When It Comes to Providing Guest Columnist Background Info, Journal Employs Double Standard

February 24th, 2015 · energy policy, Fact Check, journalism, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

I promised to write “next time” on how Albuquerque Journal editors are treating Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rep. Steve Pearce of southern New Mexico, but I lied.

Well, it wasn’t exactly a lie and I will do it, soon, but first a necessary postscript to Saturday’s piece about the Albuquerque Journal’s advocacy -in its so-called “news” columns – for the Keystone XL pipeline.

That very day, you see, the daily published still another Op Ed in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline. The essay itself, by veteran journalist Martin Schram (Tribune News Service), was fair if naïve about expert testimony, an oft-purchased commodity.

And the editors returned to the fray the next day, Sunday, Feb. 22, running still another story (A3) about oil-train disasters.

Fascinating, isn’t it, their predilection for oil-train accidents, as contrasted with the embargo on pipeline spill stories.

This, along with management’s specious pro-Keystone XL pipeline editorials, pretty much confirms the newspaper prefers serving its corporate allies to giving readers a fair shake.

Nor is the tilt limited to Keystone XL or fossil fuels. It’s endemic.

Follow me please back to the Op Ed page. Above Schram’s column, the editors ran an essay (“Voice of Malcolm X still relevant today”) by one Brian Gilmore, appending an unusually detailed ID paragraph:

“Brian Gilmore is a public interest lawyer and law professor. He wrote this for the Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with the Progressive Magazine. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC.”

Why? What’s all that for? I don’t know.

If the editors want to be absolutely certain we know Mr. Gilmore is associated with a “progressive” project and magazine, bravo! I like knowing where authors are “coming from,” as younger folks say.

However, if that’s so, why didn’t the editors do likewise for the Op Ed article headlined, “State Senate Must move on REAL ID”?

There was a byline for Brian Zimmer, “President, Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License” and nothing more.

With a little web-crawling, I learned the Coalition is a 501(c)(3) formed in the wake of the 9/11 terror strikes, with offices in New York /City and Washington, D.C.

One report said radical rightists birthed it, but I couldn’t confirm it.

USA Today did report Dec. 13, 2005, “An anti-terrorism campaign by a group that wants tighter restrictions on driver’s licenses has angered Arab-Americans who say that an image on a planned billboard- an Arab man holding both a grenade and a license – is racist.”

The Coalition has bought billboards in New Mexico, too.

And Zimmer, a former Congressional staffer, helped write the Real ID legislation, which like other laws written and enacted in the immediate wake of 9/11 remains problematic judging from the appraisal in Governing Magazine Jan. 22, 2014, when 13 states still were not compliant.

Readers might have found some of that information useful. Was it lacking because the Journal backs taking driver’s licenses from non-citizen immigrants? I cannot say.

The pattern, though, is clear: when Op Ed essays dovetail with the Journal’s agenda, the editors exhibit no curiosity about where the authors are coming from. Yet when they (rarely) publish a dissenter, the self-same editors rouse themselves to write fat IDs.

Is this unconscious or with malice aforethought? Beats me.

OK, so much for the PS. Next time, er, I had better not say.

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Good News on the Journal Front

February 22nd, 2015 · Education, environment, journalism, Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier
Those who lamented the departure of Leslie Linthicum as UpFront columnist for the Albuquerque Journal can take heart with the newspaper’s hiring of former Albuquerque Tribune writer Ollie Reed Jr.

The development also is heartening when one considers that this month marked the departure of Journal science writer John Fleck, another UpFront columnist, whose farewell column appeared in the Journal Feb. 2.

Though it might be a tad over the top to say that Reed’s hiring as a Journal staff writer makes up for the loss of both Linthicum and Fleck, I’d wager it’s as close as it can get to accomplishing just that.

Fleck, the newspaper’s resident expert on water issues, said goodbye with the appropriately headlined “A toast to newspaper readers – with H2O,” explaining he was leaving the paper to write a book:

My friends at the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, who care about these issues as much as I do, have kindly offered me a home to work on a book about the future of water and the communities in southwestern North America that depend on it. The folks at Island Press have agreed to publish it once I finish.

A few days earlier, he had given readers of his water blog a heads up about the departure, posting:

This morning, the day after I finished up the last stories of a 30-plus year career in daily journalism, feels oddly normal – checking the drought monitor, reservoir levels at Elephant Butte, the latest storm forecast.

