Partisanship Is Not the Problem

November 4th, 2016 · 7 Comments · journalism

By Arthur Alpert 

I know what you are thinking.

You saw the Albuquerque Journal Wednesday, Nov. 2, the issue featuring all-Hillary’s emails–all-the-time, and you figure the Journal is in the GOP’s corner.

And you have other evidence. Like the previous day’s imaginative headline, “FBI inquiry into Clinton emails becomes key” over an AP story on A4 that said nothing of the kind, that was in fact about the Clinton campaign’s challenge to the FBI.

Also, there was the big Page One presentation for Gov. Pence’s Oct. 21 appearance here, with color photo and exuberant headline (“Pence brings fighting spirit, Trump’s themes to ABQ”).

Followed by another big Page One splash on Pence’s Las Cruces rally Thursday, Nov. 3.

Oh, and you noted the Journal twice put stories about wayward Democratic workers on the front page. The first ran Oct. 20 under the rubric, “Democratic operatives lose jobs after political black ops video”. Then, Tuesday, Nov. 1, the editors led Page One with the Donna Brazile story. You also saw the Monday, Oct. 31 AP report on A5 headlined,  “Clinton’s circle of loyalists has been politically costly”.

This, you figured, is proof the Journal prefers the GOP because, somehow, the daily has never told readers that Steve Bannon, CEO of the Trump campaign “is known for his bullying tactics and for running a website (Breitbart News) that flirts with white nationalism.” GOP conservative Michael Gerson said that in an August 25 Washington Post column headlined, “Trump’s repellent inner circle”.

Yes, there’s lots of evidence along those lines but I disagree. The Journal is political, yes, political to the nth degree, but it’s not partisan. As I see it, its political agenda is lots more ambitious and the way it pursues that agenda is why the Journal practices anti-journalism.

To explain, let’s begin with the daily’s moral frame of reference. As I wrote last time out in a post headlined “Speculations on the Journal’s Psyche”, the Journal demonstrates moralists’ bad habits:

“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.”

As if on cue, the Journal confirmed all that in an editorial published Sunday, Oct. 30, under the rubric, “No good choice for president”. It was one moral judgment after another. But it was great, too, in revealing the roots of the Journal’s anti-journalism.

Notice first how the editorial meshed perfectly with the daily’s “news coverage.” Both trash Hillary Clinton. Both reveal the paper’s real unhappiness with Donald Trump. Both decline, however, to delve into Trump’s suspect business practices, suspect Foundation practices, still-secret tax returns, the tolerance he’s expressed for pro-Trump violence and the approval he’s received from David Duke and other self-proclaimed white supremacists.

Editorial and newsgathering are one and the same at the Journal. There’s no wall, not even a flimsy curtain.

But since my purpose is to dispel the idea that the Journal is a partisan organ, let’s zoom in on the Journal editorial.

Consider the section on foreign policy. The Journal’s narrative has been that President Obama is “weak,” particularly in the Mideast. Left unsaid is that George W. Bush’s stance was “strong.”

In this pursuit, the Journal has relied for expertise on Charles Krauthammer, an influential neo-con booster of the war on Iraq, which elevated Iran to super-power status. Neither the Journal nor Krauthammer have as yet confessed to geopolitical idiocy.

The Journal also campaigned against the Iran nuclear deal in its “news” page and opinion pages. The latter included a Cal Thomas column I’ll never forget. He argued Sept. 8, 2015 – wait for it! – the deal would only postpone the inevitable war on Evil.

And you thought the Dark Ages was history.

Given that background, the Journal’s editorial comments on the candidates’ foreign policy positions cannot be taken seriously. Management’s foreign policy mindset is both adolescent (weak vs. strong) and un-accountable.

But it’s not partisan; heck, it’s hard to find defenders of the attack on Iraq anywhere these days.

The Journal editorial’s next category was the economy. We really should pay no attention because the editors have no standing. Like the Soviet Union’s political commissars, they censor economic thinking of which they don’t approve.

But let’s not turn away, not yet.

