Economic Mobility and Poverty: Journal’s political agenda overrides the facts

November 30th, 2015 · 3 Comments · economy, Fact Check, inequality, journalism, Koch brothers, social safety net

By Arthur Alpert

It is Monday, Nov. 30 and having just finished reading the Albuquerque Journal, I’m shaking my head. It’s more of the same. Political advocacy I mean, disguised as journalism.

Sorry Donald Trump, the daily’s editors don’t want you to be the GOP nominee. Sorry, Hillary Clinton, judging from today’s double-barreled assault (yet another Op Ed column on your political handicaps and no account of your new jobs-and- infrastructure plan), the editors fear you more.

Also, the Journal’s passionate friendship with the Koch brothers continues apace with another un-credited contribution from their political network. Jay Ambrose’s Op Ed column argues it’s unwise to tax Corporate America, which you might evaluate differently if you knew he’s tied into the Independence Institute, funded by the Kochs. That, however, isn’t how the Journal identifies him.

But it isn’t news that the Journal advocates via its decisions on what news and views to publish, which to reject and a broad repertoire of deceptive techniques, all of which we’ve documented here.

What would be novel and what I’ve never fully grasped is to learn what lies behind the Journal’s journalistic malfeasance, the deeper assumptions that (I suspect) blind management to its personal and institutional responsibilities.

So it was with great pleasure that I read the UpFront column by Dan Herrera, editorial page editor, Friday, Nov. 6, wherein he revealed some of the bedrock beneath the editors’ decisions.

(In response, a few New Mexicans offered up-from-poverty stories Friday, Nov. 20 and Veronica Garcia of New Mexico Voices for Children rebutted Herrera in an Op Ed, Wednesday, Nov. 25.)

I say editors (plural) since Mr. Herrera wouldn’t have attained his rank unless he shared the hierarchy’s fundamental views.

So let’s see what’s to be learned from the column, headlined “Looking for stories from readers about rising out of poverty”.

It opened with a condemnation of poverty. “It is insidious and can have far-reaching negative consequences throughout a person’s life.”

“A civil society,” it continued, “will do all it can to help lift people out of poverty. Unfortunately, it would seem society can do only so much for the individual. Especially one who uses poverty as a crutch.”

Having read that far, I understood this:

The Journal hierarchy assumes we have a civil society, “considered as a community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity,” per the first definition on Google’s list.

Interesting. Because I’m old enough to remember when an American community existed as well as when it began to dissipate before a well-financed assault of corporate activism and radical individualism some 40 years ago. (See the Lewis Powell Memo, August 23, 1971.)

But let’s move on.

This civil society will “do all it can to help lift people out of poverty.”

Does that mean civil society is doing all it can to lift people out of poverty?

If so, that’s interesting, too, because I can imagine a newspaper adopting an agenda of finding out what society is doing along those lines, what’s working and what isn‘t.

Of course, that’s not the Journal’s agenda.

But here’s the crux:

“Unfortunately, it would seem society can do only so much for the individual. Especially one who uses poverty as a crutch.”

Here the author assumes, first, society has pretty much exhausted its options in helping individuals. Strange. I’ve not read about those options in the Journal. But let’s keep moving because people are “using poverty as a crutch.”

Ah, yes.  Rising from poverty is a question of individual effort and virtue, a moral question. What ever happened to personal responsibility? I made it, why can’t they?

We’re not far from Charles Dickens’ world, where the poor are to blame for their condition.

Mind you, this statement is a fantastic gift. First, it demonstrates the Journal is about disseminating what it believes and not about doubt, skepticism and asking questions, the essence of journalism.

Were the Journal in the journalism business, editors would ask, “What’s happening with upward mobility? As some have done:

  • Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which asked experts from Brookings, the Urban Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation (!) to find out. Their conclusion – it’s easier to do better than your family did in Denmark, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany and France. We come next, followed by Britain.
  • And when Politifact (Dec. 19, 2013) checked financier Steven Rattner’s statement that the U.S. is “behind many countries in Europe in terms of the ability of every kid in America to get ahead,” it concluded it was “mostly true.”

These studies aren’t the last word, of course, but they begin the journalistic job of getting the facts and then asking why.

Not the Journal’s method.

That “personal responsibility” gift poses another question. How come those who demand upstanding behavior from the groundlings never require it from those high on the ladder?

(Here I should list our ruling class’s recent failures and evidence of the Journal’s failure to hold anybody accountable, but that would make this already lengthy post interminable.)

Thirdly, notice how this approach to the lower classes mimics how resourceful rulers have kept power over the years. Use the moral frame of reference to keep the underlings squabbling. That way they’ll never notice the folks in the skyboxes rocking and rolling.

But let’s return to that UpFront column, because it has more to teach.

Note that it blames the poor, not middle-class folks who have been losing ground since the nation rejected, repealed or vitiated New Deal perspectives, rules and laws. What better way to distract the newly insecure middle-class than to fix its attention on those undeserving bottom dwellers?

We surely don’t want the middle noticing how effectively we’re picking their pockets to redistribute income upwards, do we?

Still, it’s the Journal’s picture of society that’s most astonishing. It’s government and individuals.

Where are the institutions – business, religious, educational, labor, cultural institutions?

Where is the class structure?

Where the eternal political struggle?

How innocent. How unbelievably innocent!

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Emanuele Corso

    Last week while visiting relatives I “read” their copy of the Journal which happened to be on the kitchen counter. It has been more than 30 years since I read through (a ten minute exercise cover to cover) a Journal and my first impression was how thin it was both in substance and content. After all these years the Journal remains, in my opinion, a “bottom of the bird cage” paper. If this is all the news people get it’s no wonder so many people are misinformed especially if they also depend on Fox “News” for the rest of their information diet. And Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  • Diane J. Schmidt

    Hey thanks for the cogent analysis and the links to studies that refute the indeed Dickensonian view.
    By that logic we’re not too far off from the murderous Guatemala of the ’80s, where to be poor (and, usually, Indian) was a sin, and sinners needed punishment.

  • Rena

    If poverty can be a crutch, then starvation must be an effective dieting strategy.

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