In response to a commenter on that posting, Fleck explained that he couldn’t do the book while remaining in the “real time” world of daily journalism:

It forces a certain style of thinking – not just “what is this thing I’m trying to understand,”, but “what is the story I can tell about this thing I’m trying to understand”. They overlap, but they’re different.

Fleck added, however, that he will continue blogging about his Colorado River research and possibly about New Mexico water issues as well. Those interested in staying abreast of his insights can sign up for his email newsletter at jfleck at inkstain.

Meanwhile, a look at the half dozen stories from Reed’s first two weeks at the Journal indicates coverage of water – and New Mexico topics in general – has been placed in good hands.

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Agenda-Driven Omissions: Journal Overlooks Four Major Pipeline Spills in January

February 20th, 2015 · climate change, energy policy, journalism, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

It drives me crazy.

After three years of reading the Albuquerque Journal closely, I know it’s not a daily newspaper (as we commonly understand the term) but a political tract in journalistic dress. Yet every time I chose to show how that works in practice, the editors provide a timelier, juicier, more egregious episode of political commissar-ship and, well, that moves me to tell you about its latest crime against fairness.

But before I can, they do it again and again. Often one issue presents plural peccadillos.

I cannot keep up.

That’s why I recently decided to cut down on my usual close reading of an article or articles and zoom out instead, the better to see the Journal narrative in sharp relief. I created a new folder, “Ignored”, on my desktop that holds about six weeks’ worth of stories the Journal didn‘t publish because – I surmise – they contradict management’s politics.

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Journal Gives Susana Martinez a Pass After Stealing Tribal Spotlight

February 13th, 2015 · Education, journalism, NM Legislature, Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

Sometimes an editorial opinion topic practically writes itself; it’s there for an editorial writer’s taking.

Gov. Susana Martinez’s decision to appear as the sole speaker during the New Mexico Legislature’s American Indian Day session last Friday (Feb. 6) was just such a topic.

In serving as sole speaker, she took the spotlight away from New Mexico’s Indian legislators on their day – a day historically set aside every other year (during 60-day sessions) in order for tribes to address a joint session of the Legislature and outline their priorities and needs.

Journal Capital Bureau reporter Deborah Baker’s story about Indian legislators being sidelined – the story on which an editorial could have been based – ran with the headline “A departure from tradition: Gov. sole speaker at American Indian Day in the Legislature,” and was published inside the paper on A4.

The story noted that:

House Democrats who are Native American – and who were not publicly acknowledged by Martinez – later complained that the format put politics first and said they were not given the opportunity to introduce their tribal guests.

During the speech, Baker wrote, Martinez “focused on education issues and advances by Native American students” and honored some Indian legislators, “including ex-Rep. Sandra Jeff of Crownpoint, a maverick Democrat who sometimes supported Martinez’s agenda.”

She quoted Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, as later saying, “Many believe the departure from (tradition) to be disrespectful and unprecedented. … After all, this day was established to honor them and their culture.”

Baker got an explanation for the change in a statement from Republican Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, a Navajo from Kirtland, who said she personally asked Martinez to speak and that “it was an honor to have her address our tribes, and celebrate our rich culture and heritage. That anyone would suggest otherwise is outlandish and nothing more than a political stunt with the shameful goal of dividing us.”

It’s interesting that the representative’s statement called the backlash divisive, rather than Clahchischilliage’s decision to turn the day over to the governor, apparently without consensus from other tribal legislators. [Read more →]

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Where No Newspaper(s) Had Gone Before

February 12th, 2015 · Congress, Mexico, role of government

By Denise Tessier

Few in New Mexico likely noticed the obituary that ran in the Los Angeles Times this week (Feb. 9), but the tribute to former Times reporter Laurie Becklund is worth noting, both for her extraordinary contributions to international and domestic journalism but also for an unusual and pioneering connection to the Albuquerque Journal.

As the Times noted, Becklund’s many journalistic contributions included the fact that:

Her reporting took her to El Salvador where she partnered with Craig Pyes, then of the Albuquerque Journal. Through a former army major, they uncovered the roots of the dirty war being conducted by the Salvadoran military.

What was unusual about the El Salvador partnership between Becklund and Pyes in the early 1980s was that the two reporters worked together to investigate the death squads in that Central American nation, but for totally unrelated newspapers. This was not a partnership between Journal and the LA Times.

