Journal Isn’t Telling Whole Story About IRS “Scandal”

March 14th, 2014 · campaign finance reform, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

You’ve probably noticed I shy away from writing about the major political parties. There are several reasons. One is my working premise that both parties respond to their corporate underwriters.  And there’s a practical concern – were I to condemn Albuquerque Journal editors for tilting toward Party A, it might read as if I’m siding with Party B.

Yet I will risk being misunderstood here because there’s lots at stake in the Journal’s campaign to persuade readers there’s an IRS “scandal” involving discrimination against right-wing groups.

What’s at stake is not just journalistic malpractice but a dire civic problem. We’ll take them in order.

Of course, there could be such a scandal. Heck, it wouldn’t be the first time the IRS violated citizens’ rights. Thus far, however, I don’t know if it exists.

What I do know is the Journal isn‘t telling the whole story.

First, let’s recap recent campaign events. Journal editors ran a Victor Davis Hanson syndicated column Feb. 19 in which he stated the “scandal” allegations as fact and tied the IRS to George Orwell’s Big Brother.

Next, March 6, the editors ran a three-paragraph brief on A3 headlined  “Ex-IRS boss takes 5th, again”, which reported as fact the IRS “improperly singled out Tea Party and other conservative groups.”

And March 9 they printed a George Will essay in which he accepted the “scandal” as fact and blamed the President for it.

It’s noteworthy that Hanson, Will and the Journal are relaying the House Committee leadership’s allegations and (perhaps) information from others allied with the leadership.

There’s nothing from the House minority. And nothing from journalists covering the story.

We’ll get to what reporters have unearthed, but first let’s consider the source of the IRS “scandal.”

He’s Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican whose past includes beating charges of grand theft auto and arson. For a glimpse into Issa’s criminal and political biography, and informed speculation on his role in harassing Barack Obama, see Ryan Lizza’s celebrated “Don’t look Back” in the January 24, 2011 New Yorker.

There’s been no questioning of Issa’s bona fides from Hanson, Will or the Journal.

Next, let’s look at what the IRS is accused of.

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Tesla Problems Poof Gone, PLUS a Shocking Absence of Partisonship

March 6th, 2014 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Kudos to whoever makes decisions on what syndicated columnists the Albuquerque Journal will publish regularly.

Writing here Feb. 21 about the Journal’s latest addition, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, I noted his Establishment credentials, self-awareness and ability to admit failure; specifically, his confession he was wrong to back the disastrous US attack on Iraq.

I contrasted Ignatius with the “unrepentant” Charles Krauthammer and several other “neo-cons … or partisans” who dominate opinion on the Journal’s editorial page

But not until I read his essay on Vladimir Putin in the Tuesday, March 4 edition, did I grasp what a sharp contrast Ignatius would offer.

The differences lie neither in Ignatius’ views nor in his tone, though the polite thoughtfulness is welcome.

No, it’s what was missing from his column – partisanship.

Oh, the shock.

Finding an analysis of foreign affairs in the Journal with not a hint of party politics, I mean.

And as if to remind us what a departure Ignatius represents, there right below it, was George Will’s take on the same situation.

Happily for my thesis but unhappily for those who remember him as a fair-minded conservative, Will doesn’t hide his partisanship.

Of course, the Ukraine story is in its infancy and we’ll probably get to hear from Krauthammer, Cal Thomas, Jonah Goldberg and Victor Davis Hanson who will – I wager – toe a party line.

But they’ve haven’t yet (I’m writing Wednesday, March 5) so the Journal’s narrative on the Ukraine isn’t perfectly clear.

How refreshing.

As a postscript to that Ignatius post, I’d wondered if the newspaper had dropped liberal Eugene Robinson. No, the editors ran his Ukraine analysis today.

Meanwhile, over in the “news” columns, the Journal has braked and reversed course on the subject of Tesla:

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Another Year, Another Press Freedom Incident at CNM

February 27th, 2014 · Education, journalism, labor

By Denise Tessier

It’s been almost a year since the last incident. And now, we have reports of another misstep by Central New Mexico Community College with regard to its school newspaper, the CNM Chronicle, and student freedom of the press.

Kudos to the Albuquerque Journal for covering it.

Last year, CNM pulled copies of the student newspaper off the racks because it contained advice of a sexual nature – and the administration was pretty much slammed with criticism for the action, including by ABQJournalWatch.

