By Arthur Alpert
It is a truth universally acknowledged that judging what’s news is art, not science. That was the consensus in every newsroom I’ve known – that honest journalists could differ on what’s a story and what’s not.
And that was the mindset I brought to the task of reading the Albuquerque Journal closely for the purposes of this site.
When you don’t agree with the editors’ news decisions, I admonished myself, presume an old-fashioned difference of opinion. Do not label it “bias.”
I tried. Believe me, I really tried.
But patterns emerged and repeated themselves until I had to concede this was something else – news judgments regularly followed from the newspaper’s narrative or editorial agenda.
Of course, if management’s editorial positions were determining what is and isn’t news, the product would be propaganda, not news.
(For definition fans, propaganda is “Information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view,” or so says one Web source.)
Having documented this phenomenon at the Albuquerque Journal umpteen times, it’s no great pleasure embarking now on umpteen-plus-one, but that’s what we do here. We highlight consistently bad journalistic practice with timely examples.
Today’s focus is on voting. You’re aware of the long struggle Americans waged to expand the franchise from propertied white men to include the not wealthy, not white and not male.
Also, you know the eternal resistance from those atop the hierarchy to that dangerous democratic idea:
“I don’t want everybody to vote,” right-wing activist Paul Weyrich told a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” (YouTube video)
With that in mind, let’s revisit the Albuquerque Journal’s recent treatment of voting rights.
As I wrote here Sept. 26, the Journal’s lack of interest in the nationwide push to strengthen voter ID requirements is profound. Thirty-three states now have such legislation – despite a paucity of evidence that fraudulent voting at the polls is a problem.
(Experts do worry about absentee voting fraud. Electronic voting systems may be hack-able. Political bosses steal elections. Politicians play dirty tricks. But the new voter ID requirements address none of them.)
As for the possibility that this voter ID push aims to suppress the votes of low-income and minority citizens, the Journal’s news judgment has been a yawn – there’s nothing there.
And to this minimalist reporting on the national story, allow me to add the latest Journal news judgment:
The Ohio Secretary of State sought to abridge early voting in his state. When a court said no, all voters must be allowed to cast ballots on the three days leading up to Nov. 6, he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last Tuesday the highest court refused to get involved, so Ohio cannot end early voting on the Friday before Election Day.
The Washington Post, whose reporting the Albuquerque Journal regularly carries, reported the Supremes’ decision. So did the N.Y. Times and countless other news mediums, including broadcasters. It was all over the Internet, too.
The Journal ignored it.
Not incidentally, the Time Magazine dated Oct. 29 carries a piece entitled “How the Voters Won” which reports that “A national push to tighten voting rules has sputtered” and characterizes the Supreme Court rejection of Ohio’s petition as “the final blow.”
How can that be? If you relied upon our local newspaper for basic information about the polity – you’d have to wonder what Time was smoking. What national push?
For no matter whether it raised its head in Ohio, Pennsylvania or Florida, the Journal protected its readership from the story.
Conclusion? The newspaper dovetails its news judgments with its narrative, the argument you can trace through editorials and the preponderance of opinion on both the editorial and Op Ed pages. As a result, the “news pages” reflect management’s agenda.
Which isn’t journalism. It’s propaganda, as defined above.
P.S. On a happier note, check out a swift reader’s response to my Sept. 27 post and follow the link he supplies. Hint – Doonesbury thinks the fate of the franchise is worth reporting on.