Another Case of Selective Scrutiny

July 16th, 2012 · No Comments · economy, financial coverage, journalism, tax policy

By Arthur Alpert

I get lots of information from the Albuquerque Journal’s daily business page and Business Outlook, as well as an occasional smile.

Mostly, I learn from the beat reporters what Albuquerque and New Mexico businesses are doing and how businessmen view the economy and their markets. There are also items on job moves, awards, air travel, interest rates and more. I suppose business readers find it very helpful.

One theme that jumps out is how much my taxes and yours undergird what the newspaper insists on calling “free enterprise.” This isn’t shocking, of course, the American system is government-aided business. But I get a kick out of the Journal’s denial of the big fat contradiction and its failure to analyze or comment on it.

We should explore that topic at length sometime, but let’s focus today on another aspect of the Journal’s business coverage – its passivity. Winthrop Quigley excepted, the Journal tries awfully hard not to question business practices, attitudes and systems.

Sometimes I get the sense its business pages exist to give commercial enterprise a platform.

Consider, for example, the Friday, July 13 story on the latest National Federation of Independent Business survey of its members – they’re “gloomy” on the economy. The Journal passed it along and, as is its wont, localized the press release by soliciting comments from Minda McGonagle, NFIB New Mexico director.

Last time the Journal offered the NFIB the pulpit, Ms. McGonagle listed several concerns of her membership but (as I noted in a June 28 post) forgot what bugs them most, “lack of customers.” I wondered why the newspaper didn’t question the omission.

This time Ms. McGonagle, to her credit, put that first:

“What our New Mexico businesses need today are customers.”

Nowhere in her comments, however, did she mention that customers, individual or business, must have income to spend, and the Journal didn’t explore it further.

The NFIB story is typical of the Journal’s approach to all business organizations – echo what they trumpet, omit any journalistic scrutiny.

But scrutiny is good. I recommend it. In fact, when I decided to find out what NFIB is and for whom it speaks, it took just 15 minutes on-line to dig out some shiny nuggets.

NFIB, with some 340,000 members, is a powerful lobby. Whether it’s properly described as a small or independent business lobby, however, is problematic.

According to the SBA, a small business employs fewer than 500 workers. First problem – that’s almost every business in the country. Secondly, it can include law businesses and Wall Street hedge funds and – for all I know – some Super PACs.

You see the problem. They’ve little in common with the small businesses we know and love – the neighborhood baker, mom-and-pop restaurant and body shop guy.

As for NFIB’s independence, well, reports in the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post June 14 question that.

Their stories asked if the NFIB was representing the interests of its members in fighting Obamacare. Both newspapers said the lobby received a $3.7 million grant from Karl Rove’s Super PAC, Crossroads GPS, in 2010, the same year it decided to lead the legal challenge to the President’s health reform.

NFIB denied Crossroads’ money was used for that effort, but it took the cash. Ergo, whether it’s “independent” of Mr. Rove’s “social welfare” organization, Crossroads, and its anonymous benefactors is debatable.

The WSJ and Post stories also noted:

Some small businesses cheered the health reform act. While NFIB is by far the largest small business lobby, it’s not only game in town. One other, the Main Street Alliance, backs Obamacare.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, because the Journal doesn’t.

Businesses matter, whether big, medium or small. So does the relationship between businesses and society. What the Journal’s business staffers offer is useful as far as it goes, but we’d benefit if editors pushed them to employ their higher critical faculties.

To ask questions, I mean.

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  • Gerard Bradley

    One of the frequently cited ‘research’ organizations by the Journal and the NM Business Weekly is the New Mexico Tax Research Institute.
    Richard Anklam , their executive director, is taken to be a reasoned voice on tax policy. However, a cursory look at the NMTRI web site shows that their board of directors is composed of representative of oil & gas corporations, large banks, Intel, and the CPAs and lawyers that service these corporations. Why would anybody think these guys are objective?

  • Cheryl Everett

    Arthur’s points on the Journal’s “business news” hodge-podge (Win Quigley excepted) are well taken. If I relied on the Journal’s daily business front page for economic trends, I would be hopelessly confused. One day the headlines proclaim “signs of recovery” -“jobs growth continues” – “markets up” – etc. The next day (actually, about four times as often) the business headlines shout “recession worsening” – “job growth slowing” – “retail down” – etc. The Journal has several business writers who could quite capably analyze, question sources and put this information maelstrom in perspective. Yet we never see that. Maybe because the Journal seems more dedicated to advertising than to informing. A sad waste of reporting and writing talent.

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