A Self-Made Trap: Pity for the Commissars, Part Two

May 8th, 2016 · No Comments · journalism, Koch brothers

By Arthur Alpert

As I write Thursday, May 6, Albuquerque Journal editors ask a good question at the top of the front page, “Is the GOP ready to follow Trump?

I have a better question –is the Albuquerque Journal ready to follow Trump?

The Journal has spent the entire primary season, after all, clobbering Mr. Trump in its “news columns” and a torrent of opinion pieces.

That’s why I expressed pity for the Journal’s political commissars in my last post. By dumping on Trump, now 99 percent certain to be the Republican standard-bearer, they’ve painted themselves into a corner. How to escape?

To fully grasp their predicament, we should review the newspaper’s so-called news coverage throughout the primary season. First, though, you need to understand why it’s much easier for management to warp national “news” than local.

Where local news is concerned, the commissars must deal with professional rank-and-file staff reporters likely to resent unsubtle interference.

Also, while there’s no longer an Albuquerque Tribune to keep the Journal honest, New Mexicans do have access to local news coverage in newspapers the Journal doesn’t own, on radio and TV stations and a growing number of news-oriented websites.

Conversely, the Journal gets almost all its national news (Michael Coleman’s Washington dispatches excepted) from wire services and 100 percent of international news from syndicated services.

So the editors have a free hand in skewing national and global news and views.

Which free hand they used early on (as we segue into our review) to insult Jeb Bush in two or three news stories. No surprise there; this is not your grandfather’s Pete Domenici-conservative Journal. Today’s Journal gets its inspiration from the Kochs, the Tea Party and (as always) the National Review.

No wonder the Journal promoted Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin at first. Walker, remember, was the Kochs’ first choice.

After he flamed out, the editors moved to Ted Cruz. I remember a story saying Cruz will announce his candidacy “tomorrow” followed the next day (March 23, 2015) by a story saying that he announced his candidacy.

I found the Journal’s apparent affection for a Far Right evangelical notable but dismissed the subject until the newspaper initiated its current political campaign to limit abortion rights -– in the news columns, of course. My mistake, dismissing it.

Meanwhile, the Journal was failing to meet the basic requirements of a free press. Its coverage of the primaries told us next to nothing about what any of the GOP candidates stood for. And told us nothing at all (zero, sip, nil, nada) about whose money was behind whom.

This is elementary journalism. The press tells us what each candidate stands for and (if possible) where the candidate is finding support, including dollar support. It’s what newspapers edited in the public interest do.

Mind you, many dailies go further, analyzing campaign ads, placing candidacies in historical perspective and such. Heck, In fact, there are umpteen ways for a newspaper to help its readers evaluate candidates for public office; since the Journal seems to have neglected all umpteen, you have to conclude (well, you don’t have to, but I do) that the public interest is not management’s guiding light.

To see exactly how the Journal evades that elementary job, consider this:

When Journal editors published a Washington Post story on Page One Wednesday, April 20, from reporters Matea Gold and Philip Rucker, I was astounded.

“Whoa!” I said to myself. “Will wonders never cease?

You see Matea Gold is “a national political reporter covering money and influence” for the Post whose work on cash in politics and government I’ve admired for years.

Admired only in the Post, understand, not the Journal. Until April 20, I had never read a Matea Gold piece in our daily.

(Having written that last sentence, I thought to check the Journal website. Yes, Gold’s April 20 story about Gov. Martinez rebuking Donald Trump on his anti-immigrant “rhetoric” marks the first time the Journal has published her work.)

I understand. If you publish a political blunderbuss disguised as a newspaper, it makes perfect sense to deny readers crucial information on money in politics. In fact, the Journal’s reporting on the primary candidates’ sources of cash has been minimal-to- missing.

Ah, but the political commissars do make exceptions. Like the AP Washington story headlined “Many groups besides banks have paid a lot for Clinton speeches” they ran Friday, April 22 on A6. The layout also was noteworthy – top of the page with color photo of a laughing, open-mouthed Clinton.

The Journal has published nothing similar on where other candidates get their money. (Ted Cruz’s secret loans from Goldman-Sachs, as reported by Mike McIntire in the N.Y. Times Jan. 13, received few parenthetical citations.)

Before leaving the subject of Journal’s disinterest in Matea Gold’s reports on “money and influence” and its general approach to the subject, I should cite her seminal outlining of the Koch brothers’ impressive political network in the Washington Post, Jan. 5 and 6, 2014. Those revealing stories might explain the Albuquerque Journal’s aversion to her work.

But we were talking about the Journal’s quandary. Having clobbered Trump for so long, what do the editors do now?

Since the Journal hasn’t told us why it objects to Trump, it’s hard to say. Is it his ignorance, bigotry and quasi-fascist odor or his critique of “free trade” and George W. Bush’s failure to protect us?

Management could back Hillary Clinton. After all, Charles Koch told Jonathan Karl of ABC News it’s “possible” Ms. Clinton could be a better president than Trump or Cruz.

Despite the Journal’s de facto alliance with the Kochs, I doubt our local newspaper would take that road, not after trashing Ms. Clinton so hard, so long and on so many fronts.

No, if I had disposable income I’d wager the daily will moderate its attacks on Mr. Trump, and then (as he adopts new positions for the general election) find virtues in him previously overlooked before dispensing with all attacks and, ultimately, embracing him.

Or, they could withdraw from the presidential fray, husbanding their ammunition – biased news columns, opinion columns heavily weighted to promote the paper’s political agenda, the use of headlines and layout to mislead readers – for down ballot elections and issues.

Charles Koch, after all, said his political network may decide to sit out the presidential race entirely.

Not incidentally, the Kochs have been out there lately, on ABC and PBS and elsewhere in the news. Still, the Journal rarely reports on them and continues to publish essays supplied by the Koch network without identifying them as such.

Somebody in the Journal hierarchy seems to subscribe to what W.C. Fields or Barnum or somebody advised, “Never give a sucker an even break.”

Which is where I must stop. Rereading this post I’m amazed at all the political matter, but that’s inevitable given the Journal’s determination to use the power of the press to misinform the suckers rather than educate citizens to the issues.

The commissars really don’t deserve my pity, but that’s what I feel as I prepare to monitor how they wiggle out of their self-made trap.

Of course, I feel joy, too. It’s going to be fun.

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