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We Build Alaska

Gone Hollywood: ADN mixes fact check with fiction in debate coverage

The Anchorage Daily News has “gone Hollywood” by monetizing the suffering of others as little more than background in their self-aggrandizing portrayal of themselves as the real heroes in “Alaska Daily“, but Iris Samuels’ supposedly objective coverage of the Oct. 19 Debate for the State shows the ADN is expanding the blend of facts and fiction from the TV to the news pages as it makes no attempt to hide its decision to take sides in the Governor’s race.

Below are just a few of the most egregious examples of selective fact-checking and outright falsehoods from the ADN’s latest hit piece.

But first, a note: we can’t point out anything related to Bill Walker’s admission under questioning from Governor Dunleavy that the centerpiece of his first term – a deal signing away 75% of our natural gas to China – was a mistake. We can’t note anything because the ADN, like most of the media, with some exceptions, left this newsworthy moment out of their coverage.

With that said, a fact check of the ADN’s “fact-checkers”:

Walker and Gara’s attacks centered on Dunleavy’s record of slashing state spending on services and failing to advance a fiscal plan to provide a dependable calculation for the Permanent Fund dividend and covering the cost of running state programs such as education.

The article begins by presenting the claims of Governor Dunleavy’s opponents as facts. The Governor has introduced constitutional amendments for a spending cap, a prohibition on taxes without approval of the people, and for the 50-50 PFD formula. Furthermore, education was forward-funded in the FY23 budget. In the first of many examples that characterize the Governor’s record negatively while omitting any mention of Bill Walker’s, the article ignores Walker’s vetoes of $1.3 billion in 2016 that not only cut the PFD in half, but cut more than $150 million from education including the University, the Higher Education Fund, the BSA, school transportation costs, rural school construction, and school bond debt reimbursement. Bill Walker is running on amnesia, and apparently the ADN is basing their coverage on it even when it comes to their own previous reporting (which coincidentally also used the words “slash spending”).

The debate came a day after expected news broke that the Anchorage School District is considering closing six elementary schools in light of budget shortfalls, after the per-student state funding formula increased by only 0.5% since 2017, far below the 15% rate of inflation in the same time frame.

ADN’s own reporting and the ASD Superintendent’s own email point to dramatically declining enrollment as a major contributor to the budget deficit. This paragraph leaves the reader with the impression that the deficit is solely attributable to a claimed lack of state support, which is contradicted by the ADN itself: “That enrollment decline impacts how much funding the district receives from the state of Alaska and means buildings are under capacity, which makes it hard to offer electives and other student services.”

Dunleavy met the criticism by pinning school districts’ budget shortfalls — including the one in Anchorage — on district budget management.

“I’d be more than happy to sit down with a number of these school districts,” Dunleavy said, “and have a discussion as to why they are short on their budgets.”

Naturally, the ADN omits the context of the Governor’s statement. The Governor has been superintendent of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District and the School Board President for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District. Unlike his opponents, the Governor has experience dealing with school district budgets, but the ADN doesn’t want to let its readers know he just might know what he’s talking about.

Gara promised to solve Alaska’s budget challenges by doing away with $1.2 billion in subsidies to oil companies — a promise that has been fundamental to his campaign. Gara said by doing that, the state would be able to afford a dividend and full funding of schools, including indexing the per-student funding formula to match inflation, which Gara said is necessary.

While the ADN goes to great trouble to fact check each and every statement by the Governor, it never bothers to look into the results of what Gara is proposing. Ending the per-barrel credit on the North Slope would result in a 35% net profits tax, which would be among the highest in the world, if not the highest. As of 2018, Alaska already has the third-highest marginal effective tax and royalty rate in the world for new oil and gas development according to the Fraser Institute. (see page iii). Gara’s proposal would make Alaska one of the least competitive places to invest in the world, with predictable and associated lack of new production in the future.