This time, the administration is less direct in leashing its student newspaper, accused this time of silencing CNM faculty by having them sign contracts that forbid use of “College resources” to further certain types of speech, specifically with regard to unions. [Read more →]

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Off Track Coverage and ‘Grandstanding’

February 24th, 2014 · environment, NM Legislature

By Denise Tessier

Gov. Susana Martinez and the state helicopter were in the Albuquerque Journal last week (Feb. 21), but not Amtrak trains.

Missing from the state’s leading newspaper was a story about what New Mexico plans to do about a proposed partnership with Colorado, Kansas, Amtrak and track owner Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to keep the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief active beyond 2015.

The Southwest Chief is the Los Angeles-to-Chicago line that goes through Gallup, Albuquerque, Lamy, Las Vegas and Raton. (Cost to ride from Albuquerque: $76 one way to L.A.; $140 one-way to Chicago.) The Santa Fe New Mexican had a story at the beginning of the month (Feb. 1), saying the plan:

. . . could hinge on New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s support. The partnership calls for each (state) to shoulder a share of the track maintenance costs, and proponents of the plan in all three states view Martinez as its foremost obstacle.

So far, Martinez has not been keen on the idea. She has persistently said the necessary track repairs are the responsibility of the federal government, not the taxpayers of New Mexico.

The New York Times picked up on the story Feb. 17, and the latter is where this reader heard about the proposal and the role New Mexico is being asked to play (“Small Towns in Southwest Fear Loss of Cherished Train Line”).

KUNM-FM reported the story this past week, quoting the New Mexican’s cleverly headlined, “Martinez could derail tri-state plan to save Southwest Chief.” [Read more →]

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Syndicated Columnists and the Iraq War

February 21st, 2014 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

The Albuquerque Journal just added David Ignatius as a regular columnist. I hadn’t realized the newspaper was in dire need of still another essayist who got Iraq wrong, but wait, let’s not jump to conclusions.

Born to the purple, the son of a former Navy Secretary and a descendant of Cotton Mather, he attended the St. Albans School, Harvard and Cambridge. He did some excellent journalism domestically and from overseas for the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, where he’s now associate editor and columnist.

And he’s a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Establishment, obviously, but read on and the picture becomes more complex.

Yes, he favored the war, but Ignatius criticized the George W. Bush administration for torturing captives.

Also, he moderated a conversation between Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft for a 2008 volume entitled “America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy”.

Neither of those guys is simple-minded.

At this point, I saw Ignatius as upper class, sophisticated and informed, nothing like a neo-con wing nut.

Then I came across a revealing, positive nugget. Ignatius published a WaPo piece March 20, 2013 headlined “The painful lessons of Iraq” in which he apologized to readers “for being wrong on the overriding question of whether the war made sense.”

“Invading Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein a decade ago was one of the biggest strategic errors in modern American history,” he wrote.

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CBO Report Coverage: A Banquet of Advocacy

February 18th, 2014 · health care reform, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Last time out I acquainted you with one Albuquerque Journal recipe for dishing rightist advocacy. Editor/cooks using it print multiple opinions that coincide with management’s editorial agenda while excluding opinions (or stories) that conflict.

My example was the CBO report on Obamacare. Non-partisan experts said lots of Americans will choose to leave their jobs if they can get health insurance elsewhere.

The editors promptly published three syndicated columns (Milbank, Goldberg, Will) arguing that’s a bad thing.

They added an editorial that agreed.

And they failed to edit comic Argus Hamilton’s unfunny misstatement of the CBO conclusion.

Ah, but Journal editors aren’t short-order cooks, they produce entire banquets of advocacy. Ergo, it’s no surprise they’ve published one more rightist take on the CBO report which doubles as a jeremiad against Obamacare.

Nor is it disconcerting to catch the editors in the act of warring on Obamacare in the news pages. Again. Sad, yes, but not disconcerting.

I’ll deal with that last below, as dessert, but the main course is Charles Krauthammer’s essay in the Sunday, Feb. 16 edition. It’s worth reading and parsing, mostly for what it reveals about him.

Let’s stipulate, please, that he’s intelligent and a professional columnist, it being understood that neither intelligence nor professionalism is synonymous with rationality or getting things right.

