Journal Lets Focus of Coverage Be Led by GOP

July 9th, 2015 · 3 Comments · climate change, energy policy, environment, labor, regulation, role of government, Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

“Outside groups wrote sick leave bill” was the headline on the front page of the Albuquerque Journal Wednesday (July 8). Now, that’s a shocker.

I’m sorry to say I’m resorting to sarcasm here. The Journal, which has yet to acknowledge – let alone publish anything of substance about the influence a truly “outside” group like the American Legislative Exchange Council has in writing New Mexico policy – found front-page importance in a report that the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, with help from two other local groups, helped write the Fair Workweek Act introduced by two Albuquerque City councilors last month.

You see, it is not a shocker that councilors, legislators and others rely to a great extent on groups that have expertise (and often, an agenda) regarding certain issues. It’s not a shocker that groups share that expertise, usually in the form of white papers disseminated to policy makers. It’s not a shocker that those policy makers then come up with rules, regulations and legislation on all kinds of topics — from impact fees to abortion restrictions.

Often, those white papers are spun off into opinion columns that regularly run on the Op-Ed pages of newspapers like the Albuquerque Journal, further buttressing the validity of the legislation/rules being proposed.

In the case of ALEC, legislators (usually freshmen) are given actual templates of bills that are so detailed all the legislator has to do is change the name of the state in the legislation’s title.

But the Journal doesn’t usually write, let alone publish front-page articles about those groups, some of which, like ALEC, have received pretty damning coverage elsewhere.

But this week, the Journal found this case “unusual” enough to put a story about the role of “outside groups” on the front page. Why?

Because the state Republican Party issued a press release saying it was being done.

And (cue the ominous music here) it was done by Democratic councilors.

This is not to criticize reporter Dan McKay for writing up the story. In reporting on the GOP press release, he was in fact shedding light on the fact that the state Republican Party was publicly crying foul.

That the GOP was the source of the outcry was included in what journalists call the “lower deck” of the headline in the print edition of the story: “Outside groups wrote sick leave bill; Republicans raise authorship question.”

But the Journal’s editors thought this particular use of outside expertise worthy of the front page, giving the story the Journal’s typical sinister-by-insinuation punch.

It should have run on the Metro Page or, because it affects business, the Business page.

That’s where the Journal on July 2 ran an unrelated story about a protest staged by environmentalists at a New Mexico Business Coalition-hosted energy summit. It’s unrelated to the City Council story in terms of subject matter, but I mention it here because it was a story whose coverage initially took me by the surprise as the Journal has consistently ignored protests by environmentalists (most recently, for example, it ignored the protest in Tiguex Park against Monsanto).

It is related to this post, however, because the reason the Journal covered the Business Coalition protest was that “environmental protests” was an actual topic on the Business Coalition’s agenda. The Journal was forced to acknowledge the protests going on outside the summit because they were a topic on the agenda inside the summit. It was covered because the Business Coalition called attention to it.

According to the story, Business Coalition President and founder Carla Sonntag told those assembled inside the meeting that environmentalists distort facts. From the story:

Sonntag showed a video of some environmental protests in New Mexico, and said a recent study by the Business Coalition showed more than 120 groups are working to impose an “extremist” environmental and clean energy agenda on the state.

More than 120 groups working to impose an “extremist” environmental and clean energy agenda? That sounds like a potential news story. Perhaps the Journal will devote coverage to that one day.

But back to the City Council story.

By running it on the front page, the GOP got the gift of front-page attention for its narrative. The story quoted its news release, which called the two Democratic councilors who introduced the Fair Workweek Act “beholden to special interests.” The release added, “It should make voters wonder if (the councilors) are listening to the voters at all.”

My, my. Of course, this put the Democrats who introduced the bill on the defensive, as the reporter dutifully solicited from councilors a response.

The two, Isaac Benton and Klarissa Peña, pointed out that they are trying to represent constituents, not special interests, and that it was hourly workers in their districts who came to the councilors in the first place, and that the two councilors decided to try to help. From the story:

Benton said none of the groups that worked on the Fair Workweek Act had special access unavailable to other people. It isn’t unusual for advocates of one cause or another, he said, to bring in sample legislation from other cities or something similar.

“What I usually say is, ‘Look, you’ve got special knowledge of the issue. I don’t have much of a staff here. You go do some of the work and bring it back,’ ” Benton said. “And that’s pretty normal.”

Benton and Peña also said the Fair Workweek Act will no doubt undergo revision, which would include input from industry representatives if compelling enough. From the story:

Peña said she already plans on “revamping the legislation to make it more palatable.”

The comments of Benton and Peña were not on the front page, where the Republican Party claims landed, but on the inside, where the overflow of the front-page story jumped.

So were comments solicited of Republican Brad Winter, the council’s senior member, and Council President Rey Garduño, a Democrat.

Winter said in his 16 years on the council, all of his legislation has been written by staff or the administration. (No word on whether “outsiders” helped staff and the administration by supplying white papers.)

Garduño told McKay it isn’t unusual for outside experts to help craft legislation, and that representatives of industry groups helped write a key section of storm-drainage legislation. He said:

I find it not only disingenuous, but almost comical to make that an accusation.

But the GOP made the accusation, and the Journal gave it its full attention.

Making this story allegedly even more sinister, the two groups that helped the “outside” New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty were the advocacy group OLÉ (Organizers in the Land of Enchantment) and the Communication Workers of America. The former, like the law center, says its efforts are aimed toward improving the lives of poor and working families. The latter, of course, is a union. The Journal (in its official editorial opinion capacity) doesn’t like unions.

What’s ironic here is that the Journal is doing what it accuses two Democratic city councilors of doing: allowing itself to be led by the nose. Only in this case, the GOP is doing the leading.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • diane denish

    shouldn’t Dan McKay be a better reporter than that and as long as they are editorializing in news stories, at least editorialize about both sides?

  • F. Chris Garcia

    Excellent article! I await the day when the Journal will publish a major article about the extremely influential ALEC. I should live so long!

  • Isaac Benton

    Dan McKay is a reasonable and fair reporter. His stories are edited, and the headlines and page placement decided by the editorial staff.

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