Dunleavy blamed Walker for “breaking” the dividend formula under his term as governor, referring to a 2016 decision by Walker to veto part of the dividend in order to cover the cost of state services in light of a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. Dunleavy, as a state senator, voted at the time in favor of the smaller dividend.

This is simply wrong. Walker did not veto the PFD to pay for state services. None of those cuts to the PFD went into the budget. Nor did Dunleavy vote “in favor of the smaller dividend.” Once again, a claim by the Governor’s opponents is presented as matter of fact by the ADN, with no citation. In fact, there was never a vote on a “smaller dividend” in 2016, other than Walker’s unilateral decision to veto it.

Asked about Alaska’s high rate of violence against women, Dunleavy responded by saying the rate of rape had gone down by 6% in a single year. That is inaccurate. The rate of rape has gone down by that percentage between 2018 and 2021, from 1,188 to 1,115. Alaska’s rate of rape remains significantly above the national average.

The ADN jumps on a misstatement by the Governor saying a year when he meant his term, while confirming the 6% decline in the rate of rape is actually correct for his time in office from 2019-21. Here we also have another example of the ADN apparently forgetting that Walker has a record, and that record reflects that the rate of rape went up by 54% (see page 19) from 2015 to 2018 compared to 2014 in the last year of the Parnell administration. The fact is, the rate of rape hit an all-time high in 2018 under Walker, overall crime hit a 20-year high in 2017, and violent crime overall increased by 40% under Walker.

Since 2018, the number of attempted rapes has declined by 41% from 2019 to 2021. The ADN refuses to even concede that crime has indeed gone down under Governor Dunleavy, and instead mentions it merely as something he “touts.” The ADN neglects to mention that the overall crime rate has more than just gone down: it is at a 41-year low. When reached Wednesday night after the debate to check on our numbers, ADN reporter Sean Maguire was pointed to – and saw – the 54% increase in rape under Bill Walker reflected in the 2018 crime report. Yet for some reason, that information did not make it to print.

Both Gara and Walker attacked Dunleavy for Alaska’s high crime rate and the continued lack of policing in some rural communities — problems that predate Dunleavy’s tenure but have remained largely unchanged under his leadership.

The lack of verification here continues the ADN pattern. When Bill Walker took office, there were 81 VPSOs working. When he left office, there were 45. Under the first three years of Governor Dunleavy, we are now back up to 63, with more set to graduate next month from the state Law Enforcement Academy. There are 41 more Troopers serving now than Walker’s last year, again, with more set to graduate next month. The FY23 budget authorizes six major crimes investigators for rural Alaska, two Tribal liaisons at DPS, and a dedicated MMIP investigator. All are firsts and represent record amounts of investments in rural public safety. The claim that policing problems in rural Alaska are “largely unchanged under his leadership” is a complete falsehood.

“I think people should decide what they want to do and not listen to the fear mongering being paid for out of Washington, D.C.,” Dunleavy said on the constitutional convention, referring to Outside funds raised by a group opposing the convention. Dunleavy’s comment is noteworthy because his own campaign is boosted by millions in Outside funds, including $3 million from the Washington-based Republican Governors Association.

Here we go again, with the ADN throwing some extra “context” around the Governor’s statement, while once again selectively excluding the underlying facts he’s referring to that recent reporting details the backing of the 1630 Fund and the NEA against the constitutional convention question. The Dunleavy campaign has raised less than $2 million, so “millions” is factually incorrect. This paragraph also muddies the difference between the Governor’s campaign and an independent group by claiming the Governor’s campaign “includes” $3 million from the RGA. This is either sloppy writing, or another deliberate falsehood. Neither possibility speaks well to the ADN in this case.

The two have discussed their views on the issues at several of more than a dozen debates they have attended, many of which were snubbed by Dunleavy and Pierce.

Fittingly, this article can’t end without another dig, more editorializing, and outright fiction. The Governor did not “snub” any debates. He announced his schedule in August, making this comment the last of a litany of falsehoods, omissions, and bias in this supposedly straight news story.

