Why is KGW letting anti-tax activists write their stories? (UPDATED)

Why is KGW letting anti-tax activists write their stories? (UPDATED)

KGW's Joe Smith

By Scott Moore of Portland, Oregon. Scott is the communications director of Our Oregon and blogs at the Sockeye.

Monday night, KGW ran a terrible, one-sided story claiming that there’s an exodus of Oregonians flooding to Washington to avoid paying taxes, specifically from Measures 66 and 67.

Note: This post has been updated below with KGW's correction.

The story had more holes than the plot of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Worse, reporter Joe Smith featured interviews with three anti-tax activists and not a single opposing voice. He didn’t even bother to call anyone who could have pointed out that his premise was bogus – using hard facts.

Here's just one hard fact debunking just the bogus claims, from the Sockeye:

Bogus Claim: Three thousand more Oregonians have moved to Washington to avoid paying taxes under Measures 66 and 67.

FACT: This “report” is based entirely on unreliable data: driver’s license applications. It’s true that the Washington Office of Licensing showed an increase in 2010 of people trading in their Oregon driver’s licenses for Washington licenses—an increase of 1,332 in Clark County.

But here’s the catch: In July 2010, the Washington State Patrol reinstated its License Investigation Unit, which started cracking down on Washington residents who hold out of state (mostly Oregon) licenses in order to avoid paying sales taxes. The data is clear—from July to October (the period when the enforcement began), 2,823 more people than average changed their driver’s licenses.

In other words, the data that KGW relied on was the result of a state trooper crackdown on Washington scofflaws, not people moving to Vancouver to avoid taxes. This basic fact refutes all of KGW’s reporting.

So where the heck did this story come from? Turns out, anti-tax lobbyist Jason Williams (of the Taxpayers Association of Oregon) had written a blog post earlier in the day about this very subject.

KGW picked it up and ran with it. Nearly verbatim.

Why, it’s almost as if Jason Williams himself wrote the KGW story! Let’s count the similarities:

Jason Williams



“Oregonians flock to Washington to avoid tax bite”

“With no income tax and lower home prices, the Evergreen State is becoming a haven for Oregonians rather than paying some of the highest taxes in the country.”

Primary data source

Washington Department of Licensing’s driver’s license reports.

Washington Department of Licensing’s driver’s license reports.

Anti-tax activists featured

Jason Williams, Vancouver realtor Mike Lamb, and Eric Fruits

Jason Williams, Vancouver realtor Mike Lamb, and Eric Fruits

Closing argument

Measures 66 & 67 led to higher unemployment and people leaving Oregon for Washington

Measures 66 & 67 led to higher unemployment and people leaving Oregon for Washington

(By the way, employment has actually improved significantly since 2009. Unemployment was at 12.2% in May of 2009. Today, a year after voters approved 66 & 67, we’re at 10.4% as we move out of the jobless recovery.)

So, is Jason Williams now on the payroll at KGW, or is he just volunteering his time as news director and writer? What’s next? Global warming deniers doing the weather? Auto industry lobbyists doing the traffic?

Note: A few hours after Our Oregon first posted about this story, KGW took down the video of the report and retroactively edited the online version of the story. We've posted the original transcript over at our blog.

Update, March 3, 12:48 p.m.: After nearly two days of phone calls and emails from viewers demanding better from their reporting, KGW today issued a sweeping correction and apology for this story.

The correction came personally from News Director Rod Gramer. I strongly recommend you read it in its entirety. It’s the most thorough, candid correction I’ve ever seen from a news outlet. Kudos to Gramer for taking this on personally—and for doing his own reporting in order to tell the whole story. Here’s an excerpt:

The story we did this week did not live up to our high standards of balanced, fair and in-depth journalism. The story did not dig deep enough, it relied on anecdotal information from Washington realtors and, most serious of all, it did not contain the views of those who support Measures 66 and 67 and refute the assertion that companies and people are moving out of state because of the higher personal and corporate taxes.

For those shortcomings I apologize and take responsibility.

All news outlets make the occasional mistake. We should take the time to recognize those who promptly and properly recognize those errors and issue corrections, as KGW did this morning.


  • (Show?)

    If Joe Smith's producers had an ounce of ethics when it comes to journalistic standards (a term rapidly approaching the status of being an oxymoron), Smith would be fired.

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    Ah yes. the fury of the liberati when the shoe is on the other foot. for 30+ years the mainstream media has had a hard left slant, including having environmental stories written from Sierra Club press releases. But, Oh the Horror!!!, sometimes the other point of view creeps in anyway.

    You all must be sideways.

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      30+ years the mainstream media has had a hard left slant

      Bwahahahaa.. oh wait. You were serious?

