Old-fashioned Virtues, Anti-Journalism and Net Neutrality

November 16th, 2014 · 3 Comments · health care reform, journalism, net neutrality, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

I wanted today to evaluate the Albuquerque Journal’s political coverage leading up to Nov. 4 – hint, it ranged downward from mediocre – and I will get to it soon. But columns by Winthrop Quigley and D’Val Westphal intervened, reminding me of an old suggestion by my colleague, Denise Tessier and, well, I’ve changed course.

If memory serves, she wondered why the Journal doesn’t replace some syndicated columns (and Op Ed essays from covert sources) with the work of staff writers, publishing them not on Page One but on the editorial and Op Ed pages, as local newspapers traditionally do.

(I’ve just read her Feb. 24, 2010 post and yes, memory did serve but she said a lot more and said it better.)

We’ll get back to Denise’s point but first, the columns I cited above:

In his UpFront column headlined “Opposition to the Affordable Care Act is often ironic”, Quigley gently put down those opponents of Obamacare who cry “Socialism” when the reality is the ACA recruits “new customers for the for-profit insurance industry.”

That was Thursday, Nov. 13. I’m writing Friday and the top story is Westphal’s continuing UpFront inquiry into the facts on testing in the state’s public schools. Facts, that is, as opposed to broad generalizations or wild assertions.

This is not about agreeing with Quigley or Westphal. I don’t always. Quigley seems to side with business rather than the nation when their interests clash. And while Westphal’s decision to ask teachers what goes on in classrooms is as impressive as it is rare these days, I’m wary of how she will link and interpret what she finds given Journal management’s record on improving schools.

What matters, however, is that both essayists are serious journalists who are allowed by Journal management to stray from the party line.

Of course that party line – or rather, management’s use of it in deciding what is “news” and in structuring the opinion pages – is destructive of journalism.

Consider the story the Journal ran on President Obama’s views on net neutrality Tuesday, Nov. 11, on A8, and today’s editorial on the subject.

The story, from Anne Flaherty of the Associated Press, opened this way:

“President Barack Obama on Monday embraced a radical change in how the government treats Internet service, coming down on the side of consumer activists who fear slower download speeds and higher costs but angering Republicans and the nation’s cable giants who say the plan would kill jobs.”

What an incompetent lead! If I wanted to waste a big chunk of my old age, I could write a book on what’s wrong with it. Briefly, though:

Radical change is the last thing the President’s defense of net neutrality is. In fact, Flaherty herself notes further down that the Net grew under an unwritten “net neutrality” system. Duh!

It came into question only when the FCC decided to formalize it in 2010 and a federal appeals court said “no,” not on the merits but because the agency overstepped its authority. The decision is less than a year old. How do I know that? Because Flaherty reports it in paragraph eight.

Duh squared!

Mind you, net neutrality could be considered radical in the original sense of the word, meaning going to the root, but that’s an uncommon usage and Flaherty gives no hint she’s using the word that way.

Moving right along, she says the President sided with “consumer activists.” In fact, he took up the cudgels for almost everybody who uses modems and is aware of the threats to net neutrality.

He sided with the Web-literate citizenry, in other words.

Oh, and it angered “cable giants.” True. But as she noted in paragraph six, content providers applauded. So this isn’t the President and the citizenry vs. business. It is the President and citizenry and some pretty big businesses (like Netflix) versus a handful of powerful gatekeeping behemoths.

Given that she supplies information in her story that contradicts her lead, I doubt Flaherty belongs on the list of AP Washington “reporters” who intend to editorialize. She’s just confused.

Not so the Journal; editors chose that Flaherty piece rather than several other stories available from the AP and the Washington Post, all of which did grasp the story.

Here, for example, is a Washington Post interpretative piece that ran Nov. 10 under the rubric:

Why net neutrality is a political winner for Barack Obama”.

“Given a chance to position himself on the side of freedom, tech firms and popular opinion against cable companies and government bureaucracy,” wrote Philip Bump, “Barack Obama made one of the less difficult choices of his presidency on Monday. His administration unveiled comprehensive support for “net neutrality.”

Of course, I wouldn’t expect the Albuquerque Journal to publish anything as sophisticated or so soft on Mr. Obama. No, when I saw the Flaherty account I guessed what management was up to.

It was up to today’s editorial. Looked at charitably, this was a mare’s nest of confusion. Or – because reading the Journal closely has made me harder – it was the Journal obfuscating, again, to serve its political comrades in arms. I suspect the latter. For this is the pattern – skew “news decisions” to fit with a political agenda, reinforce the agenda in slews of Right-leaning syndicated columns and in Right-leaning Op Eds (often from unidentified Koch network sources) and state them again in editorials.

Behold, the daily’s oligarchic narrative!

It’s all the more reason to appreciate Quigley, Westphal and other local columnists. Even if their old-fashioned virtues don’t atone for the Journal’s anti-journalism, they do, as Denise suggested, make a local newspaper local.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • F. Chris Garcia

    Speaking of “neutrality,” does anyone recall when the AP was a neutral news gathering service instead of its providing conservative opinion pieces?

  • Arthur Alpert

    It is Monday, Nov. 17 and Journal editors today published another Anne Flaherty piece on “net neutrality.” This fact-filled Q&A is imperfect but a great improvement over the story I blasted in the post above if only because there’s no weird lead paragraph.
    Good for her. And good for the editors who decided to run it.
    Arthur Alpert

  • Bill Tiwald

    Chris, The AP is a conservative corporate republicon news organization. That’s why the Journal uses them all the time.

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