It’s not good journalism, but it’s perfect for Hollywood.

Andrew Jensen is a spokesperson for the Dunleavy for Governor campaign. He also serves as a policy advisor to Governor Dunleavy. 

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1 year ago

When Andrew Jenson wrote this opinion piece,was he on states time as Dunleavys policy advisor, or his “nonpaid by the states dollar” spokesperson for the Dunleavy campaign

1 year ago
Reply to  Gunner

Touché! And methinks, by providing this publishing venue for Jensen, Jeff Landfield is picking sides, possibly angling for a staff position in some (R) legislator’s office. What say you, Jeff?

Lynn Willis
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin

Valid point. Perhaps two examples are former radio talk show hosts Stieren and Rydell (Green) who found a living within the “big government” they so often demonized. And how many other Alaskan media personalities have done the same thing? I don’t blame them because private media simply cannot compete with the State or Federal Governments. Elected officials are not restrained when public funds for purchasing political allegiance are virtually unlimited.

1 year ago

“The Governor has been superintendent of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District…..he just might know what he’s talking about.”

LOL. D left his superintendent job in the middle of his contract. No superintendent EVER does that for a good reason.

Landmine articles are consistently biased
1 year ago
Reply to  Sam

Allow me to correct you, Sam.

Dunleavy quit his position as superintendent in the middle of his employment contract with the Northwest Arctic Borough School District because he discovered the job required (and he was expected to work) more than 40 hours per week. His request for “overtime” pay was disallowed, so he walked.

Lynn Willis
1 year ago

The Governor of Alaska is perhaps the most powerful Governor in the United States; therefore, portraying Mike Dunleavy as a “victim” of single newspaper report is hardly believable. Dunleavy has made bad choices. Our economy is in the tank now and the efforts to return to a viable economy will be hindered as Dunleavy uses the very political AIDEA to pick winners and losers. He saw the departure of a very successful Permanent Fund Director. He has watched Alaska “depopulate” the very age group we need to sustain an economy. Remember Dunleavy imported the “prototype” Kelly Tshibaka in Donna Arduin… Read more »

Landmine articles are consistently biased
1 year ago
Reply to  Lynn Willis

To the undecided voters out there: Dunleavy is not in his current position or this race/campaign to work for you and our collective best interests. His concerns are limited to how he can help Outside “high rollers” including his donor brother, maintaining a false image of himself and his accomplishments, and the personal wealth he can accumulate … ALL at our expense. The only time an average everyday Alaskan can see or meet Dunleavy to ask pertinent questions is during his fundraisers (for example a recent one held at the Petroleum Club and at which he posted a state trooper… Read more »

Ryan Nelson
1 year ago

The ADN is a propaganda newspaper. Thanks Jeff for calling them and their fake journalism out.

Maureen Suttman
1 year ago

Andrew, state employee and cough volunteer for governor Dunleavy’s campaign you are willingly being used by the governor. Dunleavy was fired as superintendant of northwest arctic bureau.

Frank Rast
1 year ago

Did Andrew write this on State time, campaign time, or Journal of Commerce time?

1 year ago

Amazing how many democrat or Walker/Gara sympathizers there are out there. Thanks, Jeff for letting us see the other side. As for Dunleavy working, if his schedule for his workdays as governor is any indicator, he is working weekends as well and usually doesn’t see as many days off as those of us who worked 5 day work weeks. I counted 3 oe 4 days off for an entire month in one of his schedules. As for the debate, I watched it and caught Gara insisting that the governor should have been at the Kenai debate, no excuses, when Dunleavy… Read more »

Jared L.
1 year ago
Reply to  Shelia

Haha how many “burner” accounts did Jensen make for the Landmine website…Definitely on state time too.

AK 1st.
1 year ago

See you do one better. 😘

Last edited 1 year ago by AK 1st.