Joe Hallett Personifies Columbus Dispatch’s Medicaid Expansion Bias

Columbus Dispatch Senior Editor Joe Hallett penned a series of four heated editorials supporting Medicaid expansion between February 4 and June 18, while at the same time authoring five Dispatch news stories about the issue.

Hallett’s coverage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) Medicaid expansion was one of the most obvious signs the Dispatch failed to honestly report on the topic over the 18-week period reviewed by Media Trackers.

Within two weeks of the release of Governor John Kasich’s budget plan, Hallett had picked sides in the Medicaid expansion fight.

“In a legislature where there are too few Democrats to matter, the greatest threat to Kasich’s budget comes from Republicans who constantly worry about protecting their right flanks in safely gerrymandered districts. As a result, the justifiable expansion of Medicaid in Kasich’s budget is in jeopardy, because GOP lawmakers fear it will invite primary-election challenges from tea partiers who seem bent on society’s regression.”

Kasich budget proposal is balanced
Joe Hallett

Nonetheless, the Dispatch printed a Hallett news story about Medicaid expansion just five days after his February 17 editorial.

“As he did in Lima, Kasich passionately appealed for support of the Medicaid expansion, saying that ‘the Good Book says you don’t ignore the least among you.'”
“Noting that the expansion would save Ohioans $400 million over two years and bring in billions in federal money to insure the working poor, Kasich said: ‘Abraham Lincoln did what’s right to lift human beings, and our conservative Republican Party must do the same.'”

Governor urges GOP to expand Medicaid
Joe Hallett

Hallett quoted two supporters and zero critics of Medicaid expansion in this news story. He expressed no doubt in Gov. Kasich’s claims and didn’t bother to mention even one argument against the PPACA Medicaid expansion.

In an editorial published two days later, Hallett attacked opponents of Medicaid expansion again.

“Most disturbing about the Liberty Council’s threat is its knee-jerk opposition to a unique and money-saving opportunity to extend health care to 275,000 poor Ohioans, mostly children.”
“Almost every thoughtful group that has studied the proposed Medicaid expansion has endorsed it, from conservative business groups, to Ohio Right to Life, to advocates for the mentally ill, to the editorial pages of Ohio’s biggest newspapers.”

Republicans need to stand up to band of rigid intimidators
Joe Hallett

The PPACA Medicaid expansion would primarily impact able-bodied childless adults; saying “mostly children” would gain Medicaid coverage is patently false.

Perhaps realizing it would reflect poorly on the paper to print Medicaid expansion “news” from Hallett following two consecutive editorial rants, he was not named in the byline of another Medicaid expansion story until April.

“In contrast, more-moderate Republicans say the tea party already has too much influence within the GOP, and they worry that if the state party caves into what they consider the tea party’s ultraconservative agenda, general-election voters will be alienated.”
“‘You know things are a mess in the Republican Party when the extreme right is suspicious of the policies of the far right, and John Kasich has become the poster person of a moderate Republican,’ said a frustrated GOP activist who asked not to be named.”

Likely Ohio GOP chief will face rifts
Joe Hallett

Conveniently, Hallett found an anonymous source whose opinion reflected his own.

A news piece published four days later was even less subtle.

“In a historic rebuke, Gov. John Kasich got rolled by his own party this week, victimized by a tea party-inspired evisceration of his plan to expand Medicaid coverage despite his passionate pleas that the lives of Ohio’s neediest residents hang in the balance.”
“While tea party groups claimed credit for killing the Medicaid expansion allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act, others said it failed because of an ingrained hatred of Obamacare across GOP constituencies.”

Battle lines solidify in Medicaid debate
Joe Hallett and Catherine Candisky

This news story was subtitled, “Tea party groups say they killed Medicaid expansion, but others point to an ingrained hatred of Obamacare.”

Two days later, another Hallett editorial promoted the PPACA Medicaid expansion and bashed its critics.

“Increasingly, tea party leaders are talking about sinking the GOP if it strays too far from ultraconservative principles.”
“The Ohio Republican Party made its own bed with the tea party by gerrymandering legislative districts so that moderate Republicans, indeed even merely conservative Republicans, have trouble winning. And Kasich’s own rational arguments to expand Medicaid were undermined by his complicity in the GOP crusade to demonize Obamacare during last year’s presidential race.”

Republicans, tea party might be headed for a breakup
Joe Hallett

One week later, still another Hallett editorial slammed conservatives for opposing the “obvious humanitarian and fiscal benefits” of Medicaid expansion.

“House Republicans, again driven by a tea-party hatred of Obamacare, stripped from the budget Kasich’s plan to cover 275,000 low-income Ohioans under Medicaid, ignoring its obvious humanitarian and fiscal benefits. By rejecting the Medicaid expansion, House Republicans turned down $13 billion in federal funding over seven years.”

State lawmakers stray far from their constituents
Joe Hallett

Two weeks later, the Dispatch saw fit to publish another news column from Hallett ridiculing opponents of Medicaid expansion.

“But with Kasich and other GOP elected officials facing a strong 2014 challenge from a Democratic ticket led by Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, one longtime Capitol Square Republican activist who asked not to be named questioned the tea party’s end game.”
“‘Is Ed FitzGerald going to sign a pro-life bill? Is Ed FitzGerald going to sign a pro-gun bill? Is Ed FitzGerald not going to expand Medicaid? What do they think is going to happen if they abandon John Kasich and play spoiler by creating a third party?'”

Tea party has had it with GOP
Joe Hallett

On June 18, the Dispatch ran a Hallett news story premised on a talking point from regular op-ed contributor Thomas Suddes, who has complained that it’s unfair for State employees to accept State health insurance while refusing to spend billions more on Medicaid.

“GOP legislators stripped Medicaid expansion from the budget, saying they need more time to discuss reforming the federal-state health-care program for the poor.”
“Kasich, who takes the state’s health-care coverage for his family, last week sidestepped a question about whether it is fair for lawmakers to accept taxpayer-funded health care while opposing his Medicaid expansion.”

State covers many foes of expanding Medicaid
Joe Hallett

Media Trackers contacted Dispatch editor Ben Marrison for an explanation of Hallett’s work and the many other issues with Dispatch coverage of Medicaid expansion, but received no response in time for publication.