Questionable Balance

April 14th, 2015 · 1 Comment · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

As a sophisticated consumer of journalism, you know the dangers involved when news people or institutions seek balance. Most obviously, it implies there are two sides to a story. If only the world were that simple.

And then there’s the problem of deciding what you want to balance. Years ago, when I did TV news, we joked about producing a documentary on air pollution that would be objective and balanced. We’d devote the first half to how dirty air harms living things, then use the second to show it cleaning the lungs.

You also have noticed how infrequently the Albuquerque Journal attempts balance; generally, it ignores (or covers minimally) state efforts to limit voting, the vast growth of income and wealth inequality, how the tax system aids and abets that, climate change, corporate welfare, big (and anonymous) money in politics and demonization of the poor.

And that’s just in the news columns.

So when the Journal does seek balance, I pay attention, alert for a journalistic lesson.

The editors did just that Monday, April 13, in a front-page story on Hillary Clinton’s official declaration that she wants to be the Democratic nominee for President.

Specifically, they sought and published the views of the State GOP chair. And she – oh, what a surprise – didn’t approve of Hillary. And they put her comments in the second deck of the headline.

Unbelievable. Why in the world would a newspaper do that?

Pursuing a GOP partisan to comment on Clinton’s virtues is as useful as dispatching a reporter to find out if the sun still rises in the East.

Which is why a real newspaper wouldn’t do it.

The Establishment conservative Washington Post ran the Clinton story with lots of detail, background and analysis – not all of it flattering –but no comment from political enemies.

The Establishment liberal NY Times account, similarly long on detail, background and analysis, included a professional comment from a former Mitt Romney adviser on Mrs. Clinton’s campaign tactics, not her iniquity.

So why did the Journal do it?

I don’t know, but it may have something to do with why the editors improperly headlined a solid story by Dan Boyd (cast as an UpFront column for some reason) on Gov. Martinez’s veto record.

Boyd reported the Governor’s use of her veto power is on the decline, though she is “hardly shy” about exercising it. Yet the editor wrote, “Gov.’s veto pen has not lost its point”.

Clever, kind to the Governor and not what Boyd reported.

And the Journal’s decision to balance the Hillary piece as it did may have something to do with why it ran an AP piece on A3 headlined “Obama efforts face hard sell”.

First, the editors wrote as a subhead, “With Iran, and now Cuba, he must convince Congress”.

No, that’s not true. As even George Will opined the other day, he doesn’t have to convince the Congress, though many Republicans and a few Democrats think he should get their OK.

And inside the story, reporter Jim Kuhnhenn wrote:

“Pro-Israel Americans cannot fathom a deal with an Iran that will not recognize Israel’s existence.”

That’s broadly inaccurate. Kuhnhenn is picking up a Netanyahu tactic, turning it into a view and attributing it to “pro-Israel Americans.” But he doesn’t speak for them.

The editors also cut a lot of Kuhnhenn’s story, leaving out much that substantiates Obama’s reading of public opinion regarding diplomatic ties with Cuba. Maybe space was tight.

But enough.

I still don’t know why the Journal does what it does. Why rediscover balance in time to have a local politician bash Hillary Clinton? Why conjure a pro-Governor Martinez headline over a story that is neither pro nor con? Why that inaccurate rubric over Kuhnhenn’s piece? And why retain his misstatement while editing out what Obama has going for him on Cuba?

I’d like to think they don’t know what they’re doing.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Diane Denish

    The Hillary story was full of what Might be called unconscious bias by McKay or perhaps conscious bias by the Journal, not balance. Two men commenting positively and a woman commenting negatively is not balance of any kind. Ed
    Romero is a Bill Clinton buddy and Sam
    Bregman is outgoing chair of party. What about the woman running for Party chair or current elected women who have already endorsed Hillary? Or maybe yours truly, who helped her win the 2008 caucus? Lazy or just clueless.

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