For Donald Trump’s appeal to many voters lies in his opposition to trade deals that greatly enhanced US corporate profits, exported US jobs –how many is hard to pin down – and put a lid on the wages of American workers who hung on to theirs.

Democrats have been complicit in those deals. Not only did George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton partner on NAFTA but the old GOP and the Democratic Party share responsibility for trade policy in Asia as well as in the Americas, which arguably hurt the middle class and the poor.

It’s an issue the Journal has avoided except when relaying the views of the folks who believe in “free trade” (which doesn’t exist) and insisting that we must choose between “free trade” and “protectionism” as if it was “either-or.” Moralists really love “either-or,” don’t they?

This is wisdom from the One Percent and economists who give them cover. It may be wrong-headed, but it’s not partisanship.

Let’s jump ahead to Obamacare, because the Journal editorial said, “It’s imploding.”

That’s probably exaggerated, but the program has problems. This must elate the Journal, given its eternal war against the ACA. The daily fought it before passage, after passage, through the Supreme Court phase and to this day the editors sprinkle their “news” pages with accounts of its every growing pain.

The fact is – and I wouldn’t believe this if I hadn’t eyeballed it – the Journal conducted its war on Obamacare primarily in the ”news” pages!

And the war persists, as the Journal maintains its Tarzan-like view of health care. “Me like market decide who live, die. Me not like government get in way.”  Contrast that with the complexity Winthrop Quigley brought to the subject in his UpFront column, “”Expert: Obamacare shows there’s no ‘silver bullet’ for health care” Thursday, Nov. 3.

Back to the Journal’s editorial, notable not just for its non-stop moralizing but also for what wasn’t there – like discussion of the plight of the Republican Party. Given the paper’s dislike of Mr. Trump and his historic takeover of the GOP, you’d think the editors would seize the moment.

If my old friend (and lifelong Republican) Dave Cargo were still around, he’d need no prompting to pontificate on the virtues of his party. But this is not Dave’s GOP. Something happened.

Thomas E. Mann (Brookings) and Norman J. Ornstein (American Enterprise Institute) explained what in “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism”.

The Republicans, they said, had become “an insurgent outlier- ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” (See their Washington Post opinion, April 27, 2012.)

If so, that’s dangerous. For the two-party system to succeed, the GOP should be conservative, not irrational. Which is why the Journal’s failure to educate us on that subject is sad.

Equally sad is the Journal’s failure, in an editorial filled with moral fervor and judgments, to address our electoral system, which really is corrupt. Think gerrymandering, voter suppression and the power of money, much of it dark.

That failure was no accident. Nor is it accidental that the Journal won’t cover those issues in the “news.” Management would rather talk morality than power; this protects those in the catbird seat. But it’s not partisan.

Which brings us almost to the end of this torturous argument – do I hear cheers – and it’s time to recapitulate.

The Journal’s coverage of foreign policy is the very definition of militarism, not a matter of party.

The Journal’s coverage of the economy reflects the views of the powerful, no matter how absurd. That’s why Journal readers will never enjoy anything like Michael Hiltzik’s essay, “Kansas is still bleeding, thanks to tea party economics” in the Los Angles Times, Oct. 31.

But it’s not partisan; after all, the powerful fund both major parties.

As for Obamacare, the Journal crusades against it while exempting from critical attention the corporate interests involved.

Also, these very moral Journal folks have no problem putting my life and yours into a market, making health care a commodity like any other. Step right up, ladies and gents, for your pork bellies and chemotherapy.

Generally and crucially, the Journal works hard to not see how Wall Street and major corporate enterprises play politics aimed at using government for their purposes. And in an era where Americans on the right and left know something’s wrong and are getting close to understanding what it is!

As for the Journal’s interest in democracy – issues like fair representation in governing bodies, voting rights and giving the citizenry fair and full information – well, it’s so lacking that I’ve begun assembling information for a separate post.

So you see, what the Journal promotes is not a partisan agenda. It’s far more ambitious. Anti-government? Yes, with major exceptions. Government’s fine when it helps big business or imposes the religious views of some on all. Oligarchic? Yes. Anti-democratic? Obviously.

