Speculations on the Journal’s Psyche

October 18th, 2016 · 1 Comment · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

I don’t pick up the Wall Street Journal regularly and cannot defeat its online pay wall, but I glommed an Embassy Suites free-to-guests issue at the Foundation for Open Government luncheon Wednesday, Oct. 5, took it home and read it cover-to-cover. How refreshing!

The news pages were crisply written and I never detected an editorial thumb on the scale. Better yet, on the Op Ed page under the headline, “A Voter Revolt Against Shareholder Value”, essayist William A. Galston argued against Milton Friedman’s dictum that the sole “social responsibility” of business is to increase its profits. He urged corporations to improve their workers’ lives and incomes and become good citizens of their communities.

(“Shareholder value!” When I interviewed Boone Pickens on his crusade for that – eons ago in New York – I’d no idea it would wreak so much havoc.)

But back to that issue of the Wall Street Journal with its fair reporting and Galston’s Op Ed rap on Corporate America’s knuckles. This was in Rupert Murdoch’s paper, the flagship for the One Percent, where calling the editorials far out would be gross understatement. It happened because the WSJ has a wall between those editorials (the publisher’s politics) and the news operation.

That’s the case at the New York Times, too. On the very day the Times strongly endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, Sunday, Sept. 25, the front page featured an account of the deep ties between both Mrs. Clinton and her husband, on one hand, and Goldman Sachs by reporters Nicholas Confessore and Susanne Craig.

This cast the Democratic candidate as a friend of Wall Street; Goldman is the global investment bank journalist Matt Taibbi famously described it as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” (Rolling Stone, April 5, 2010).

It was the Times’s wall between the news operation and the publisher’s politics that made possible a tough Page One story on Clinton simultaneously with the editorial endorsement.

Need I say no such wall exists at the Albuquerque Journal?

No, whatever inspires the Journal’s editorials also inspires its coverage (or non-coverage) of the news and its (monstrously lopsided) opinion pages. And no, I’m not referring to partisanship. What inspires the Journal goes much deeper and is lots more detrimental to journalism.

As regular readers know, I have tried to ferret out that inspiration, to find underlying themes by looking at the totality of what the editors print and ignore, their preference for political rather than news judgments, the games they play with rubrics and layout and, of course, those skewed opinion pages.

Once identified, I called them narratives.

An example is the “government is the enemy.” Another is the refrain that cutting taxes for big business and the affluent is the road to general prosperity. Also, markets should decide everything. What else? Climate change is hardly an emergency. The answer to violent crime is tougher laws. Government is terrible except when making abortion difficult or illegal. Whatever’s wrong in education is the teachers’ fault. Unions are Satan’s tools.

(I kid with that last, but it’s not a great exaggeration.)

Now the narratives are not in themselves journalistically reprehensible. Agree or not, they exist. The fault lies in management’s insistence on promoting them in the “news” and opinion pages while minimizing or excluding critiques and competing ideas.

That makes the daily a political tract, not a professional newspaper. And it gets worse. There’s also the tone, frequently crabby verging on ugly, the intellectual narrowness and paucity of ideas.

Remember the Wall Street Journal Op Ed I cited above? It couldn’t appear in the Journal, not just because it dealt with a forbidden topic (the role of corporate enterprise) and not just because of the author’s opinions. It was a bit complex and our daily doesn’t do complexity. Or do much, in fact, on a respectable intellectual level.

All of which is why I want to go further today, deeper, past the Journal’s narratives, toward their source. I’m about to hypothesize on what’s in the Journal’s psyche.

You’re laughing? You say I can’t do that. It’s nuts. Or I am. Well, wait a cotton-pickin’ minute. Why not? As respected an authority as Mitt Romney told us “corporations are people, my friend.” And the brilliant George Will insists the Founders’ First Amendment protection for freedom of speech applies to “people” named Monsanto, Coke, Apple and Exxon Mobil. So if corporations are people, meaning human, and they enjoy speech rights, it stands to reason they have psyches, okay?

Humor me.

Now, in this my sixth year of reading the Journal closely, I’ve concluded that what lies deepest in the Journal’s psyche is an emotion, fear. It’s afraid and it wants us to be afraid, too. This is closely tied to the Journal’s moral frame of reference; not only do Journal editorials judge the good and the bad but they do so with great certainty. (The Monday, Oct. 10 editorial on Nehemiah Griego was the latest.)

(Aside – my desktop calendar recently offered this quote from Erich Fromm, a celebrated thinker back in the day: “The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.”)

The Journal demonstrates the downsides of the moral frame of reference every day. Like judging, which a certain, trouble-making Palestinian rabbi once warned against. Judging is the enemy of thinking, cooperation and self-criticism. It forces our minds into a rigid framework of dualism. There’s not much room to understand problems or people within either-or.

The Journal’s psyche also contains (abutting that moral certainty) the influence of some newish churches that call themselves Christian and proclaim scriptural authority for materialism, militarism, a radical individualism denying community and advising, “fear thy neighbor.”

Finally – we’re still in the psyche but higher, almost at the point where it emerges into consciousness – the Journal identifies with those at the top of the ladder and disdains those below. It’s Charles Dickens’ world, where the powerful know their money is evidence of virtue and the lack of it is a moral failing.

Fear and morality work well together to create the hierarchies that structure our lives.

OK, I hear some of you saying, why is he telling me all this?

First, to give you a better idea of my suppositions and biases as I continue to ply this trade. I cannot be, don’t want to be objective, that’s for machines, but I can be transparent, to borrow the Journal’s favorite word. It’s only fair.

And because, secondly, if my picture of what lies beneath the Journal is even partly accurate, it explains why management insists on telling readers what to think instead of informing them and why it cannot spell “fairness.”

(Management, I mean, as distinguished from Quigley, Gutierrez Krueger, Gallagher, Heild, Cole, Robinson-Avila and other staffers.)

Having done that, let’s tie my speculations on the Journal’s psyche to its faux journalism.

Like this. The oh-so-moral Albuquerque Journal has withheld judgment on Donald Trump. That’s right. The Journal’s editorial headlined “Trump should step aside and let a statesman run”, Aug. 5, said he had the wrong “temperament” for the job.

It wasn’t the racism Paul Ryan attested to. Nor what looks to be a violation of the old ban on trading with Cuba. Nor the probably illegal fun-and- games at his foundation. Nor the encouragement of violence. Nor the support from fascists and anti-Semites, some aiding his campaign. Nor that he admires Vladimir Putin. Nor his refusal to share his tax returns or his old Mob ties or his non-stop lies; none is serious.

Not even his stiffing of contractors. That one is truly amazing given how often the Journal has assured us it bleeds for small business.

Coincidentally, while the Journal has run many news stories that cast Trump in a poor light, it has ignored several of the topics listed in that last paragraph. How come? The Washington Post has been doing a bang-up job on Trump including Fact Checks galore and the Journal can reprint what it wishes.

Understand. I don’t share the Journal’s passion for moralizing. In fact, I feel a degree of sympathy for the guy; he did not get to be a sociopath without help from family, friends and the culture.

But moralizing is the Journal’s way. So why not judge Trump?

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Emanuele Corso

    As I once declared – for me the ABQ Journal is a “bottom of the bird cage” newspaper. I stopped reading it many years ago as I thought paying for it only encourages them to continue. I do admire, however, your tenacity and dedication to this Sisyphian task, Arthur. I thoroughly enjoy your take and analysis.

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