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        Kari, asking for "specific examples" falls into the bogus "liberal media" meme. Here's how the argument always goes: "The mainstream [ie. corporate] media has a liberal bias. Look at this [insert one or two specific stories or quotes or opinions that can somehow be shoehorned into demonstrating left-wing bias, while ignoring the massively greater number of examples of right-wing bias in those same media outlets]. See? More proof of the MM's liberal bias!"

        Basically, ANY left-leaning fact or opinion or voice appearing in any corporate media outlet is proof that ALL corporate media outlets have a left-wing bias, even if the total ... bias tally, I guess? ... is 10-1 in favor of conservatives. The only way wingnuts will ever accept the corporate media is giving them fair and balanced treatment is when EVERY liberal voice or opinion is eradicated from EVERY corporate media outlet in existence. And even that might not be enough, given the number of them who treat stuff like science and math as having a liberal bias whenever they don't like the answers.

        But there's no point in asking for specific examples, because that's how their game is played. Cherry-picking bits of "proof" to support their absurd position is their ENTIRE "media bias" case.

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          "Clinton did it", haven't ya heard?

          1/3 of this country has been RAISED ON Lush Limbaugh, 'Lil O'Leilly, GlennBeckistan, the Republicans very own network--> FOX. They have learned the game of Semantics quite well.......just not how to run a govt.

          Quit hiring the same people you just fired....never seen any other employer do that.

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      Gee, Ken, do you remember a President who was known as the Teflon President, because, despite scandal after scandal and 29 members of his administration convicted of criminal activity, he seemed to get off scott free?

      Now, tell me, which party did that President belong to?

      People on the right have admitted that the "liberal media" meme has been all about skewing public opinion in order to gain political advantage. And you've swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

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        I remember Reagan, well. At the time I didn't realize how great he was. The I saw the ultimate Teflon President: Bill Clinton.

        Now, with our current President running from leadership every chance he gets, I actually miss Bill Clinton as well.

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          Tell me, Ken, how many members of Clinton's administration were convicted of crimes committed while in office?

          Is it anywhere near the 29 of Reagan's administration?

          And you do realize that total would have been higher if some of them hadn't gotten off because of "technicalities", and if G.H.W. Bush hadn't pre-emptively pardoned Casper Weinberger.

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          Please provide a single example of Reagan's "greatness".

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      You looked at the wrong date on the calendar...it's not April Fools Day yet.

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      This is laughable. All, and I mean every one, of the main media outlets in this country are owned by huge multinational corporations, and they are capitalists. The idea the there is an main-stream progressive media is naive at best, simply dumb at worst.

      The mainstream media spans the hard right, (FOX, talk radio, and The Washington Times) to the cushy middle (MSNBC and the NY Times) of the political spectrum. The only reason this is even an issue is that it benefits right wing media to keep its viewers and readers scared because frightened people are compliant and will trust demagogs (cue Rush).

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        Considering that The New York Times' editorial positions consistently poll far to the left of the average American, how do you consider it or MSNBC "middle"? You have to be pretty far to the left to consider the NYT or MSNBC to be in the middle.

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          LOL, so in your land of make-believe you have polling that proves the OPINION section of the NYT's is "far to the left of the average American"...?

          I believe in clinical psychology, that is referred to as a delusional self-reinforcement.

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    Smith can't claim that The Columbian was his source for the story. It was published over one month earlier (January 18th) and KGE is "Where the News Comes First."

    Moreover he would have read that the realtor he quoted, and another real estate professional noted that people are doubling up with relatives, not exactly a practice of households with $250,000 in income:

    Economists have said the recession officially ended in June 2009, despite persistently high local and national unemployment. But the recession is far from over for some new residents who moved here to stay with family or friends, said Lamb, who also owns rental properties. “Maybe they have a friend here who has a job, so they’re going to come here and look for work. That’s one of the reasons you don’t see it in the home sales,” he said. Johnson said his company also is noticing more people are doubling up than before. “There are now more people per unit, living in our apartments,” he said. “The economy is causing more people to share dwellings than we have traditionally seen.”

    Though like Smith The Columbian apparently didn't think it necessary to check their claims about the impact of taxes with anyone other than rabid-anti-tax activists.

    If they had asked, one thing I would have told them is that about 59,000 workers live in Clark County and work in Oregon. And I might have mentioned that at least the local Fox station reported that there's been a crackdown on Washington residents keeping Oregon licenses, which may account for the increase in transfers.

    And of course I would have noted that the underlying data -- drivers' license data, gives no information that would allow one to estimate what percent of the people are subject to Oregon's top tax brackets.

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    Never mind that Jason Williams and Eric Fruits still live in Oregon despite our tax system that they say drives people to Washington....Wonder where the KGW gang live?

