Leading With Opinion

January 7th, 2014 · 2 Comments · journalism, NM Legislature, state government, tax policy, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

Wow! What a departure! It’s possible it’s happened before, but in all my days and (sob!) I’ve had lots of days, I’ve never seen it.

Editors at the Albuquerque Journal just ran an opinion column in the slot for the lead news story. They did it twice, in fact, just before the dawn of a New Year and just after.

Why?

I wouldn’t quibble with the decision, you see, no matter how unconventional, if the essay contained some big news, the prose was silken or I was moved to laughter or tears.

But read them. I don’t think you’ll find any of that.

So again, how come the editors awarded the most prominent spot on the front page to these pieces?

Well, let’s peruse political editor John Robertson’s UpFront columns Sunday, Dec. 29 and Thursday, Jan. 2.

Robertson devoted his December column to a review of some political events in New Mexico and Albuquerque.

He found something to celebrate at the Roundhouse, where, he wrote, the “annual legislative session ended on a positive note.”

That was legislation that aided TV and film companies operating here and “helped relieve corporate tax burdens.”

He noted Governor Martinez called it a “jobs bill.”

“And just about everyone,” he added, “called the big tax package a significant bipartisan accomplishment.”

His January 2 essay revisited state politics, but also dealt with what happened in Washington, D.C.

This time he found the budget deal in the nation’s capital and the state tax package “hopeful.” As for the state deal, “Democratic legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez called it a compromise and it became known as a ‘jobs bill’ in economically-challenged New Mexico,” he wrote.

Further down, Robertson extolled “compromise,” quoting at length from William Hoagland, Sen. Pete Domenici’s former budget aide, who strongly favors it and bipartisanship, too.

Also, there was much about the plight of Placitas’ wild horses and a bit of frustrated shaking-of-the-head about child abuse, but neither is a likely explanation for what the editors did.

What the columns had in common, of course, was their politics. Robertson has a right to his, of course, and UpFront is an opinion column.

Journalistically speaking, however, both essays were notable for the paucity of skepticism. And Robertson seems to have spaced out the story of Gov. Richardson’s tax cuts, which succeeded only in making New Mexico’s rich-and-corporate more so.

Which brings us back to the editors who decided to run Robertson’s opinions on top of Page One.

Let’s not be coy. They did so to advance the Journal’s political agenda and the ways it disguises reality to advance that agenda.

The Journal endorses cutting taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations to spur economic development and yes, create jobs.

I am tempted here to cite the voluminous evidence against that proposition, but no, that’s not my job. That’s a newspaper’s job and professional newspapers routinely publish lots of opinion, evidence and context to inform readers.

Better papers also go for complexity, distinguishing (for example) between broad tax-cutting and targeted cuts. Probably the Journal’s dedication to simple-minded economic commentary forbids that.

The Journal also extols bipartisanship, which assumes the major political parties are powerful and coherent. What better way to hide the reality that both, in varying degrees, serve corporate America? That the Democrats talk populism but mostly act Establishment and the war between conservatives and the Tea Party is tearing the GOP apart?

The Journal loves compromise, too, particularly when the parties acting reasonably are both tilting to the right.  Compromise isn’t inherently virtuous; it depends on the issue, where the compromisers stand and what’s in the deal.

Conclusion – Journal editors seized the opportunity to move their editorial agenda to the top of Page One in the form of an opinion column from a naïve, veteran newsman.

Journalistically odd? Unlikely? Rule-breaking?

At New Mexico’s largest daily organ of political persuasion, they don’t need no stinkin’ rules.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • John Ingram

    After 10 years of tax cuts, tax breaks, tax credits for out-of-state & in-state corporations, as well as rich New Mexicans ($250K net) — all ballyhooed by present and previous governors & state legislators on the left and right, New Mexico has created only a few jobs —- 1,700 in 2013 alone. These state lawmakers are, therefore, responsible for our state’s stagnate economy. Robertson didn’t write about that, did he? The ABQ Journal wants readers to think that everything is OK. Well, it’s not!

  • Roland

    I don’t blame the Journal’s subscribers for the constant barrage of extreme right-wing political philosophy that spews from the pages of the paper. There’s no other game in town. People love to read a paper for local news, the classifieds, sports, etc. Unfortunately it’s been said that a lie told long enough becomes the truth. Journal subscribers are drowning in a flood of this Koch-Brother’s-tea-party-think. Their only life raft to save them from that flood exists here in the articles of the Journal Watch. Unfortunately, most don’t seek out this succor and drink the koolaid that the Journal is serving. (Forgive the mixed metaphors)

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