False Equivalency Shifts Into High Gear

October 11th, 2013 · 1 Comment · economy, health care reform, journalism, role of government, tax policy, Washington

By Arthur Alpert

I must break the habit of understatement.

In that last post, I mean, where I wrote the Albuquerque Journal was guilty of false equivalence and worse, in playing the shutdown story as a partisan divide where the parties are almost equally to blame and solutions lie in negotiations aimed at meeting in the middle, I was whispering.

I should have shouted.

True, I did point out the editors were using collaborators in the Associated Press Washington Bureau (David Espo, Oct. 1 and Charles Babington and Stephen Ohlemacher, Oct. 6) to paint a false picture of the shutdown.

The three get away with skewing their “news” stories thanks to a weird AP Washington bureau policy.

So it was no surprise the trio characterized the impasse as a Democratic-Republican tussle. Their work lacked only a few minor details  – like the role of the House’s radical Tea Party Republicans, their ongoing struggle with the GOP’s conservative Old Guard and the dismay expressed by Republicans on Wall Street and in corporate suites nationwide, as well as some Main Street merchants, at the House Republican strategy.

I sympathize. If you’re a propagandist, where is the fun in reporting there’s an impasse that could blow the economy to smithereens because two hands-full of House Republicans plus a Senator or two, insist?

Problem is that when I wrote the Journal campaign was only in second gear.  Who knew it would shift into high Wednesday the 9th?

To understand how let’s look first at how the NY. Times covered President Obama’s news conference Oct. 8.

The Times’ headline:

Lift ‘Threats, Obama Insists, Spurning Talks”.

Times reporters Jackie Calmes and Ashley Parker opened:

“President Obama intensified his pressure on House Republicans on Tuesday, calling on them to ‘lift these threats from our families and our businesses’ as the federal government remained shuttered into a second week and the possibility that the United States would default on its debts grew closer.”

Afterward, the reporters quoted Speaker Boehner and others who disagreed with Mr. Obama.

Got that? Now to the Albuquerque Journal’s approach.

Editors chose an account from Mr. Espo, again, and ran it on A6 (not in online edition) under this rubric:

“Little substance in hints of compromise”, with the sub-head, “Obama, Boehner trade rhetoric”.

Espo led this way:

“President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner offered hints of possible compromise but also traded heated rhetoric Tuesday, a frustratingly inconclusive combination that left the eight-day partial government shutdown firmly in place and the threat of an unprecedented national default drawing closer.”

He opened his second graph quoting Boehner, ”There’s a crack there.”


Espo neatly erased any idea the President was exerting pressure, which would suggest he has the upper hand. He neatly brought the President of the United States down to Speaker Boehner’s level. And neatly (maybe) withheld the fact Mr. Obama held a press conference.

Of course, that neatness (and those minor, missing details) served a fundamental political agenda – to portray the budget impasse as between the Democratic President and Republican Speaker. And the Journal published it.

But wait. I’ve just found Espo’s original story on the AP site. It’s 13 paragraphs longer than what ran in the Journal and- guess what- he gets around to a minor detail near the bottom:

“The shutdown began more than a week ago after Obama and Senate Democrats rejected Republican demands to defund “Obamacare,” then to delay it, and finally to force a one-year delay in the requirement for individuals to purchase health care coverage or face a financial penalty.

“It was not a course Boehner and the leadership had recommended — preferring a less confrontational approach and hoping to defer a showdown for the debt limit. Their hand was forced by a strategy advanced by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and tea party-aligned House members determined to eradicate the health care law before it fully took root.

“That portion of the strategy was doomed to failure, since money for the health care program was never cut off.”

That’s a kind description of the GOP intra-party struggle and not very useful to readers, but hey, he mentioned it.

And Journal editors cut it.

So there you have it, more evidence Journal management knows exactly what it’s doing and that what they’re doing has little to do with journalism.

Loud and clear?

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Drew

    Thank you, for pointing out the selective nature of the editing the Journal puts forward.

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