The editors of the two newspapers agreed to let the reporters work together during this dangerous period in El Salvador’s history – a highly unusual arrangement in the field of journalism – and they agreed to simultaneously publish the independently written stories Pyes and Becklund created from that reportage.

As noted in a previous post, reporters and editors from both papers found the arrangement difficult to understand, and there were grumblings among Journal reporters at the time about the long period Pyes was allowed to spend on foreign soil gathering information.

Much credit for recognizing the value of that endeavor goes to the late Gerald J. Crawford, then editor of the Journal, who agreed to let Pyes pursue the project and to collaborate with Becklund. Pyes attributes Crawford’s willingness to the fact that just a few years before, the Albuquerque Journal had reached beyond its comfort zone in allowing then-Journal Investigative Reporter Bill Hume to participate in the Investigative Reporters and Editors Arizona Project, an unprecedented endeavor that brought 38 reporters from 28 papers to Arizona to look into the car bomb murder of Don Bolles, a journalist killed while investigating organized crime and land fraud in that state.

As Crawford wrote in his 1984 letter nominating Pyes’ resulting El Salvador series for a Pultizer:

The Albuquerque Journal felt that an investigative effort – an unusual undertaking in a foreign country – could shed light on the death squads, their membership and their implications for the United States.

Millions of dollars in potential U.S. aid to El Salvador and the direction of foreign policy in Central America could be determined by what political leaders of the United States understand about the death squads.

Indeed, at the time, U.S. political leaders knew little about what was really going on in El Salvador. In fact, the reports brought back by Pyes and Becklund were disputed by the Reagan Administration, which maintained the right-wing government had nothing to do with the death squads, the murders of three nuns and a female Catholic lay worker, nor the assassination of Archibishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. [Read more →]

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Alice in Wonderland Coverage of Controversial Health Audit

February 9th, 2015 · journalism, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

At the Albuquerque Journal, as in Alice’s Wonderland, the “journalism” becomes “curiouser and curiouser.”

I refer to the coverage of the saga involving the Governor’s ousting of 15 behavioral health contractors who were replaced by 12 Arizona companies.

The Journal reported the latest chapter Jan. 29, when new Attorney General Hector Balderas released the audit that possibly triggered the entire episode. (I say “possibly” because I don’t know what triggered the audit.)

Staff writer Deborah Baker’s account that day included a lot of background and an update on continuing investigations.

And a few days later, Feb 3, the Journal editorial board weighed in with an opinion headlined:

Controversial health audit is out and the world is still turning”.

The editorial concluded that, “ it’s now even harder to understand the position taken by [former AG Gary] King and the three judges who agreed with him that secrecy was essential.”

Got that? AG Balderas releases the audit and the Journal reports his action and moves on to applaud the release.

Anything missing?

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Editorial Board Plays Canard Game; UpFront Columnist Commits Act of Journalism

February 1st, 2015 · economy, Fact Check, financial coverage, journalism, labor, NM Legislature, regulation, role of government, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert 

I was poised to launch into another critique of the Albuquerque Journal’s continuing assault on truth and beauty when Winthrop Quigley intervened, committing what looks very much like journalism.

Quigley wasn’t a spoiler, though; he just provided a sharp contrast between the Journal’s insistent political advocacy and what staffers like Quigley strive for, giving readers a fair shake.

But let’s begin at the beginning, with the French word canard, which means a duck (the fowl) and is also French slang for a newspaper. (Eons ago, when I lived in Paris, I remember trying to read the satirical Le Canard Enchainé.)

How it happened I don’t know, but canard came to mean in American English a false or baseless story, report, or rumor. And that sure was a plump political falsehood quaking up a storm atop the Journal’s Jan. 16 editorial on President Obama’s proposal that the nation pay for two years of community college.

“Remember how it worked out,” the editorial began, “when the federal government decided every American – no matter their income or level of financial responsibility – should be able to own a home?

Let’s pause here. Even that brief recollection is not true. No such decision was taken. OK, onward.

The editorialist moved swiftly then to merge the initial untruth with the subprime mortgage crisis, creating a cause-and-effect that adds up to a big, fat canard. Then he or she wondered why the White House hasn’t learned from the devastation.

