MEDIA WATCH: KATU’s Journalistic Malpractice, Cover Oregon Edition

For weeks now, KATU’s news team has been fixated on Cover Oregon, the state’s health exchange, trying desperately to broadcast what they are sure is a Watergate-level scandal.

Patrick Sheehan: Accuser

Patrick Sheehan: Accuser, GOP Operative

It’s now been revealed that their latest “bombshell” report was based on zero evidence, and was pushed by a consultant working on Dennis Richardson’s GOP gubernatorial campaign.

On Monday, KATU blasted out an interview with Patrick Sheehan, a former one-term Republican Representative from Clackamas. The report centered around the stunning news that Sheehan had filed a complaint with the FBI, of all places, alleging that officials in state government had lied to the feds about the progress of Cover Oregon’s online portal.

Here’s an inkling of KATU’s breathless coverage:

Former Republican state Rep. Patrick Sheehan told the KATU Investigators he has gone to the FBI with allegations that Cover Oregon project managers initiated the design of dummy web pages to convince the federal government the project was further along than it actually was.

If Sheehan’s allegations are true, those managers could face time in jail for fraud.

“One of the allegations that was made was so alarming that it went way beyond a legislative oversight committee and so I did reach out and contact the FBI,” Sheehan said.

Fraud! Jail! Scandal!

However, it wasn’t until today—four days after their initial report—that any reporters bothered to ask Sheehan for evidence of his claims. Or reveal that Sheehan is actually working for GOP gubernatorial candidate Dennis Richardson, who’s using Cover Oregon to attack Gov. John Kitzhaber.

That simple and obvious line of inquiry came from the Associated Press:

A former legislator who reported Oregon’s troubled health exchange to the FBI in 2012 says he had no proof of allegations that federal officials were intentionally misled about progress in setting up the exchange.

Patrick Sheehan, a former Clackamas County Republican, said Thursday he was simply relaying allegations conveyed to him by a source he declined to identify. The source claimed the state misled federal officials to give the illusion it was further advanced in its work.

Sheehan said he went to the FBI because it would be “a pretty big story if it were to be true.” Sheehan’s disclosure was first reported by KATU-TV.

Cover Oregon and the FBI did not return calls for comment.

Sheehan is working on the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Rep. Dennis Richardson.

This wouldn’t be the first time Sheehan has apparently resorted to shady, dishonest campaign tactics. Last year, months after losing his seat to Shemia Fagan (D-Clackamas), it was revealed that Sheehan was behind an anti-Fagan attack website (cleverly registered at, even though he tried to hide his involvement with it.

The biggest question now is this: Why did KATU fail to report that Sheehan has no proof, filed his complaint based on a secondhand rumor, and is actually working for a Republican candidate for governor? It wasn’t as if his involvement with Richardson’s campaign was a secret. Why, here he is in a picture of a Richardson campaign meeting from last summer (along with, among others, GOP consultant Lindsay Berschauer):

Richardson Campaign Meeting

Richardson Campaign Meeting, posted publicly by Julie Parrish on Facebook

There are only two possibilities: Either KATU knew these facts and covered them up, or their reporters never bothered to ask.

Given the right-wing political leanings of the station’s parent company, Sinclair Broadcast Group, it’s difficult to believe that this wasn’t a politically motivated fabrication of a story.

For more on Sinclair’s long history of using its TV stations to push a right-wing agenda, check out this rundown from Media Matters.

And for how this right-wing bias is directing KATU’s social media strategy, check out our coverage of their epic anti-Obama trolling fail.

11 Responses to “MEDIA WATCH: KATU’s Journalistic Malpractice, Cover Oregon Edition”

    • mkr

      The headline of that article tells you all you need to know about KATU’s agenda. No reputable news organization would slant a story that badly, no matter how accurate the reporting.

  1. mkr

    KATU’s “reporting” on the Cover Oregon story has been shameful. No doubt, there has been a story to report about the fundamental and nearly disastrous mistakes made while ramping up Cover Oregon. But there has also been great progress and real efforts by Cover Oregon to surmount the obstacles, notably resulting in almost 200,000 previously uninsured enrolled without the back end of the website working. But you wouldn’t know that if you only watch KATU. They’ve slanted stories to feed an anti-ACA narrative no different from Fox News’ agenda. Balanced reporting is replaced by “Gotcha” segments that omits crucial information and schadenfreude for ratings. I had no problem with KATU before this, but watching how they’ve handled this story will make me distrust anything they report in the future.

    • Danny Pedersen

      I think the very least that kati could do is admit they were a bit premature about the story,but given there ever increasing right wing slant which is getting worse i wouldn’t hold my breath for that to happen!!!

  2. JEG

    Cover Oregon is guilty of many things. There was more than one mistake that has led to this messy process. A mountain of evidence regarding many, many problems is probably an accurate portrayal. And what will come later will probably be a mountain of evidence showing bad decision-making; one bad decision leading to another.

    In his book, Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer talks about how it’s the myriad of poor little decisions that lead to disaster. At some point, the line has been crossed and it’s too late to turn back. Malcolm Gladwell addresses this in “Blink” as well. That’s what happened with Cover Oregon. The wrong choices started early, and they weren’t even able to see that they were headed in the wrong direction. And sometimes there is a gray area between wanting to be optimistic and put on a positive face, and misrepresenting the truth. Once invested, seeing failure is difficult to do.

    The media is correct to report on Cover Oregon’s failures. The State should be more accepting of responsibility for their failures. Maybe KATU is committing journalistic malpractice. But there is a real truth that includes Cover Oregon wasting taxpayer money, bumbling many efforts, and destroying any credibility that State Government may have had. And that damage should not be left unreported. It would be easier to get angry at KATU’s tactics if there was nothing to report. That’s not the case.

  3. Danny Pedersen

    given they are moving more and more to the right agenda ,i have come to expect this from them from now on,you can see their long faces on election night when a democrat wins but they better get used to it!!!

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