An Inquiry into The Absence of Fact-Checking at The Journal

August 21st, 2014 · 4 Comments · energy policy, Fact Check, journalism, tax policy

By Arthur Alpert

In a July 21 post hypothesizing that a True Believer or two in the Albuquerque Journal hierarchy may explain the newspaper’s egregious faults, I noted that the editors do not fact-check the columns they run on the editorial and Op Ed pages.

Today let’s consider why.

It could be ignorance; what management doesn’t know about journalism is impressive. Perhaps, the editing staff is thin. I would like to believe it’s ignorance or penury but sadly, there’s evidence it’s deliberate. The Journal publishes lots of essays to promote its editorial agenda and what’s the point of questioning a partner in advocacy?

Take, for example, the Cal Thomas syndicated column that ran August 6 under the rubric, “UK, Kansas reaping benefits from cutting taxes”.

I choose this piece from among legions because it’s a near-perfect misstatement of reality. Is it a lie? I cannot get into Mr. Thomas head; let’s just say he has a good grasp on an alternative reality that jibes 100 percent with the agenda of the One Percent.

But let’s appreciate his work in detail.

Writing from Stratford on Avon, he begins by quoting Shakespeare’s Polonius, whose advice to his son, Laertes, includes, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

This, Thomas writes, “may be the best counsel ever offered for individuals and governments.”

Well, there goes the auto business. Oh, and houses.

No, seriously, Thomas doesn’t explain how the colonies would have become the USA if they hadn’t borrowed to fight George III. Not to mention how modern economies work, but hey, why carp?

It’s a statement of faith, after all, not knowledge. And believe me, he will perpetrate worse later in the column.

First, Thomas crows about the recovery of the British economy, a result of the Conservative Party’s austerity program, he figures.

Let’s pause here to insert a minor point Thomas omits, that the UK’s imposition of austerity plunged the economy deeper into a hole. Don’t believe me; check out John Cassidy at the New Yorker Dec. 5, 2013:

“Big cuts in government spending and higher taxes—a return to pre-Keynesian policies watched closely the world over, failed abysmally. Imposed at a time when the U.K.’s economy was recovering from the financial crisis of 2008-09, it …produced a dearth of public sector and private sector investment that will hobble Britain for years to come. It even failed to meet its own targets of drastically reducing the budget deficit and bringing down Britain’s over-all debt burden.”

Oh, and at the risk of revealing Thomas picking cherries, let’s insert another detail – the UK economy began to recover when the British government eased its austerity (budget-balancing, etcetera) and began to stimulate business activity.

As Paul Krugman saw it in a Dec. 18, 2013 blog post, British “austerians” finally grasped the wisdom of the Three Stooges. “Curley is seen banging his head against the wall; when Moe asks, why, he replies, “Because it feels so good when I stop.”

“Cameron/Osborne imposed a lot of austerity in their first two years, then let up substantially,” wrote Krugman. “In effect, they spent a while banging Britain’s head against the wall, and are now claiming vindication, because it feels good when they stop.”

But Thomas outdoes himself in the next few paragraphs, suggesting that Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R-Kansas) economic program, “which many Democrats and some newspaper editorials have criticized,” is on the right track.

Here comes real insight into Mr. Thomas’s, er, journalism. Reread the clause I just quoted in the last sentence. Got it? Good. Because Republican Gov. Brownback’s severe tax cuts produced big criticism from – wait for it – Kansas Republicans!

Per an Associated Press story July 15, 2014, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis received endorsements from more than 100 “moderate Republicans who’ve split with conservative GOP Gov. Sam Brownback over education and tax policy.

“They formed Republicans for Kansas Values because of their concerns about the aggressive personal income tax cuts enacted at Brownback’s urging. They called the reductions a reckless fiscal experiment and suggested Brownback’s administration has been hostile to public education.”

Funny Thomas missed that.

To summarize, Thomas writes that Britain’s economy is on an upswing thanks to austerity when much expert opinion says austerity prolonged the downturn. Thomas then opines that Kansas is “on the right track” despite a rebellion from “moderate” Republicans (They would be “conservative” Republicans, of course if journalists wrote English.)

This column, the Journal published unedited.

And it’s just one of a horde. The editors just published the latest far-right ideological pronouncement from retired economist Misha Gisser (Business Outlook, Aug. 18), also presumably unedited. And they routinely publish a long list of rightist essayists preaching rightist economics.

Which is not say that the Journal will not print a leftist view. Former Senator Pete Domenici’s Aug. 18 essay underlined how the federal government developed fracking technology.

Socialism for oil and gas!

Okay, I kid. But not a lot, because Domenici’s traditional pro-business conservatism – which insists on government’s major role spurring business – is as leftward as the Journal goes.

But let’s circle around to the beginning – Cal Thomas’s column ran without fact checking; nobody questioned his statements of faith, his cherry-picked information and blindness to what contradicted the premise.

Because, I guess, the Journal is in the advocacy business, not journalism.

It’s no big surprise. “The common curse of mankind,” said the Bard of Avon, is “folly and ignorance.”

Except, silly me, I thought newspapers were supposed to combat, not photocopy them.

Tags: ····

4 Comments so far ↓

  • Roland

    It’s pretty clear that the ABQ Journal’s prime editorial mission is advocacy for Republican agendas rather than promoting critical thinking about important issues. The editors have been cherry-picking columns by Cal Thomas, Charles Krauthammer and the Rio Grande Foundation for several years. These columns are predictable blasts of bias, cloaked around their own cherry-picked factoids. Back in my university days there was an implicit respect for the primacy of empirical data subjected to critical thinking, rather than mere subjective opinion. Since then, there has been a growing disrespect for empiricism. We hear platitudes like “don’t tell me what the facts are, it is easy to lie with statistics, reality is subjective, I know which facts I want to believe.” We are reaping the winds of post-modernism which have blown away the principles of critical thinking and comparative analysis that we once held dear. Models in the academic disciplines, such as Keynesian economics, fossil evidence for biological evolution, data showing the onset of global warming, all are cavalierly dismissed as “academic bias.”

  • Sharon Kayne

    Thanks for taking apart that Thomas column. It annoyed me no end! It came directly from the FOX school of thought: “if we repeat it enough it must be true.”

  • Bill Tiwald

    Cal Thomas is a goof. I’m reading Thomas Pikkety’s “Capital In the 21st Century”. Inequality is going to ruin the economy for everybody including the super rich.

  • Arthur Alpert

    Roland, thanks for reminding me of Pat Moynihan’s (sadly outdated) idea that we’re “not entitled to our own facts.”
    Sharon, thanks for the comment. I could abide Thomas’ statements of faith if the Journal included them within a spectrum of views, including some from authors who “know” less and inquire more.
    As for you Bill, reading books to further educate yourself is suspicious. It suggests openness, doubt and other habits of mind often associated with caring for fellow humans. You’d never cut it as a Journal syndicated columnist.
    Arthur Alpert

Leave a Comment