A Revealing Prism

March 4th, 2013 · 2 Comments · economy, financial coverage, journalism, labor, role of government, tax policy

By Arthur Alpert

The Albuquerque Journal’s editorials on national issues are educational.

• They reveal management’s political stance.

• They identify the prism through which management views news.

• They augur which stories, opinions and ideas the newspaper will publish and which will earn token appearances or none at all.

Case in point – the lead editorial Saturday, Feb. 23, headlined “This time, get serious about Simpson-Bowles”.

Politically, the editorial is additional evidence Journal management is inching back from laissez-faire and social authoritarianism to re-embrace the traditional pro-big business conservatism we New Mexicans associate with former Senator (and ex-Saint) Pete Domenici.

That’s clear because the editorial backs Simpson- Bowles proposals free marketer Paul Ryan couldn’t stomach.

As for the prism, the editorial announces the Journal will continue to frame issues in a party context.

No matter that political parties are weak, rarely actors, mostly acted upon, almost as subservient to TV, radio and the Web as they are to corporate dollars.

This is not to say the Journal’s decision to cast everything in a partisan light is stupid. If its purpose is to excuse the newspaper from reporting on the real world, which is likely, it may serve well.

First, if every issue is a matter of party, the Journal can continue to ignore deeper structures, including class and hierarchy. It can pretend radical individualism isn’t attacking American communal traditions. And that redistributing wealth upwards for 40 years hasn’t undermined democracy.

(To be fair, the editors pay attention to wealth distribution, having taken up cudgels against minimum wage workers who would wield their enormous political brawn to redistribute some dollars downward  – the brutes.)

Secondly, the Democratic/Republican prism allows management to ignore (or minimize) not only both parties’ dependence on corporate dollars but the TLC the donors get in return.

Thirdly, the newspaper exempts those donors from scrutiny. There’s no story there, in the web of  “institutes” and “think tanks” whose “independent” research produces conclusions that synch perfectly with the convictions of their rich and corporate donors.

Must be an invisible hand at work.

One such conviction is we must debase those who occupy the hierarchy’s middle or lowest rungs, including labor, organized and not, to rectify economic troubles.

In a beautiful irony, the Journal often disrespects those guilty parties (e.g., teachers, cops, firemen, school aides, greedy geezers, restaurant and hotel employees) by way of Op Ed essays supplied by the very plutocratic fronts the Journal won’t report on!

Returning to the editorial, note how the editors’ decision to view the world primarily in partisan terms is reflected in its emphasis on the party affiliations of (Democrat) Erskine Bowles and (Republican) Alan Simpson, who are praised for their “sensible blueprint to reduce the national debt.”

As if bipartisanship guarantees sense or virtue. Vietnam, anybody? Iraq? The great success of those Wall Street statesmen George W. Bush and Barack Obama relied upon?

Speaking of the Street, the editorial said Erskine Bowles served President Clinton, but not that he came from Wall Street (Morgan Stanley), subsequently owned an investment bank and sits today on the boards of GM, Morgan Stanley, Norfolk Southern and North Carolina Mutual Life.

That’s beside the point, right, if political party is what matters. However, a reader aware of that information might wonder if banker Bowles and well-born ex-Senator Alan Simpson had any differences to reconcile.

A skeptic might even question the sense of their consensus – tell me again why, because Wall Street pulled down the Temple, we must punish the middle and lower classes?

Further, to extol the wisdom of Bowles and Simpson, the Journal relied on tacit understandings. As if it were so obviously true that no discussion is required, the newspaper assumes that reducing deficits is a priority and urgent.

Management’s right to its opinion is absolute, of course, but there’s a problem – our daily’s editorial agenda drives its news coverage.

Which explains why the Journal has conjured an eclipse. It’s pushed the “sky is falling” theory of the deficit and it’s relayed the Administration’s “Yes, but ” line. However, it’s blacked out a third, contrarian view – that the deficit is neither a priority nor that urgent and, further, that reducing it promptly would be positively harmful, economic masochism.

Though that makes sense to me, the Journal doesn’t have to agree; all it need do is decouple its editorial agenda from the news operation.

In plain English, views that management dislikes deserve a fair shake.

A radical concept, I know, but professional newspaper editors do it routinely. It signals they’re engaged in – darn, what’s the word, oh, yes – journalism.

Interestingly, this contrary premise, that cutting government spending now will damage the recovery, is mainstream.

True, Hard Right and Establishment figures (Republican and Democratic) agree immediate fiscal austerity and budget balancing are proper responses to an economic crisis sparked by Wall Street and enabled by captured regulators.

But some very Establishment types dissent.

The very personification of the Establishment, Federal Reserve chief (and Republican) Ben Bernanke, just told the Congress “the Beltway obsession with deficit is a terrible mistake.”

That, in any case was Paul Krugman’s translation of Bernanke’s fedspeak in a March 1 N.Y. Times column.

Incidentally, Nobelists Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz and hundreds of Plain Jane economists agree on that point, something the Journal won’t tell you. (Though Winthrop Quigley just might.)

Getting back to Bernanke, he suggested we are spending too little, not too much; that in the short-term budget cuts will slow the recovery and, by doing so, ultimately produce less deficit reduction.

If you knew that, you learned it elsewhere; the Albuquerque Journal found the testimony uninteresting.

(Our daily did, however, carry a George Will screed Feb. 28, which blamed Bernanke and the Fed for much of the worlds’ evil – confirmation, if needed, that Will’s no longer a conservative.)

To recap, Journal editorials reveal management’s political stance, the prism through which it sees the world and its own agenda.

Sadly, they – not conscientious public interest judgments – determine what the newspaper publishes as  “news.”

Because that defies contemporary journalistic standards, I find it obnoxious, but I suspect William Randolph Hearst and the Communist Party USA (owners of the Daily Worker, deceased) would applaud.

What’s the point of owning a newspaper, they’d have asked, if you have to be fair?

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Mark Ropel

    I’d just like to hear about how those two, Simpson- Bowles, receive money from the Peter G. Peterson foundations, and how that agenda is out to destroy Soc Sec and Medicare. Perhaps the Vets would like to hear what Mr. Simpson has said about them too. While all three of these, a billionaire and two millionaires have called SS “An entitlement” we all have pay stubs that say,differently. Licking the boots of billionaires, figuratively, is not journalism..

  • Cheryl Everett

    Devastatingly accurate. I thank the gods that during my formative years the streets were filled with marchers chanting “We shall overcome.” I still believe that, and channel my energies toward that end every day. Thanks to the Journal Watch for providing Albuquerque with real journalism.

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