Memo To The Journal: Direct Your Firepower At Business, For Once

June 9th, 2010 · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

What a splendid lead editorial in the Albuquerque Journal today, Tuesday, June 8!  (“Another Day, Another D.C. Day As Usual.”) There was no pretense of deliberation, sobriety or fairness.

It was partisanship, plain and simple, a strong brew of half-truths and untruths, seasoned with gall and served with anger.

Great, I thought. The real Albuquerque Journal.

And thanks to the First Amendment to the Constitution, the paper has every right to do it.

Alongside management’s outburst was a Cal Thomas column in which the “religious rightist” labeled climate change a myth.

Thanks to that same First Amendment, the Journal has every right to fill its Op Ed pages mostly with the blathering of ignoramuses and the self-interested; no czar can force management to create an honest marketplace of ideas.

Today’s front page featured another story on dysfunctional government, this time Bernalillo County’s.

This brings me to today’s theme, namely that – sheltering under the umbrella of the First Amendment – the Albuquerque Journal has made another choice: Specifically, the newspaper expends great reportorial time and energy to expose and analyze the failures of government but devotes none to examine the institution of business.

The attention to government is good. Humans find governing hugely difficult, particularly where there exists a degree of freedom. After all, the job requires harmonizing individuals, communities and institutions with divergent, often colliding interests. No wonder the greatest minds and greatest souls – Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and the great religious prophets – have grappled with it. And with what lies beneath, human nature.

So the Journal’s constant attention to what goes wrong in our governmental systems is warranted.

But to stare only at government distorts the bigger picture. Journalism is about painting society, isn’t it? And – as even some Tea Party enthusiasts are beginning to figure out – infinitely worse than stumbling government is government that works efficiently to serve powerful, narrow interests.

Wall Street implodes and we all pay. Coal miners die; nothing new. Three major companies collaborate to kill some workers and spill oil in quantities so massive that we cannot yet grasp the harm. And the Journal reports them as happenings, ignoring the system wherein corporate America calls the shots, including outrages.

In fact, the Journal promotes business over government, but that’s another column.

This Journal policy – rip government, never business – deprives us of some great stories from its excellent staff. You and I have admired the work of several investigative reporters on incompetent or corrupt government. What if the Journal were to re-target that firepower!

Imagine a Mike Gallagher exposé of the nursing home industry. Imagine what Colleen Heild would turn up in a probe of how health insurers wheel and deal to protect profits. (Winthrop Quigley’s dope stories on the health biz are useful, but they’re not investigations.)

And, not to forget low-hanging fruit, when’s the last time the Journal tackled the exploitative payday loan and rent-to-own businesses?

Also, how often must we read that the oil and gas industries object to pit rules (as in Thomas J. Cole’s June 5 UpFront column), before the Journal assigns one of its crack reporters (like Cole) to tell us what those rules do?

It’s a rhetorical question, of course; the Journal won’t report systematically on business because management exempts that institution from reporting.

Note the word, “systematically.” The daily does recount the stories of individual bad guys and regrettable accidents. But it’s never the system, stupid. (Which may explain why in all the thousands of words re Doug Vaughn, there’s been no mention of his letters advocating the “free market.”)

The Journal’s speak-no-evil approach to business is most glaring in its national “news” columns. You wouldn’t know from reading our statewide daily that both parties take millions from Wall Street (major investment banks, brokers, insurers, rating agencies, accountancy firms), Big Energy (oil, gas, nuclear, coal) and the components of President Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex.”

Nor has the Journal reported that the Executive and Legislative branches, equally addicted to corporate money, routinely pressure regulatory agencies to abet the regulated.

Currently, this Journal policy shapes coverage of negotiations to reform the financial sector after Wall Street’s (latest) betrayal of the nation. After much reading elsewhere, I’ve concluded that Congressional Democrats brewed weak-tea legislation that Congressional Republicans watered down some more. Ergo, Wall Street will be able to play traitor again.

Perhaps I’m wrong on that. But it’s indisputable that the Journal has given this story sparse and superficial coverage. Mind you, it’s not over; House and Senate conferees continue reconciling their bills, aided by lobbyists from the very institutions the legislation is supposed to constrain. And as Wall Street purchases the best regulation money can buy, the Journal will (I predict) continue to look away.

If I seem confident, it’s because Journal policy is clear. Discredit government by paying it close attention (with exceptions when the politicos promote business). Simultaneously, advance the interests of corporate America by giving it a journalistic pass.

And, hey, the First Amendment protects all of it.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • T Scharmen

    Thanks, Mr Alpert, for articulating what I have often lamented myself.
    It’s really a lazy type of journalism that goes after the easy targets of local and state government. Lazy – because you don’t have to be a clever and diligent investigative reporter to find the dirt on our public agencies. Easy – because of the (laudable) transparency of public affairs.
    But trying to find the truth about corporate and business crime? – that would take some real work by real journalists . . .

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