By Arthur Alpert
How ridiculous is journalistic balance? Well, back in my TV days, we would conjure up a documentary on air pollution; the first half would explain scientifically how it poisons living things while the other 50 percent argued that dirty air is good for us.
Hey, it was perfectly balanced.
Balance has lots of problems, of course. Probably its worst is the “two sides to every story” fallacy, which imposes a simplistic moral framework on complex reality.
But when the editors of the Albuquerque Journal resort to pro-and-con on the Op Ed pages, as they have twice recently, it’s as welcome as monsoon rains in a drought. In a newspaper dedicated to advocating one side of most issues, two sides is progress, right?
Well, it is. Kinda.
Consider the dueling views on “Common Core Education Standards” published Wednesday, August 14.
One is by a “research fellow in education at the American Enterprise Institute.” (You shall know the AEI by current or former intellectual luminaries – John Bolton, Lynne Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Paul Wolfowitz, Michael Novak and Richard Perle.)
The opposing view comes from the presidents of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.
Both opinions appear to be cogent. They emerge, however, from a tiny (albeit powerful) slice of American society. It’s a debate on education within Corporate America.
The Journal did better with its pro-and-con essays on the topic, “Government Stimulus Spending” Monday, August 14, when Nick Estes, formerly with New Mexico Voices for Children, squared off against, Paul J. Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation.
This pairing was notable, too, for the Journal’s decision to choose a “libertarian” standard-bearer for the Right, skipping over a traditional conservative.
(Sometimes the Journal rides the old pro-corporate horse, sometimes it saddles the new pro-corporate horse and sometimes it straddles both.)
But what jumped out at me was the unusual chance to read a pro-spending, Keynesian analysis; Estes’ thinking is common in economic journalism, but very rare in the state’s largest daily.
Or so I thought, but what if I was wrong? I decided to check.
For the moment, I’d skip the editorial page, dominated by Robert Samuelson’s traditional Establishment economics and George Will’s laissez-faire. Later.
Since the Op Ed page has carried dissenters, I set out to count how many. Easier said than done. The Journal website doesn’t distinguish clearly between essays and other citations. I also emailed a few authors.
Of the non-rightists, Estes himself estimated he’s written a total of five or six columns for the Journal; Kelly O’Donnell figured it was four or five and Gerry Bradley, three or four “a year.” (The Journal website doesn’t list that many, but reporters quote him a lot in their stories.)
As for Gessing, the website estimates he’s written 85, but that includes letters and other mentions. Via email, Gessing referred me to the Rio Grande Foundation site. I began scrolling through its “substantial archive” of published works, but found the task arduous.
On July 28, 2012, however, Thomas Cole’s UpFront column estimated, “Authors associated with the [Rio Grande] foundation are frequent contributors to the opinion pages of the Journal, with more than 80 articles appearing since 2001. ”
Accepting his number, which likely included columns by Gessing comrades-in-arms like Micha Gisser, Kenneth Brown, Thomas Molitor and Dr. Deane Waldman, I propose we add, say, 15, to represent their total output since Cole wrote.
That gives us the nice round number of 100.
The editors also run, infrequently, Op Ed essays from the One Percent’s “think tanks” – Heritage, CATO, Manhattan and Heartland. So let’s call it 100+.
From this I derive the following very rough score:
Right-wing 100 +
Not right-wing 20.
Only five-to-one? This struck me as too small an advantage for the Right.
And on second thought, it is, for the calculation leaves out the Journal’s very favorite economist, Robert Samuelson, who resides on the editorial page.
The Journal website suggests the daily has carried 5,300 of his columns. That’s likely an exaggeration, but since he’s been pounding them out at the Washington Post since 1977, the number surely is in the thousands.
I want to deal with Samuelson at length, not just for the number of his contributions to the Journal’s narrative but because his presumably innocent misunderstanding of reality really matters.
This post being too long already, I’ll return to Samuelson next time. You may prepare, though, by refreshing your memory of some folklore, specifically, the adventures of Henny Penny, AKA Chicken Little.