    And if any of them practiced their rhetoric and moved to Washington they'd have to find jobs there too...'cuz moving doesn't let you off the hook for work performed in Oregon.

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    Give 'em a break. They got it half right. Those people changing their licenses were apparently trying to avoid taxes.

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    I guess what's next on KGW is a feature on the "Education Crisis" that has nary a teacher, parent, or student represented. Oh wait, it already happened.

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    Thanks for reporting on this. I saw the story and was appalled at the "quality" of reporting. They should be embarrassed.

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    As someone who spoke with KGW News Director Rod Gramer, I was pleased to see he took the criticism seriously and took the high road in dealing with it. See his post at http://www.kgw.com/community/blogs/reporters-blog/KGW-report-on-Measure-6667-controversy-117289988.html.

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      Chuck, thanks. It's really an honest apology and reflects well on KGW. Examples:

      • "The story did not dig deep enough, it relied on anecdotal information from Washington realtors..."

      • "I talked to two Clark County realtors we relied on for the story and they confirmed that some of their clients have moved or are interested in moving to Washington because of Oregon’s taxes. But they said that has gone on for years and there are many other reasons people move to Washington, including lower property prices and schools."

      • "I talked to two economic development specialists from S.W. Washington who said they cannot identify a single company that has moved to Washington because of Measures 66 and 67."

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      Thanks for talking some sense into them, Chuck.

      KGW's apology is as good as it can be. But once the false narrative is out there, no apology can unring that bell. The apology will reach some Internet readers, but if this false story was broadcast, then an apology and correction should be broadcast, too.

      Next time, they need to seek facts and balance before fanning the flames of anti-tax arguments. I was really disappointed this one-sided story made it onto the air.

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    Thanks for posting this. I work with a conservative bloviator who waved this story in my face earlier in the week. You can believe I waived KGW's retraction of the story under his this morning.

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      I'm curious as to your coworker's reaction to the retraction? Did he accept it or try to deny/spin it?

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        He responded the way he usually does to facts that don't support his position. He changed the subject.

        There was absolutely no acknowledgement from him that he was too quick to accept an obvious hatchet job as fact. And there was no recognition by him that his underlying belief that Measures 66 & 67 chase jobs from Oregon to Washington remains unsupported by evidence. Isn't that what we have come to expect from our conservative friends? Sorry state of affairs.

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    Per the question in the headline, TV relies on quick takes from others because they're completely understaffed to do well-researched reporting. Similar trends in newspapers.

    That doesn't excuse this reporting - not one bit - but in part it explains how this ridiculous claptrap got on the air.

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    I wouldn't expect you all to notice the liberal bias in most media any more than a fish notices the water they swim in.

    But the reaction was exactly what I have come to expect from the Liberati. Disagree=demonize.

    As to examples, one only has to honestly observe the double standard in the media over the past month; ignoring the hate-filled messages from a minority of the union protesters in the midwest states vs. the highlighting of the minority of haters in the tea-parties last year. With the union stories, the media kept them out of sight. With the Tea parties, the media portrayed them as the vast majority, instead of the outliers they actually were.

    But, in all likelihood, you won't notice that double standard because you live it.

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      More delusional projection. The GOP have had a coordinated effort for decades now to "work the ref" by falsely claiming a liberal bias. It is pure bunk.

      But the rubes like you eat it up with a spoon.

      But I love how you play the victim about us mean liberals with our "hate-filled" messages.


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        If you actually read my post, instead of assuming what I said, you would notice I acknowledged the hate-filled messages were a minority. It is significant how much you don't understand people who think differently than you.

        The other part of your message, including you labeling me a 'rube', just proved my point about disagree=demonize. Thanks for fulfilling my expectations of a liberati.

        I'm also not a victim. I know the deck is stacked against conservatives in the media. That doesn't mean I give up trying to balance the stories. I can tell how ingrained the liberal bias is by how viciously liberals lash out against any news source that doesn't see and report the world through pinko-colored glasses.

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          Delusional much?

          Deck is stacked against conservatives in the media? Conservatives control the largest cable news network and more than 95% of political talk radio. You must be one of those conservatives who think Brian Williams and Katie Couric are the liberal counterbalance to Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Glenn Beck. Riiiiigggghhhht.

          Spood-fed rube fits you just fine. Wear it.

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          Sorry you feel demonized by us "liberati" and our "pinko-colored glasses".

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    As a former journalist who has worked in several newsrooms, I can tell you flat out that your characterization is wrong. In fact, I'm a registered Republican, and I don't believe the media is controlled/dominated by the left or that it's somehow "stacked" against conservatives. I worked in TV news for over 10 years.

