By Arthur Alpert
(Feb. 14, 2013) How can it be that the President wants to raise the federal minimum wage? Surely he’s aware that the Albuquerque Journal opposes it with every fiber of its being.
I don’t mean editorially, although the paper has so editorialized. No, I mean the Journal is opposed in its (so-called) news pages and Op Ed columns, too.
Perhaps this calls for a Gallic shrug. The Journal is merely being the Journal, advocating all over the newspaper, without apology, hardly pretending to cover news dispassionately or fairly.
It is, in short a veritable (Albuquerque) Journal of Opinion.
Still, it’s worth our while to retrace the daily’s current campaign against higher minimum wages, not to argue the contrary but to refresh our memories of what journalism should be.
In fact, we’ll begin with how professional journalists operate. Say we’re editors at a hypothetical professional newspaper in New Mexico, we know Santa Fe’s minimum wage will soon rise again, that Albuquerque’s just rose and both Bernalillo County and the Legislature are thinking of doing likewise.
What do we do?
Duh, we assign a reporter or two to ask how the proposed hikes might affect small and large businesses, as well as employees, customers and local economy in the short and long term.
We might profile an enterprise where the boss fears paying more for labor alongside one where management is sanguine. (They exist.)
Oh, and assign a staffer to get proponents’ and opponents’ dueling economic justifications. Spell out both demand-side and supply-side thinking.
There, briefly, is how a professional (not high-minded, merely professional) newspaper might act.
Obviously, the Albuquerque Journal has another approach.
As noted in a Jan. 18 post, it opened its latest campaign with a double-barreled takedown; the editors fired at the minimum wage, severely wounding decent journalism in the process.
No need to revisit that today; let’s note only that the Journal Business Page “story” was weighted heavily against Santa Fe’s minimum wage and relied for expertise on one Michael Saltsman of the Employment Policies Institute, which (as the Journal didn’t tell you) is a front for national low-wage industries.
Perhaps in appreciation for Saltsman’s contribution, the editors solicited an Op Ed essay they published Monday, Jan. 21 to which they appended a lengthy ID for the Employment Policies Institute. It was lots of words strutting across the page and signifying nothing; I had some fun with the EPI obfuscation in a Jan. 24 post.
Keep EPI in mind, please (it re-enters below), while we move on to the Journal’s next (third) action, assigning reporter Mark Oswald to a folo they headlined “SF Living Wage Impacts Eateries” that ran Wednesday, Jan. 30.
Oswald’s solid report opened:
“In the middle of a new round of debate over Santa Fe’s minimum wage law, one restaurant chain is leaving the city and another is moving in.”
Notice how he neatly avoids any cause-and-effect on the restaurants’ movements, because, as we learn further down, the departing chain (Village Inn) left because its lease wasn’t renewed. Notice, too, the headline writer chose not to put that in a sub-head.
This is a key Journal technique. Editors frequently use solid staff stories to further their (editorial) agenda, carefully stepping around reporters’ toes. In this case, they employed Oswald’s respectable work to keep the pot boiling; the pot is defined as promoting fear about higher wages.
The Journal maintained its advocacy efforts with a similar approach Monday, Feb. 11. First editors assigned a report on how the city minimum wage hike would hurt the University of New Mexico.
Next, they put it on the front-page with the headline:
“Minimum wage hike hits UNM” and the sub-head, “Higher pay for student jobs may cost university $585K”.
Like Oswald’s, Astrid Galvan’s account was solid, factual. I came away thinking nobody at UNM was shaken by the financial challenge posed by the new minimum wage. But by way of placing it prominently on the front-page under those headlines, the Journal kept the pot boiling.
Or so I surmise. I will, of course, eat my words when the Journal assigns a reporter to hear from employers who believe they benefit from better-paid workers and figure the local economy will, too.
Of course, I would expect to see that content featured prominently on page one.
The same Feb. 11 issue featured a full-page advertisement against a minimum wage hike. First, let’s stipulate it’s an ad, not a story, Op Ed or editorial. Therefore, we cannot read it as an expression of the Journal’s editorial agenda.
Not directly, anyway, and not without reflecting on who bought it (for between $9,000 and $12,000, per my sources) and what it says.
First of the ad’s three sponsors was – well, waddya know – the Employment Policies Institute, the very front group the editors relied upon for their editorial-in-news-clothing on the Santa Fe minimum wage and whose source of funding the editors figure readers don’t need to know.
Next is the Rio Grande Foundation, sired by the CATO Institute, probably the Journal’s favorite source of “free market” theology and whose president once copped to tutoring Tea Party-ers.
Finally, there’s a fascinating signee, the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. Fascinating because while the Chamber represents many low-wage businesses, odds are it has several members with qualms about the ad.
(A professional newspaper would look for a story there. Betcha the Journal doesn’t.)
The ad argues against higher minimum wages with supporting quotes from such respected journalistic organs as KRQE and KOAT television and from economist James Buchanan, a Nobel Laureate.
That’s impressive, though I wish the ad had related his high standing with the CATO Institute (itself a gift from the Koch brothers) and his faculty position at George Mason University (one of the Koch brothers’ favorite beneficiaries).
Of course, the sponsors are responsible, not the Journal, but it’s fair to tie the above to our daily’s passion for ignoring news involving the Kochs, their causes, organizations or the web of far right groups to which they belong.
(No matter that one of them, the American Legislative Exchange Council, lobbies at the Roundhouse.)
Makes you wonder if the Journal itself belongs to that web.
It is also fair to note the newspaper’s idea of economic views worth publishing, namely that there are just two.
One is Pete Domenici’s traditional “trickle down.”
The other is the “libertarian,” faith that individuals unfettered by communal values will, by struggling for survival in a Hobbesian jungle, elicit from the Heavens a gentle, eternal rain of untold riches falling upon the entire populace, glory, glory, hallelujah.
In sum, the Journal’s campaign against raising minimum wages – sometimes blatant (the Santa Fe wage story) and sometimes subtle (the Oswald and Galvan pot boiling entries) – consistently thumbs its nose at professional journalistic practice.
Wait. Hold on. Here come late additions to the Journal’s coverage of the issue, specifically two briefs on the Tuesday, Feb. Business Page:
One, with the lead, “Sadie’s is growing again” reports the local eatery will open in the former Garduno’s space on Academy. It will be Sadie’s fourth location.
The second signals the debut of the first Freddy’s Restaurant in New Mexico, with 60 employees, near Target on Paseo del Norte. The Wichita-born chain plans to open “several” locations here.
Look for an editorial soon condemning Sadie’s and Freddy’s for daring (like Mr. Obama) to contradict the Journal’s conviction that higher minimum wages kill jobs and businesses!
But wait. Here, in today’s issue, Wednesday, Feb. 13, atop the Op Ed page, there’s another anti-minimum wage essay. It’s from Allen Parkman, retired UNM professor of management (and a former Libertarian Party candidate for congress), who makes a serious argument.
Serious, but not necessarily correct, that is. Too bad we cannot evaluate Professor Parkman’s ideas by contrasting them with alternatives.
But as noted above, the newspaper censors what it disfavors, so his Op Ed becomes just another exhibit in my case, to wit:
The Albuquerque Journal isn’t a professional newspaper. It is (an Albuquerque) Journal of Opinion.