Megaphones Ask No Questions

September 24th, 2013 · 3 Comments · journalism

 By Arthur Alpert

 I fight technological progress but lose a lot. In fact, I just shelled out big bucks to transfer a couple of cherished souvenirs of my TV years from videotape to DVD. One, a quasi-documentary I produced for National Educational Television in the late 1960s, explored the idea of journalistic objectivity and found it, er, fictional.

Yet almost 45 years later, the zombie of objectivity still stalks newsrooms, stumbling and lurching and deadening all it touches. In truly horrible cases, objectivity infects reporters with the idea they can and should repress their intelligence, knowledge and feelings, just report “the facts.”

 It’s not news that this contagion rages at the Albuquerque Journal but I must inform you, sadly, it’s claimed another victim, state political editor John Robertson; there can be no other explanation for his “objective” account of the Domenici Public Policy Conference in Las Cruces for the Friday, Sept. 20 Albuquerque Journal (C1 and 2).

Robertson reported conscientiously on what each speaker said and left it there – sans questions, sans biographical detail, sans any context at all.

This time-traveled me back to that long-ago NET program, wherein I interviewed then – NBC anchor David Brinkley.

Any journalist who doesn’t use his or her critical faculties, Brinkley told me, is just a “megaphone” relaying and turning up the volume of what authorities profess.

That’s what Robertson did for the conference’s actors – play the megaphone.

He relayed Gov. Martinez’s touting of her “tax reform,” the Santa Teresa trade hub and education policy and that’s all, folks.

No question for her or background information on, for example, the presumption that lower taxes on business will spur economic development.

He relayed what former Senate majority leader Bill Frist thinks of Obamacare and, again, failed to ask obvious questions.  

Surprisingly, Frist was kind to Obamacare (it was “on the right track”) but complained it didn’t address health care costs. That’s a misstatement, but no matter. Why not ask why Frist was not bitter about the President’s health reform? And  how would he tackle the cost issue?

Robertson next relayed the foreign policy views of former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton with absolutely no background.

An uninfected journalist would, at the minimum, identify John Bolton as a neo-con partly responsible for the Bush administration’s Mideast policies, thereby giving the reader some perspective on Bolton’s sour view of President Obama’s policies.

(Please note I am asking only for the ID, not for what anybody can find instantaneously on the Web, that Bolton eventually condemned the Bush administration’s Mideast policies – too soft – and some Bushies figured he was a wingnut.)

But I get it; megaphones don’t do context or ask questions.

Finally, Robertson relayed what Brig. General Gwen Bingham, White Sands Missile Range commander, said about its mission. He omitted her claim the proposed SunZia transmission line would impair the mission so the editors could turn that angle into a front-page story.

(That’s fine. However, editing 101 requires an advisory near the cover story urging readers to turn to C1 for more from the Domenici conference. Didn’t happen.)

But let’s step back for a moment. What’s the point of the Domenici conference?  The reporter never told us. Who attended, why and on whose dime? Nothing.

Oh, and speaking of coin, how come the reporter didn’t wonder why the Department of the Army, Office of the Surgeon General, “sponsored” the conference, meaning spent my taxes on it. (This information ran, in a tiny font, at the bottom of the Journal’s ads.) 

Whatever the reason for the lack of Q&A and background, this context-free Domenici Public Policy story reads like an advertisement for both conservative politics (the economy and Obamacare) and the space cadet kind (foreign policy).

I doubt this was Robertson’s intent; more likely it was the consequence of his “objectivity.” But given how neatly the story meshed with the newspapers’ political agenda, it’s doubtful tears flowed atop the Journal hierarchy,

Or am I being unfair to Robertson?

This past June 10, I wrote here about a Journal account of Rep. Steve Pearce’s talk before the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce that was similar.  “The story allows Congressman Pearce to expound, fantasize and expound again with no fear of questioning, rebuttal or even context.”

James Monteleone’s byline was atop that report but I gave him a pass, figuring editors skewed the piece to serve Pearce rather than readers.

So if Monteleone was a victim of the editors, why not Robertson?

Because Robertson is an editor, that’s why.

He has no excuse for playing the megaphone. If zombies are the undead, his Domenici story is un-journalism.

Postscript: I cannot remember the Journal giving the megaphone treatment to a 99 Percenter. Can you?

Tags: ··········

3 Comments so far ↓

  • Cheryl Everett

    A poster child for “megaphone-ism” is the Journal’s coverage of Rio Rancho city government and economy. The corporate machine holds the megaphone, so that the Mayor as primary spokesman gets first comment on “news” stories and unlimited opportunity for op-eds. For the first time since I moved here in 2003, we now have an opposition ~ which the Journal at first dismissed as Tea Partiers and finally (having been called out with the fact that only two are Tea Party members) have taken to calling them “the Wilkins/Scott/Clayton voting block” which in real life often splits its votes depending on the issue.

    Again, Arthur, I beg you to take notice of the Journal’s manipulation of “news” and opinion in Rio Rancho (far more egregiously than in ABQ or the state) to favor the political/economic machine and support the latter’s efforts to crush the reformers. It’s not a reporting problem; it’s an editing problem. PLEASE … shine your light on Rio Rancho. Despite the presence of an improved weekly RR Observer, our 90,000 residents deserve better than the Journal’s relentless campaign to keep our City serving the interests of developers, big contractors and “big education.” PLEASE.

  • Cheryl Everett

    An addendum to my previous comment:
    It’s not a reporting problem; Rosalie Rayburn is a good reporter. It’s an editing problem.
    PLEASE … shine your light on Rio Rancho. Despite the presence of an improved weekly RR Observer, our 90,000 residents deserve better than the Journal’s relentless campaign to keep our City serving the interests of developers, big contractors and “big education.” PLEASE.

  • Bill Tiwald

    Thanks Arthur!

Leave a Comment