By Arthur Alpert
The Albuquerque Journal belongs to history.
Thanks to Richard Perez of the N. Y. Times for reminding me of that toward the end of his Jan. 17 story on new sources of news:
“For generations, owners who have little or no need to answer to shareholders have famously used their newspapers to pursue their political aims.” he wrote. “In fact, more diffuse corporate ownership did not become the norm until the late 20th century.”
Yes, in its promotion of “political aims,” Journal ownership walks in the footsteps of storied publishers like William Randolph Hearst and Robert McCormick.
Hearst brings jingoism to mind. McCormick was isolationist. But I’m really fuzzy on what those press barons wanted. The Journal’s goal, however, couldn’t be more clear – to advance the Republican Party. It’s not conservatism. It’s political power. And a careful reader can conclude that from its news pages – no need to peruse editorials.
While the Journal’s ends are obvious and simple, its means are not. How does New Mexico’s largest daily promote its partisan agenda? Let me count the ways – sins of commission and omission, story assignments, headlines, choice of wire copy, story positioning, sizing and layout.
Sometimes Journal manipulation is so blatant it’s almost funny. Like its sins of commission re the Christmas failed terrorist plot for the Dec. 30 issue.
What was new the 30th was President’s Obama’s verdict that U.S. intelligence agencies failed to deter the airline bomber. Journal editors put that on page 8.
What wasn’t new that day was an “analysis” from the Washington Bureau of the Associated Press (which permits reporters to editorialize). The Journal put that on page one. Prominently.
AP’s “analysis” dealt with the Administration for Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano’s claim that “the system worked” after the failed bombing. No matter that Napolitano’s gaffe was three days old. No matter the Administration had already retreated from it.
For this was the Journal’s opportunity to adorn the front page with an anti-Administration headline, namely, “Attack Response Disturbing.” The sub-head was, “’System Worked’” Comment, Obama Actions in Question.”
At least they accurately reflected the AP piece. Accurate headlines aren’t routine at the Journal. Consider the rubric on David Broder’s syndicated column Jan. 15: “Will Big Labor Compromise on Taxing Cadillac Plans?”
What “Big Labor?” Broder never mentioned “Big Labor.” For good reason, too – it’s dead. Union power has been ebbing for 30 years. Whereas more than one third of all American workers belonged to a union in 1945, only 12.8 percent did in 2008. And that was after an uptick! (Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.)
But “Big Labor” remains in the Republican lexicon.
The Journal’s sins of omission are tough to sketch because news judgment isn’t science. Still, patterns arise from what the Journal leaves out. I’ll offer some specifics; you connect the dots.
Specifically, the Journal ignored the Rev. Pat Robertson’s off-the-wall explanation of Haiti’s tragedy. And Rush Limbaugh’s soft-core racist interpretation of the Obama administration’s aid policy. It took conservative Kathleen Parker to cite them in an Op Ed Jan. 19 rebuking Robertson for “superstition” and Limbaugh for “cynicism.”
And when the South Carolina House censured Republican Governor, romantic and international adulterer Mark Sanford Jan. 12, the Journal passed.
Journal readers rarely hear of (or read the essays of) conservatives who cross the party. Like Bruce Bartlett, once a Jack Kemp – Heritage acolyte, now an advocate of balanced budgets for both parties. I cannot be sure, but it’s possible the Journal hasn’t forgiven Bartlett for his blistering analysis of the Medicare drug benefit in the Nov. 20, 2009 Forbes. It was entitled, “Republican Deficit Hypocrisy.”
As I recall, former GOP Rep. Heather Wilson championed that legislation.
The Journal ignores Richard Posner, too, perhaps because the crash prompted the conservative jurist/economist to rethink laissez-faire. His new book is, “A Failure of Capitalism”. (Posner crosses swords with U. of Chicago economists who’ve kept the faith in an entertaining piece in the Jan. 11 New Yorker.)
I mention Bartlett and Posner because the Journal’s syndicated liberal, E.J. Dionne Jr., cited them Jan. 19. The Journal mangled the headline on that column, too. Ho-hum.
Let’s get local now. I’m writing on Day Four of a legislative session to balance the budget and apportion the suffering even as the race for Governor heats up. Here Journal management must work harder and more subtly to skew the coverage.
For not only do they lack AP’s Washington Bureau but the editors must abide staff reporters who don’t share management’s political agenda or (as best I can see) any political agenda.
It cannot be easy bending good work from the rank-and-file into partisan propaganda.
It’s too soon to evaluate the coverage, though I did do a double-take at the Legislature page Jan. 21; the five candidates for the GOP gubernatorial nomination and former GOP governor Gary Johnson got a lot of ink.
The Journal has already spilled lots on Diane Denish, the Democratic standard-bearer, including recent scrutiny of her ties to Democratic fund-raisers and her use of the state airplane.
You might expect the Journal to vet (vet, not profile) the GOP primary opponents and eventual GOP candidate, too, but you’d be wrong, or so I predict. Journal management won’t even pat down the GOP hopefuls, no less strip-search them.
Remember, you read it here first.
Why the skepticism? As we’ve noted, the Journal partakes of a tradition where ownership uses its newspaper to further its political aims. I see no light between the Journal’s and those of the state Republican Party.
If I’m wrong, the coverage of the Legislature and race for governor will testify to that. I’ll follow it carefully. If you do, too, we’ll compare notes.