Time For N&O To Get Back In No Spin Zone

18:14 16 April in Tax Reform

No matter what you think of the efforts of the Republican leadership in North Carolina, they deserve to have their message delivered accurately in news articles with no spin. The News and Observer has hit the tipping point.

Yesterday in Raleigh Governor Pat McCrory spoke at the John Locke Foundation Tax Day press conference with members of the legislature and John Hood, the president of JLF. The message was clear. He was there to highlight the fact that starting this year North Carolinians will enjoy the benefits of the new tax strategy implemented in the last legislative session that will leave more money in their paychecks. Legislation last year simplified the tax rate in North Carolina, taking taxes that topped out at 7.75% to a flat 5.8%. This was on the heels of the lower sales tax rate enacted in 2012.

On the other side of town, the North Carolina Association of Educators and others used tax day to point out that less tax money means less ability to fund their causes. True, the new tax code means less money will be withheld from paychecks. That was the intent. The Governor and other legislative speakers such as Rep. David Lewis say that will spur economic growth and create more revenue through the sales tax strategy. This is a stereotypical and fundamental disagreement in how to fund governmental needs, including school teacher raises.

According to Hood, in an interview on 103.7 WTIB this morning, neither the Governor nor anyone else speaking at his event mentioned that this may decrease the chances that school teachers will receive across the board raises in the upcoming legislative session. The N&O story quotes one legislator, Senator Jerry Tillman, as saying that increasing pay across the board is a multiple year process and that no broad pay hikes are likely in the legislative session that begins on May 14.

So, on a day the state leaders are celebrating their new tax strategy and its benefits to North Carolinians, one comment by one legislator apparently gave license for the headline “Broad Teacher Raises Unlikely”.

Hood pointed out in the interview that the newspaper was the only media entity covering yesterday’s event with that take. “The News and Observer was the only media organization to play the story that way,” Hood said on Talk of the Town.  “The other TV stations and print media simply reported that it was tax day and there are competing arguments about the value of the tax reform.”

Hood confirmed that he had “testy words” with the reporter who wrote the story. “He decided to be combative,” said Hood. “The problem here is that no one has said that teachers will not get a pay increase in the legislative session, even though Senator Tillman said they will definitely do the starting pay plan, and that if the revenues are strong enough there may be additional pay raises in 2014, otherwise there will be pay raises in 2015. The way he lays it out is certainly possible, but it’s not a fact. You don’t report it saying teacher pay is not going to go up.”

As Hood points out, even saying teacher raises are “unlikely” is more editorial than good reporting.  So the question is this. Is the News and Observer making an effort to gin up more controversy and stir up teachers?

By the way, Hood also said he believes teachers will, indeed, get the pay raise this year. “They will definitely do the pay raise for starting teachers, which by the way, is a good idea,” he said. “It’s the biggest problem North Carolina has. I think it’s quite possible that they will do an across the board raise, though it may not be very large. I think their argument will be this is going to take us two, three, four years to do the plan. We’ll do starting pay and then we’ll do across the board raises in the coming years and we’re going  to put additional dollars into merit-based compensation.”

Another irony of the News and Observer’s coverage is the lack of attention the paper gave to these same issues during the previous years, when Democrats were in charge of state government. Oh, sure, they reported on teacher pay, but one would be hard pressed to find this type of “spin” during those days.

In recent weeks the news about North Carolina’s huge drop in unemployment has also been covered spottily in the N&O, while they have continually run front page stories about the Duke Coal Ash spill and the McCrory administration’s reponse to it.

Perhaps the GOP needs better messaging. However, it is time for the News and Observer to get back in the “no spin zone”.


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