National vs. Local

February 15th, 2016 · 1 Comment · budget policy, Congress, Fact Check, journalism, Washington

By Arthur Alpert

About a week go I bumped into a former Albuquerque Journal reporter who said – I paraphrase – we’re essentially on target in our critiques of the daily but I write too often on national and global stories, not enough about the daily’s local coverage.

My reaction to the “on target” was to exhale. The endorsement was welcome because I’m always fearful of getting it wrong, misunderstanding or in some way being unfair to the Journal.

As for not spending sufficient time on local coverage, well, that ex-Journal staffer is correct. I plead guilty, Your Honor, and will try to improve, but may I explain?

My explanation may not get me of the hook, but it should give readers a better idea of how I approach the job.

You see, Your Honor, it’s easier to demonstrate how the Journal substitutes politicking for journalism when the topics are national or international. That’s because the editors can skew the news to fit management’s agenda without ever talking to a staffer.

There’s zero need to deal with the professional reporters and columnists on staff when the issue is what wire copy will run, what stories, analyses and opinions on happenings in Washington, the nation and around the world

Editors can and do discard wire copy on their own. And as I’ve often tried to demonstrate, they throw out what doesn’t fit the party line.

(Example: search the Journal website for a story on what the Iranians gave up in the nuke deal and, please, let me know what you find. Me, I found one glancing reference. One.)

Editors can and do chose what wire copy to publish on their own, then edit it on their own (I almost wrote, “fiddle” with it) and headline it on their own.

That is why the Journal’s politics come through so loud and so clear in its coverage (if that’s the word) of national and international affairs. The editors make it conform to the newspapers’ political line with no interference from the staff.

Because it’s so loud and clear, contrasting the Journal’s view of the world with views found in professional news operations is a snap.

I get the New York Times and Washington Post by email every morning. Since both have walls between management (ownership, business, sales) and the news operation and the Journal doesn’t, they describe different worlds.

Only the other day, for example, the Journal once again published management’s political views as if it was common, uncontested knowledge. This in a so-called news story on the Obama budget from the Associated Press Wednesday, Feb. 10, page A10.

Here I should qualify the line about how easy it is to detect the Journal’s politicizing vis-a-vis the Times and Post. Sometimes, I also need to check out the original AP story, for three reasons.

One, Journal editors have, in the past, excised political matter that displeases them from AP accounts.

Two, they have on occasion, inserted the Journal’s own political matter.

Hold on now. I need a moment to recover from what I just wrote. Adding “the Journal’s political matter” to a wire story insults the news biz, professionalism and any ethical system. It’s beyond the pale, but the commissars have done it.

Three, some years ago, the powers that were in AP’s Washington Bureau gave some reporters carte blanche to editorialize in “news stories.”

This explains, in part, why the Journal often prefers AP copy to what the Washington Post supplies. In fact, the AP budget story we’re discussing was written by Andrew Taylor and Martin Crutsinger, two AP reporters I’ve identified previously as propagandists, with contributions by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, whose tilted coverage of Obamacare has enabled the Journal to crusade against it for years in the “news” columns.

Their names were on the original story at the AP site; for some reason Journal editors dropped them. But let’s cut to the chase.

This is the eighth graph of what the Journal published:

“As in past years, Obama’s budget largely leaves alone huge benefit programs like Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and food stamps. The spiraling growth in those program is the main driver of budget deficits that economists say could drag down the economy unless policymakers step in.”

There you have it, confusion and opinion, the latter deceptively presented as factual background.

First, these AP “reporters” lumped together programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps, though each has a distinctly different financial foundation.

Next, these “reporters” failed to mention interest on the debt as a major expense. And ignored the increase in spending on the Pentagon, not to mention its wastefulness.

AP’s finest also neglected to name those economists who say budget deficits could drag down the economy. Significant omissions, given that many mainstream economists disagree, as do the leftists (those representing the middle and lower classes); they argue balancing the budget now would destroy the recent economic progress.

But enough of me, here’s how reporter Steven Mufson at the Washington Post put it in his second graph:

“The proposal would boost total spending by 4.9 percent, mainly as a result of increases in mandatory programs, most notably Social Security, and a rise in interest payments on the national debt. In keeping with the two-year budget deal struck with Congress in December, the president requested only a slight increase, less than 1 percent, in discretionary spending programs overall, though Republicans still accused him of profligate spending.”

Different perspective, huh?

Jackie Calmes’ account in the N.Y, Times opened this way:

“President Obama on Tuesday sent his final annual budget proposal to a hostile Republican-led Congress, rejecting the lame-duck label to declare that his plan “is about looking forward,” with new initiatives that include $19 billion for a broad cybersecurity plan.”

Cybersecurity? Calmes thought it important enough for the lead. The AP “reporters” had it near the bottom in their original and Journal editors cut it, presumably for lack of space.

Calmes also wrote, “The deficit would increase in this fiscal year to $616 billion from $438 billion last year, the budget projects, in part because of tax cuts that Mr. Obama and Congress agreed in December to make permanent. “

Hmmm. How come the Journal/AP story ignored the bipartisan tax cuts angle?

See how easy it is? When the subject matter is national and Journal editors don’t have to contend with questioning from professional reporters on staff, they go all out to promote management’s politics.

And it’s so blatant that I don’t have to sweat to show it to you.

That’s my story, Your Honor, and I’m sticking to it, even if it reveals I can be lazy.


How much harder is it to zero in on the Journal’s misrepresentation of local news?

May I answer that next time? Thank you.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • F. Chris Garcia

    Thanks for confirming what I have suspected over the past few years. I had continued to think that the AP was a fairly objective news reporting service. Then I started noticing obviously politically-biased opinions in these reports. Additionally, I noted that the Journal would add bits about the local situation in national and international reports, but I had no idea how extensive its editorial modifications were.

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