Guessing With Gessing's RGF Reports

October 17th, 2011 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

The Rio Grande Foundation’s blog, “Errors of Enchantment,” takes on new meaning when juxtaposed next to a report retraction by RGF president/report editor Paul Gessing.

Last week, after errors in one of his reports was pointed out by the Rio Rancho Journal (a zoned edition of the Albuquerque Journal), Gessing posted the retraction on the think tank’s website, and at the same time removed from the site a white paper he had disseminated entitled “How Tax-Friendly is Your City.”

The retraction was in response to the Rio Rancho Journal’s Oct. 8 story pointing out that the study erroneously had claimed Rio Rancho has the highest property tax rate among 10 New Mexico cities. To her credit, reporter Rosalie Rayburn fact-checked with assessors in three of the counties covered in Gessing’s report – Bernalillo, Santa Fe, and Sandoval — and found problems with the study’s data in all three. The zoned story was picked up in the Albuquerque Journal Oct. 11, where it ran on C1.

Two days later, both papers ran a follow-up saying Gessing was retracting the study because of Rayburn’s spotlight on the errors. Reflecting its different audiences, the follow-up ran under two different headlines: “Rio Rancho Doesn’t Have Highest Taxes” (in the zoned edition) and “Think Tank Takes Down Erroneous Tax Study” (on C2 of the main paper).

Gessing’s reported response to Rayburn in that follow-up:

I admit guilt ultimately because I am the head of the organization and I did edit the paper, and we’re going to try to go back and re-edit this thing and correct some of the errors.

Rio Rancho City Manager James Jimenez, who learned about the error-riddled study from Rayburn’s initial story on the RGF report, told Rayburn flawed information in reports like this can damage a city’s economic development efforts. He also told Rayburn he received several irate emails after RGF’s report, adding:

I am glad to see that Mr. Gessing has retracted the report; the level of mistakes in it I think are unacceptable. If he wants to engage in public policy dialog, he needs to do it based on factual information.

Engaging in public policy dialog appears to be the entire mission of the RGF and Gessing’s full-time job, and both Gessing and his reports on all sorts of topics are ubiquitous in New Mexico media.

Gessing himself was scheduled to appear Sunday (Oct. 16), on PBS’ “New Mexico in Focus” to talk about “how the war in Afghanistan has changed the lives of New Mexicans.” And unfortunately, RGF’s widely disseminated reports rarely get the scrutiny the tax report got from Rayburn, as news organizations are only too happy to run his ready-to-go articles.

And while Gessing’s retraction is laudable, part of Rayburn’s story on the erroneous RGF report had already been picked up by the Associated Press and disseminated to papers like the Alamogordo Daily News, which ran an abridged version of Rayburn’s first dispatch the same day the Journals were reporting the retraction. Problem is, the Alamogordo story was only four paragraphs, reporting the erroneous information in the study, and not including any of the assessors’ challenges to the report. (The online version does contain a link to the entire Journal story.)

And as readers know, he’s frequently on the pages of the Albuquerque Journal — as letter writer, column writer and quoted source. (A search of the Journal’s website while writing this post produced 99 results.)

As if that weren’t enough, just last week, after errors in the tax study came to light, Gessing was given the “Executive’s Desk” feature slot in the Journal’s Business Outlook (Oct. 10), his article with mug-shot covering the top of the page. “For N.M., federal largesse nearing an end” warned of the problems New Mexico will experience as federal jobs are cut. Typically, Gessing used the column to push the ideology of his foundation donors, quoting at one point a report by the American Legislative Exchange Council (yes, ALEC), creating a kind of closed-loop argument by buttressing his agenda-based reporting with stats from a national think tank with the same agenda.

It was probably unavoidable because of layout considerations, but Gessing’s Executive’s Desk piece enjoyed more prominent play than Win Quigley’s far superior column on the federal government’s presence in New Mexico and how that has influenced New Mexico’s business mindset, a column that ran two pages behind Gessing’s.

And, as if that weren’t enough, the Journal published yet another column (“Obama’s ‘Jobs Plan’ Will Cost Jobs in the Oil Patches”– no link yet) by Gessing’s “friend” Marita K. Noon of Energy Makes America Great Oct. 16. And it ran yet another letter by Gessing in the Journal’s Business Outlook today (Oct. 17), this one on banking rules (again, no link yet).

(As an aside: It  might be as yet unnoticed by the Journal, but as of this posting RGF is getting away with using a likeness of the Journal’s masthead on at least one web page, a no-no the Journal normally enforces religiously.)

Gessing sometimes does get a dialog going, as exemplified by this column that takes Gessing to task for tailoring to RGF’s special interests an interpretation of the Constitution. In another rebuttal, AFSCME legislative director Carter Bundy produces more than one study to counter RGF-study assertions that public workers make more money than those in the private sector.

But rarely are Gessing’s columns questioned, and then, not where the public can readily see them. Both of the above-mentioned rebuttals ran on Heath Haussamen’s, based in Las Cruces.

Gessing does great work getting out the talking points of clients, advocating corporate enrichment in the name of “liberty.”

To the reader: Caveat emptor.

For more on Gessing, read this summation on Democracy for New Mexico’s site of the quest by videographer Chris Dudley at the Bullhorn Journal “to find out who constitutes the ‘membership’ of the RGF, and what credentials are held by its leader.”

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