In sum, the Journal’s political agenda is much more dangerous than a preference for one party if, if you believe in preserving what the Founders created – a government (not a business) responsible to its citizens. (Well, some of them.)

That agenda might not be our business if the Journal did not trample journalism in its pursuit. In our system the owner of a newspaper gets his say no matter how obnoxious, but that owner isn’t supposed to turn the entire newspaper into an editorial. There’s no law against it, of course, only journalistic principles. Like fairness.

Put positively, political journalism should be about reporting on power, on who has it and how they’re exercising it, to educate readers. Because how power works determines what kind of government we get.

Sadly, the Journal would rather speak for power than report on it, and that, not partisanship, is the problem.

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • Emanuele Corso

    “Sadly, the Journal would rather speak for power than report on it, and that, not partisanship, is the problem.” Exactly – well put and doubly sad that so many people in New Mexico rely on the Journal for their “news”.

  • Ron S.

    Mr. Alpert,
    Thank you for the Journal Watch. Since the Trib collapsed I have been hoping to find some way to show my displeasure with the Journal’s form of misguided journalism. I have written them many letters with maybe one out of ten actually published. What they do is horrendous.

    They accept the word of some politicians with no investigation. They use false information or innuendo to describe other people and events that they don’t agree with, without corroborating details. Like you say, they often make moral judgements and their morality is pro-corporation.

    Again, thank you for your work. Keep it up.

    Ron Schwartz

  • Cres G.

    Very good article with perceptive insights.
    The Journal is hyper- and hypocritically moralistic, as you write.
    However, IMO, the Journal is also partisan (pro-Republican) and racist (displaying an obvious anti-Hispanic bias).

  • Skip Sayre

    Excellent essay. I was a little surprised they ran Krauthhammer’s column today in which he essentially admitted Trump is not only unfit to be president but is extremely dangerous

  • Mary

    Thank You Mr. Alpert,
    I have been following the A.J, and some other News Outlets on Facebook. You have “hit the nail on the head.” The Narrative of the A.J is dark, disturbing, and deliberately misleading. The contortions they go to, in their war on information, are mind boggling.
    On Facebook, they have drawn an audience of thralls. A collection of sycophants, and the disturbed. The A.C.A still draws significant hatred. It has been interesting following some of these “News Stories” about Obamacare. They keep undermining it until they realize that if they don’t “support” Medicaid funding, their big Advertisers, and Corporate Sponsors could lose money. Then they proceed to blame Medicaid recipients, and “Sick People” for the problems, instead of the Insurance companies and Medical, and Pharmaceutical Industries.
    There is a similar discordant note with their rabid support of “police,” and the constant “Crime all of the time,” reporting. They will go out of state for crimes, if it is a slow day in Albq. They support police “power” the constant narrative is that they are at “war”. They support increased Police power to violate the Laws, and intimidate the populace, while wages and working conditions for the actual police are a different story.
    The recent Election Coverage is appalling, and it should raise some red flags, but no, the drivel goes on. People should be angry or disgusted, that hey have allowed themselves to be led around by this Orwellian Double speak, but instead they seem to be more entrenched.
    This is sad time for our Country, Local Media owned by big Media, leaves out most of the important local topics, that affect people daily, while promoting this disturbing world view. The big question is what aren’t they covering when they run these false narratives. The so called “News” is really giving a distorted view of reality, causing people to ignore their own interests and side with the 1%. This has been very Profitable, the Infotainment, and Edumercials are seamlessly worked into the News, and most people can’t tell the difference.


    I agree their Agenda is not partisan, it is to the higher power of Corporate Control.

  • Morgan D.

    Great article. I am grateful for the work you do here. In a word, the Journal is garbage. It is biased, irresponsible, dishonest and cowardly, “Nothing to see here, move along . . .” It is frightening that any New Mexicans rely on it for information.

  • Lee B.

    Interesting that you label the Journal as “anti-government.” I don’t disagree, but find it ironic how fiercely the Journal fights to keep the law requiring government legal notices to be published in newspapers at tremendous expense to local, county and state government entities. As in other areas, the Journal’s “anti-government” philosophy ends where the Journal’s self-interest begins.

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