A Daily Disdain for Journalism

September 20th, 2013 · 2 Comments · energy policy, environment, health care reform, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

“Those were the days” is a great, sad Russian drinking song that’s all about me. At least it is when Mary Hopkin sings, “Oh, my friend, we’re older but no wiser.”

That’s why the Albuquerque Journal editors’ daily disdain for journalism still shocks me. Despite my white hair, I’m sickened. How do they rationalize this anti-journalism, I wonder? Or is it cynicism?

Often however, just before despondency hits, I happen upon an excellent local story or column. I realize, again, that the Journal’s rank-and-file are not co-conspirators in management’s plot against fair play. And I’m comforted.

Both shock and uplift arrived with the Journal’s Tuesday, Sept. 17 issue.

The shock came with the Journal’s editing of an AP story headlined “New study a boost for gas fracking” on the business page, B1. (unavailable in online edition)

The rubric isn’t totally wrong, though it’s more positive than AP’s original, “Study: Methane leaks from gas drilling not huge”. It also seems simplistic after reading the original AP story, which you can do right here.

Look at what the Journal dropped from the original, like this from paragraph two:

“The study, mostly funded by energy interests, doesn’t address other fracking concerns about potential air and water pollution.”

The editors totally excised Robert Howarth’s comments. In AP’s original account, the Cornell University scientist who first raised the methane leak alarm called the results “good news” but cautioned they may represent a “best-case scenario” and speculated the industry can produce gas with very low emissions but “do better when they know they are being carefully watched.”

In trimming the AP piece from 17 graphs to six, editors also erased:

• some experts praised the work for its direct measurements and access but “worried about making broad conclusions from it.”

• the study team looked at about “one-tenth of 1 percent” of all US natural gas wells. This led a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist to worry about rare “high-emitters,” which “can account for a whopping portion of emissions.”

• a UCSB scientist saw a problem in looking at “normal operations” versus “real operations,” which includes big leaks companies will steer scientists away from.

Note that Journal editors chose to run (and bowdlerize) the AP account rather than print a Washington Post report which opened with a tip o’ the old fedora to regulation:

“A new study by the University of Texas at Austin shows that methane emissions from onshore natural gas drilling are much lower than previous estimates, in part because of the effectiveness of techniques required by the Environmental Protection Agency for completing a well and bringing it into production.”

The WP story continued, “But the study released Monday also showed higher leakage rates than expected from valves and control devices used in the production of natural gas.”

And it noted, “Both advocates and opponents in the debate asserted that the study supported their positions,” spokespeople for the American Petroleum Institute and Sierra Club.

Forgive the detail, but I want to scotch any idea the Journal cut for lack of space.

No, it was the traditional Journal identification with the fossil fuel business that produced this fiddling with the news.

Confining advocacy to editorials is so passé.

Of course, what the Journal doesn’t print probably misleads readers more effectively. With regard to energy, the editors effectively ban positive news on alternative sources.

Enough shock. Having worked my way to the front page, I found Win Quigley’s UpFront column and perked right up.

The editors headlined it, “Facts, reason elusive in debate over Obamacare”. That’s not a terrible rubric but careful readers could conclude Quigley’s real subject was untruths propagated, mostly, by plutocratic propagandists.

He sourced them to the Manhattan Institute (“via the Rio Grande Foundation”), Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint and a South Carolina state legislative committee.

Let’s ID them briefly.

• Manhattan Institute has received money from the Koch brothers and Scaife Foundation plus corporations that include Bristol-Myers Squibb, Exxon Mobil, Cigna and Reliant Energy.

• You’re familiar with the Rio Grande Foundation, sponsored by CATO Institute, which the Kochs invented, lost control of and recently recaptured.

• Paul Weyrich birthed the Heritage Foundation with beer baron Joseph Coors. Weyrich also abetted ALEC but he’s most famous for arguing that the wrong Americans should be discouraged from voting. The Olin, Scaife and DeVos foundations and yes, the Koch brothers, have helped Heritage.

• DeMint himself, a Tea Party favorite, recently ticked off right-wing House Republicans by pressuring them to “shut down the government.” (No, the Journal hasn’t reported it.)

• The South Carolina House and Senate have GOP majorities.

I tell you all this because Quigley’s column worries me. Yes, he skirted politics and (even-handedly) rebuked a leftist outfit (Grass-Roots-Press.com), too. But management must know he fired a volley at the very political forces the newspaper so abjectly serves.

It’s true that last time I checked sources told me Journal management values Quigley. This would make sense. His occasional health business reports (impressively reality-based) cannot neutralize the editors’ almost daily political advocacy dressed as healthcare news. And his presence provides the newspaper a fig, perhaps obscuring for dullards the paper’s politicking for the One Percent.

But I’m not sanguine about his future at New Mexico’s largest daily. A journalist, not a co-conspirator, Quigley’s work comforts me; surely it follows that he’ll alienate management some day.

Or maybe – I’m no wiser, after all – that’s being alarmist. Let’s hope so.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Emanuele Corso

    Arthur – your present take on the State Journal reminds of the masthead we once put on my college newspaper’s masthead – “All the news that fits the print.” It was mostly a joke but in the case of the Albuquerque Journal – mostly true and not a joke.

  • Cheryl Everett

    I, too, fear for the fate of Win Quigley, especially if the Journal finds a “name” source, syndicated or simply uninformed, about the business of healthcare. Win is a business-minded conservative (at least compared to me) but I respect his reporting and judgment, and would be horrified if the Journal drops him.

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