Is That All There Is?

October 19th, 2014 · 1 Comment · Congress, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Is that all there is?

Put that sentence in quotes and you have Peggy Lee’s brilliant hit song, a Rorschach of disillusion, sadness and whatever else you read into it, from 1969.

It also expresses perfectly my reaction to the Election 2014 story the Journal ran Friday, Oct. 17 on the Metro page under the headline “Pearce, Lara square off” (print edition) and James Monteleone’s byline.

I did not watch the televised debate between 2nd CD Rep. Steve Pearce (R., NM) and challenger Roxanne “Rocky” Lara or examine a transcript but the account looks to be accurate and balanced.

But, is that all there is?

The story told us what the candidates said, but lacked context. It was a pure “he said, she said” exercise. The journalist offered no help whatsoever to the reader wondering what was true, what the candidates fudged or if one or both delivered a whopper.

I recognized several places where a reporter could raise questions what a candidate said, but it didn’t happen.

This was, in other words, a perfectly objective report. Objective, meaning “here’s what we observed happened. After that, you are on your own. I’m off to the nearest bar.”

Have we learned nothing since Feb. 9, 1950, when Sen. Joe McCarthy claimed in a speech that he had a list of 205 (or maybe, 57) Communists in the State Department?

That was the objective fact. He did make the speech and wave a paper. At which point reporters and editors dutifully relayed the “news” to the nation without asking if it was true, thereby supersizing an issue and empowering a bum.

Since then, journalists have used the McCarthy episode to learn and change but on the evidence of the Pearce-Lara story, the Albuquerque Journal hasn’t.

Quickly, let me stipulate here that I don’t blame Monteleone, who is a more than capable reporter. This may not have been his work; perhaps editors trimmed it into something unrecognizable. I do not know if that was the case, but I wrote back on June 10, 2013 about what looked like editor malpractice when Monteleone covered a speech by the very same Rep. Pearce.

Also, there are hints that one of the Journal’s political editors handled this Election 2014 piece. First, under a Pearce headshot, he or she wrote, “”working to boost job growth.” Those are my quotes. The editor dispensed with quotes, thereby endorsing Mr. Pearce’s claim.

Secondly, under Ms. Lara’s headshot the editor wrote, “supports ACA changes to Medicare.” That referenced her answer to Mr. Pearce’s charge that Obamacare cut Medicare. In fact, it cut bonus payments to insurance companies in the Medicare business, not exactly the same thing.

Of course, it’s also quite possible Monteleone has given up trying to do more than stenography. Or that he was tired or out of sorts that day. Again, I don’t know.

What’s certain however is that this story told us only what Pearce and Lara said.

That’s hardly what journalism owes us – but as Peggy Lee told us, sadly and without illusions – that’s all there was.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Roland

    Now that we are gearing up for another election cycle, the ABQ Journal is resorting to its usual repertoire of deceptive tricks. As you point out, one of their tricks is the use of misleading bylines beneath headshots. Earlier examples (back when I still subscribed to the Journal) were in 2009 when Pres. Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize was reported by the Journal with this derisive caption – “won’t do him any good!” The Journal also published a very tiny report on the Downing Street memo (which was very damning of the Bush administration because it documented that they were looking for excuses to invade Iraq). In the middle of that miniscule report, the Journal editors inserted a photo of Bush with this caption: “Bush: military intervention just one of many options.” That caption distorted the entire thrust of the Downing Street memo. Most readers likely just skimmed over the report and read only the by-line.

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