Missing the “Why”: Harvey Yates vs. Pat Rogers

May 23rd, 2016 · No Comments · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Why?

Why was oilman Harvey Yates Jr. so intent on defeating Governor Martinez’s choice, Pat Rogers, for GOP national committee?

Why and what was his beef?

I’ve been wondering why since the Albuquerque Journal began covering the intra-party dispute, but it never came clear. The Journal told me “who, what, when and where,” but I never could put my finger on “why?”

It is, after all, journalism’s fifth “w.”

So when the state GOP finally convened and Journal editors made Dan Boyd’s report the top story on Page One Sunday, May 22, well, I dove in to find the why. In fact, I read it twice.

Mr. Yates defeated Mr. Rogers, said Boyd in his lead, “elevating an outspoken critic of Gov. Susana Martinez’s governing style to a prestigious – if largely symbolic – GOP position.”

Aha! Her “governing style.” But wanting more, I kept reading.

In the fifth graph, split between the front page and the A11 jump, Yates himself offered another answer:

“We can bring the party to unity but come the next gubernatorial election, if (the economy) isn’t changed, we’re going to be held accountable.”

Oh.

Then five paragraphs further down, Boyd said some Republicans opposed Yates because he’d backed former Senator Tim Jennings, a conservative Roswell Democrat in a 2012 race Jennings lost. Surprisingly, Boyd didn’t say the Governor’s political adviser, Jay McCleskey, targeted Jennings.

Or did he, only to have an editor delete it?

Assuming the Jennings episode was Boyd’s justification for his “governing style” phrase in the lead, I was leaning toward the theory that the why of Yates’s effort was two-fold – the Governor’s bad economic record and McCleskey’s hard-ball politics.

It’s worth noting that the Journal headline writer put neither subject in the rubrics on the front page or the page 11 jump.

At this point, I turned to the Las Cruces Sun-News, which carried an account of the GOP convention by Morgan Lee of the state Associated Press bureau. Here’s the lead:

“SANDIA PUEBLO, N.M. — New Mexico Republicans voted out a representative to the party’s national committee on Saturday in a leadership shake-up tied to frustrations over the state’s lagging economy and hardball tactics against Democrats.”

Lee stated the voting results (Yates, 278, Rogers, 195) in the next paragraph and in the third wrote this:

“Yates turned the race for the internal party post into a forum on the state’s lagging economy and employment situation. He openly criticized Gov. Susana Martinez and her lead political strategist, Jay McCleskey, for political tactics that he contends have stifled debate and solutions on the economy.”

You can read all of Lee’s account but surely the difference is apparent. No digging is required. It’s all there. The story is in the lead and the next two graphs.

And then I turned to the Santa Fe New Mexican, where veteran political reporter Steve Terrell chose this lead:

“SANDIA PUEBLO — State Republicans, voting in a hotly contested battle over a position on the party’s national committee Saturday, ousted one of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s staunchest allies in favor of one of the governor’s toughest critics.”

Then, after devoting significant space to the other “story lines and divisions” at the GOP convention, including the Trump candidacy, Terrell exploits his tenure and, I daresay, his files:

“Animosity between Yates and Martinez’s political organization began not long after Martinez took office in 2011. Yates has said for years that he believes Martinez blew a chance to “turn the state around” economically by following her political guru Jay McCleskey. Yates has said that McCleskey needlessly attacked potential allies among moderate Democrats instead of enlisting them to create a strong economic plan for the state.”

Also, Terrell wrote, “McCleskey, meanwhile, has said that Yates is “a bitter man who is accustomed to buying influence and power with donations.”

Well, that would explain a lot.

OK, I’ve compared three accounts of the same event and you’ll draw your own conclusions. Me, I find the Journal’s story narrow, muddy and lacking context. Las Cruces and Santa Fe readers were better served.

Understand. This is not a knock on Boyd, whose work is always top flight. No, though I cannot be certain – oh, for Harry’s invisibility cloak to monitor the editorial process at Journal Center – I’d put the onus on one of the daily’s political commissars.

Oh, for that cloak! And oh, for the wisdom to understand why! Why management finds it so difficult to play fair with readers, I mean.

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