    My colleagues and I recognized the differences we had on all sorts of issues - socially, politically and religiously - but we did our very best to set those aside and report on the facts and not push an agenda.

    I'm dumbfounded that an experienced journalist would leave out the other side of the story, and not check the facts thoroughly. (I'm sure Chuck or someone else who can speak on taxes would've been more than willing to offer their viewpoint.)

    The reality is that the reporter and any producers on this story screwed up. You make yourself sound silly by trying to blame liberals for their reaction to the story - which was completely justified, in my opinion.

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      Thank you Jason. While we strongly disagree on issues much of the time. I appreciate your being honest and taking to task a fellow conservative for pushing a blatantly false meme.

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        Thanks for the kind words. While I may primarily have a conservative bent, I'm always willing to challenge my own thoughts and ideology, and those of my party. That's why I enjoy debating with all of you here at BO!

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      I think people who haven't worked in journalism also forget that there are ethics. Jason alludes to this--although reporters are often fiercely opinionated, their first fidelity is to the story.

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    Jason, I respect your viewpoint. I have no doubt that many reporters are indeed conscientious and offer alternate viewpoints. However, since Pew Research has consistently shown that media members are over 90% Democrat, the stories do consistently show some bias. Sometimes this is in what stories they spike, as well as how the ones they do run are written and edited.

    I don't claim to be free of bias, but then I am not a journalist. But, I believe anyone who claims to have no bias is a fool or a liar, media member or no.

    The bias I see is in the aggregate, not in any particular story shown on KGW, or in any other singular story. However, the clear difference between how the union demonstrations and the Tea Party demonstrations were portrayed in broadcast media is absolutely valid.

    My comments on the reactions to my post solely referenced the reaction to my comments, which started out tongue-in-cheek. However, I expected the reactions to be attacking me, which many did. You can search every post I have made on BO over the years, and you will find I don't attack people on here ad hominum, but I will heap scorn on his or her concepts.

    I am not defending KGW. I personally don't consider any local TV news to be credible. The only print news that I can trust to have an interest in being honest is The Wall Street Journal and, locally, Willamette Week. Willamette Week is the only real journalism in this city, although I never agree with them editorially.

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      I do have to add--though Doug does so below--that the people who own newspapers are not 90% Democratic. And ownership counts one king hell lot more than being a lowly reporter in terms of "slant."

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    Hey Ken, I'm still waiting for a single specific local example of a "hard left slant", especially "environmental stories written from Sierra Club press releases".

    Having made a claim that it's been pervasive for 30 years, I'm certain that you've got one example that really sticks in your craw that you can cite.

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      I gave you an example vis a vis the protesters.

      I will dig up my references on the Sierra Club situation. But, you can use the protest comparison as a pretty glaring example in the meantime.

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        You gave no such example about the protesters. You gave non-specific blathering about "hate-filled" protesters somehow being at all connected to left-leaning bias in the media (which as has been pointed out to you already, is almost completely owned by right-leaning corporate media companies).

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          I believe he is referring to some signs photographed at the WI protests comparing Hitler and the Gov, among others.

          There has been quite a bit of talk about them on the right while they have been ignored for the most part on the left.

          Now if you will indulge me a little:

          My fellow progressives:"Don't act like a**holes and give the teabaggers the satisfaction of stooping to their level."

      • (Show?)

        No, I'm not doing your homework for you.

        You claimed to have observed 30 years of "hard left slant."

        I asked for one single local example of that. Hint: it's going to require a link to an actual news story.

        You claim it's pervasive, but if you can't find even a single example that you can definitively point to, well then it's hard to accept your hypothesis is founded in data.

        Sorry, but this isn't one of those blog where you can toss off a talk radio bumper sticker talking point and have it accepted as fact.

        Back up your claim with data if you want to be taken seriously.

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    I'm amazed that nobody has proposed a simple comparison: tune in to a non-corporate media source once in a while, like the BBC or al jazeera (English). Any open-minded viewer/listener will be struck hard by the difference in subjects covered, viewpoints considered, and frames/contexts provided. And with the BBC, you'll be shocked by the aggressiveness shown in interviewing politicians to the point of exposing lies straightaway on the spot. No American pol could survive such an interview.

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      Yeah, but that only works with open-minded viewers. Anyone who believes the corporate media of this country has a liberal slant will no doubt consider more objective news sources to be raving communist propaganda.

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    Pretty embarrassing retraction for KGW.

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      I disagree. I think they come off looking pretty good admitting their mistake and making an effort to correct the story. Better than what most do, sweep it under the rug or worse yet, double-down on it.

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    I agree they did the right thing, but the story was a huge blunder. It was very sloppy and lazy reporting.

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