Journal Editorials Omit Key Information in Laying Foundation for Positions They Take

July 31st, 2014 · No Comments · Fact Check, journalism, tax policy

By Denise Tessier

Two recent Albuquerque Journal editorials – on why Americans should celebrate the Fourth of July (“Try Asking a Guatemalan”) and one on the nation’s debt – were called out for criticism by JournalWatch colleague Arthur Alpert last week, and caught my attention as well because of their distorted “analysis”. But, sadly, the two are not the only examples of editorials worthy of critique.

The Journal editorial board has consistently squandered opportunities to guide dialogue with its editorial positions and help move the state and nation forward. Instead, its editorials too often offer misguided perspectives that perpetuate misunderstandings. Some examples: the student loan debt editorial that lamely suggested students become more financially savvy, or its railing against the Albuquerque Tea Party’s “travails” with the IRS.

In these cases, the “official positions” offered by the state’s largest newspaper suffer a shortage of credibility because they omit key pieces of information upon which positions are made. A stool needs at least three legs for sturdiness, but Journal editorials consistently tend to shorten a leg (or two) – or omit one altogether — a convenient ploy writers use when their premise would founder if laid with a foundation of all pertinent facts.

The editorial on the nation’s debt – aptly upbraided by Alpert in his post “Distorting the Dialogue on Debt” – is just such an example, railing as it did against the nation’s spending, twice singling out for blame Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as “large benefit programs” and “huge entitlement programs,” only faintly mentioning in passing that cuts could be made “in a smart way” with regard to defense.

The key element given short shrift – that was given a mere seven words in the more than 400-word editorial – was the obligatory but well-hidden allusion to the fact that the U.S. should raise revenue. Among inches of editorial copy on how the nation could cut spending, were these seven words:

It also will require strategic tax increases. (Emphasis added.)

What that sentence failed to convey is what those strategic cuts might be, omitting completely any mention that income could be raised by reining in corporate sheltering of money overseas and by taxing the nation’s wealthiest individuals, the latter of which is supported by most Americans.

A point could be made that the Journal editorial failed, too, to stress how important Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security remain to a huge segment of the U.S. population in terms of their personal health and financial security.

As for the Fourth of July editorial, I would defer to Alpert for his commentary (“Inaccurate and Bigoted Editorial Reflects the ‘Paranoid Style’”), and also refer readers to a pertinent view by New Mexico Mercury publisher Benito Aragon (“The Journal, Guatemalans and American Exceptionalism”).

Rushing to Defense of the Albuquerque Tea Party

The headline on the Journal’s July 20 editorial asked the question: “Why has IRS left local tea party group hanging?

The editorial question was based on the Albuquerque Tea Party’s complaint that after five years it has not received an IRS ruling on its tax-exempt status application (claiming it should be tax exempt because it’s a “social welfare” rather than politically affiliated “party”).

Part of the answer lies with the Journal itself, which has been complicit in the GOP campaign to hobble the IRS, which in turn has left the tea party “hanging”. The Journal has been complicit by printing endless stories about GOP congressional inquiries into the IRS and endorsing those inquiries at every turn. As I posted last month, the IRS reported that more than 250 IRS employees have been working to help congressional investigations, spending nearly $10 million to produce more than 750,000 documents.

That’s one answer to the question of why the IRS is unable to deal with the Albuquerque Tea Party’s request in a timely manner.

And part of the answer lies with the Tea Party itself.

To explain that, I’m going to repeat something that’s been public knowledge at least since May 2013, when I previously posted that:

. . . the Tea Party groups did not need to file applications – they could have just presented themselves as tax-exempt 501(c) 4 nonprofits by filing a 990 Form, according to Doug Shulman, the man who was IRS Commissioner when the applications rolled in from Tea Party and other groups. . . .

From ABC News:

“First of all, I think it’s very important to emphasize that all of these organizations came in voluntarily. They did not need to engage the IRS in a back-and-forth,” Shulman told Congress (last year) when asked about delayed action on applications from conservative groups. “They could have held themselves out, filed a 990, and if we had seen an issue, we would have engaged, but otherwise we wouldn’t.”

So, as I’ve asked before:

Why would all these Tea Party groups take the long way toward tax-exempt status? Were they coached to file applications by some national group? (ALEC perhaps?)

If so, the five-year delay is working for them, giving them an excuse to go to the press with the “five-year delay” story. Naturally, application paperwork from hundreds of new groups would cause a problem for the IRS, which, already understaffed, would be even less likely to act upon (or deny) the deluge of applications it was receiving from groups that call themselves a “Party,” but claim not to be primarily political.

None of this information has made its way into Journal editorials on the subject. The latest editorial, basically a rehash of previous ones against the IRS, was made worse by its inclusion of outright misinformation.

After reiterating that the IRS flagged groups with “tea party,” “patriot” “limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement” in their applications, the Journal editorial flatly stated that:

Groups with a liberal or progressive bent did not receive the same scrutiny.

Both Alpert and I have noted in posts that non-conservative groups were not only targeted, but the only group actually denied the status was a group of Democratic women.

Journal reader Roxanne Allen called the Journal on its error in a letter July 29, citing the Washington Examiner, Aug. 20, 2013, and “several other sources”. From her letter (the second in this Talk of the Town group):

. . .“Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sander Levin of Michigan . . . made public previously redacted IRS training documents showing that agency employees were instructed to screen tax-exemption applications for Democratic-leaning ‘emerge’ organizations alongside ‘progressive’ and conservative ‘Tea Party’ groups.” They were also instructed to watch for “ACORN successor” organizations.

In fact, only one application was denied, and that was for Emerge, a liberal group which trains Democratic women to run for political office.

Allen then said what we at JournalWatch have been saying: that the IRS was doing its job. From her letter:

It is supposed to issue tax-exempt status only to groups whose purpose is charitable or educational, not political. Surely it is reasonable to assume that groups with the term “party” in their name just might be political in nature.

Allen then went even further:

The Albuquerque Tea Party application for tax-exempt status should have received quicker resolution. It should have been denied, as were the applications of Emerge groups.

As for the Journal’s student loan debt editorial, which ran on July 25: that’s a subject worthy of its own post. Look for it tomorrow.

 

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