clearly meant to deceive the reader. The facts are wrong and the authors make no attempt to get them right. This piece reads more like the script of a bad political attack ad than a serious editorial in a major newspaper. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if it was written, word-for-word, by one of Kasich’s media advisers instead of someone on the editorial staff.