By Arthur Alpert
I write today to praise salt. Physicians may decry its presence in our food, but it’s essential for reading our local newspaper. I prescribe great quantities to protect yourself, specifically, from the Associated Press product reproduced in the Albuquerque Journal daily – not grains of salt but volumes akin to what our nuclear waste sits in down near Carlsbad.
Or just read with a jaundiced eye.
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar’s shoddy “Medicare Q & A” in the Tuesday, Sept. 25 Journal (A6) is the proximate cause of this alert, but there are daily examples of stories and “news analyses” from the AP’s Washington bureau that caricature real journalism.
And Associated Press management approves.
Forgive me if you’ve heard it before, but this extraordinary story deserves retelling.
Four years ago, about this time in the political cycle, revolution came to AP. The powers-that-were threw to the winds the wire service’s reputation for solid, credible reporting. Out went the old conventions of news writing. Now reporters were free to call ‘em as they saw ‘em. There were no asterisks to warn readers of the injected opinion; the tainted copy went out in the guise of news accounts and “analyses.”
What a shock!
“It was like finding out that your churchy maiden aunt pushes cocaine,” I wrote then for NewMexicoIndependent.com (Sept.5, 2008). “The AP, sometimes dull, was above suspicion, its stock in trade the straight scoop.”
That was no longer the case, but how come?
Independent readers steered me to primary sources, including Michael Calderone’s excellent Politico.com report July 14, 2008.
Here’s what I learned:
AP Washington Bureau chief Ron Fournier (now editor of the National Journal) was a prime mover in deep-sixing the old fact-based, careful, fair model. He encouraged reporters to make big judgments and take sides.
In news stories, fer gosh sakes!
Fournier leaned rightward, which was a problem but not the most serious problem. That was (and remains) that we could (can) no longer assume AP copy is trustworthy.
Of course, any newspaper editor whose editorial agenda is rightist – and who finds nothing wrong with inserting that agenda into the news columns – can use rightist AP Washington wire copy to excellent effect.
Which brings us to New Mexico’s statewide daily.
AP Washington continues to this day to pass off opinion as news and the Albuquerque Journal publishes the ersatz product as if it were the real thing.
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, whose work I cited above, specializes in health care. As regular readers of ABQJournalWatch know, the Journal has used his work (extensively, not exclusively) to campaign against health care reform.
In the news columns, that is.
Sadly, AP Washington gives several reporters, maybe all of them, carte blanche to editorialize. I reach for the salt when I see these by-lines:
Andrew Taylor. David Espo, Martin Crutsinger, Stephen Ohlemacher.
A few clarifications are in order. First, while I detect rightist editorializing in copy from AP, Washington, there may be some leftist bias emanating from that bureau, too. I just haven’t seen it in the Journal.
Also, this AP policy seems to be confined to its Washington Bureau.
And – need I say this? – I’m fallible so my impressions of these reporters may be mistaken. But after reading their copy for about two years now, I’m skeptical of their dedication to fairness.
Of course, the buck stops with Journal editors – they don’t have to use what AP Washington sends, they have alternatives. It’s abundantly clear, however, they’d rather employ AP’s questionable copy to advance the Journal’s own editorial agenda than protect your back.
So you are on your own. It’s caveat reader. And time to stock up on the salt.