I hate to dignify so tawdry a fabrication with a refutation. Heck, even the Wall Street executives whose ignorance and/or criminality underlay the crisis don’t blame the government. But I suppose there’s no ducking the job, so here’s what happened:

A housing bubble arose that involved both traditional money sources regulated by anti-regulation regulators, and a shadow banking system, unregulated. The bubble burst, cratering demand for goods and services. Absent demand, the economy fell into the Lesser Depression.

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Former Journal Staffer Weighs In on What He Sees as a Diversion From Gila Dam Issue

January 19th, 2015 · environment, journalism, open government, state government

By Denise Tessier

Today’s Albuquerque Journal Op Ed Page contained an opinion piece that could have fit in nicely here at ABQJournalWatch as a post. So, I bring attention to it, noting that its author, Bill Hume, is uniquely qualified to write this piece about the Journal’s coverage of the Gila River “diversion” project.

Central issue on Gila diversion is ignored” (Jan. 19) even used a term I would have used had I been in possession of the special insight needed to write such a column – which I am not. That term is that the Journal “piled on” by publishing an editorial based on an opinion column, rather than producing an editorial based on a news column. This practice of “piling on” would have been frowned upon in the old days of journalism (as we at JournalWatch have pointed out when the Journal editorial board engaged in this practice before).

In the column, Hume called out the Journal for focusing more on what he called the “side show” than on the central issues facing New Mexico with regard to the Gila River, saying the Journal has “focused on maneuverings cynically undertaken only to divert resources and attention from the real questions.” He then made the point that focusing on these maneuverings left less time and space for explaining to the public the Interstate Stream Commission’s deliberations on how the state should proceed in trying to comply with the Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act of 2004.

At this point, I would inject an observation of my own about Gila River coverage. I find that the coverage’s consistent use of the word “diversion” has been euphemistic to the point that the public perhaps doesn’t realize that this government-speak actually means damming the Gila, New Mexico’s last free-flowing river, located in the first area in the nation to be given the special designation as “wilderness.”

I have scanned articles looking for the word “dam” when reading stories like “Gila River diversion project gets boost” by the Associated Press, which ran on the Journal’s front page on Nov. 15. The word does not appear.

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The Stories That Cannot Exist

January 17th, 2015 · campaign finance reform, Congress, economy, financial coverage, health care reform, journalism, regulation

By Arthur Alpert

All hail Nick Estes’ Op Ed column in the January 9 issue of the Albuquerque Journal. We won’t see its like for a long time.

Under the rubric, “Yes, we DO know how to fix the economy”, Estes took syndicated columnist Robert Samuelson to task for writing the reverse. Estes explained:

“The economics profession has known for 80 years that a big increase in government spending and tax cuts targeted at the middle class will boost a bad economy out of the doldrums.”

Estes’ assertions are widely accepted by mainstream economists, so you would expect lots of similar articles.

Which would be silly. The Journal publishes essays like Estes’ maybe four or five times a year.

To the extent the Journal’s opinion pages represent a marketplace of ideas, it’s a specialty emporium where 99 percent of the shelf space goes to two brands of rightist economics – conservative and libertarian, the latter renamed to escape the bad odor attached to “laissez-faire” by the Great Depression.

Thus, as we’ve often pointed out, the frequent presence of essays from the Rio Grande Foundation, an outpost of the Koch brothers’ network, and its alumni, as well as other Koch-financed sources including (but not limited to) the CATO Institute and Heritage Foundation.

The Journal’s most often published syndicated voices also promote conservative or laissez-faire economics. Think Will, Krauthammer, Thomas, Hanson, Goldberg.

And then there’s the omnipresent Samuelson, sort of in the Establishment conservative camp, patently of infirm intellect.

Some marketplace.

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New Mexico Legislature Coverage Holds Promise To Be Really Good This Year

January 11th, 2015 · journalism, NM Legislature

By Denise Tessier

Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza more than once has written that a serious casualty of the shrinking of mainstream news organizations this past decade is “the disappearance of really good state capitol coverage.”

With that in mind, he praised as “very smart” the Associated Press’ announcement last month that it would create a national team of state government specialists to collaborate with statehouse reporters. The stated goal: creating reportage that better explains how legislative action affects people’s lives.

As the New Mexico Legislature gears up to begin its 2015 session on Jan. 20, New Mexico seems to be standing in good stead as far as having a pool of qualified journalists ready to cover it.

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