In fact, as this essay clearly reveals, Krauthammer’s thinking is shaped by his deep pessimism about human nature.

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On the Education Front: Moving Front and Center, But Wounded From the Fight

February 17th, 2014 · Education, NM Legislature

By Denise Tessier

Education policy got the play it deserved in the Sunday morning Journal, at the top of the front page. “Education policy in focus at Roundhouse” no doubt was pushed over the top in terms of placement by the newsworthy coming together outside the Capitol Roundhouse of several hundred teachers and parents demonstrating against the governor’s education initiatives as legislators debated those initiatives inside.

Photographs of the demonstrators – carrying signs with messages like “Give Education Back to the People”– helped make clear this is an issue of great importance to great numbers of people in New Mexico. Coverage of the protestors – estimated at between 800 and 2,000 in number — was combined in the three-bylined story with reportage on the actions of a House committee debating the governor’s education initiatives and Gov. Susana Martinez’s same-day press conference in Albuquerque, at which she was complaining the Legislature was ignoring those initiatives.

It was a kind of perfect storm that could not be ignored. And to the Journal’s credit, with three reporters covering the three aspects of the story and a photographer at the rally, it was given proper play.

This is not to say the Journal has been ignoring the education controversy.  It has consistently reported on the friction that has arisen since Martinez hired an out-of-state non-educator to head New Mexico’s Public Education Department, a secretary-designate who still (as of this posting) had not been confirmed by the state Senate since her nomination in December 2010 and whose position was even proposed for elimination by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday (Feb. 12).

Normally the education story and its placement would be unworthy of comment; it is illustrative of a newspaper doing its job. Yet the front-page coverage Sunday — and its prominence in terms of space given in both text and photographs — stands out because it reflects in a nutshell where education policy stands at this point.

It illustrates that citizens and educators – individually and through their legislators – have been unhappy with the administration’s reform proposals and suspicious of motives behind them. And while news stories have run about this, this news narrative has been diluted in the Journal by polemical guest columns and Journal editorials themselves, which until recently seemed almost unquestionably to take the side of the governor and her PED chief, despite the administration’s polarizing top-down approach to education. [Read more →]

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Varying the Usual Recipe in Obamacare Coverage

February 14th, 2014 · Fact Check, health care reform, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

If you visit this site often, you know the Albuquerque Journal is less a newspaper than a restaurant where cooks follow several recipes in a daily effort to feed readers a diet of rightist advocacy.

One favorite recipe begins with a ”news story,” often from the Associated Press Washington Bureau, that leans far rightward (or upward toward the One Percent). Then Journal chefs massage that basic ingredient via editorial headlines and/or editing out distasteful material before placing the dish prominently on Page One.

Starting next day, the kitchen crew lards the editorial page with syndicated opinion pieces from the newspaper’s list of One Percent apologists to perfume the original “news story.”

Shortly thereafter, an editorial appears garnishing the same p-o-v.

Oh, and if the newspaper’s resident rightwing comic weighs in on the Right side, well, that’s lagniappe.

Finally, the cooks, having advocated for the One Percent’s truth in editorials, syndicated columns and the so-called “news pages,” publish a local Op Ed or a letter that argues “the other side.”

This is fairness, Journal-style.

The most recent use of the above recipe involves the CBO’s recent report on Obamacare and the economy. Political fireworks over its meaning engaged the CBO, the White House and its political opposition.

This time the editors varied the recipe a bit, which I’ll get to below.

First let’s trace how the cooks followed the recipe post- story.

As opener, they published syndicated columnist Dana Milbank’s hammering of the Administration Friday, Feb. 7.

They added a like editorial Saturday, Feb. 8.

Jonah Goldberg’s essay came along Feb. 9.

And George Will took his shot Feb. 11.

Mustn’t forget to mention comic Argus Hamilton, who wrote Feb. 10, “The Congressional Budget Office reported that Obamacare will cost two million people their jobs.”

No, that’s false, but who edits for accuracy at the Albuquerque Journal?

Meanwhile, the Albuquerque Journal published nothing elucidating the CBO’s views or reflecting what White House supporters argued. Not in the news. Not on the opinion pages.

And it could have.

We know that because the Associated Press offered what it calls a Fact Check. Here’s the headline:

“FACT CHECK: Anti-Obamacare chorus is off key”.

Calvin Woodard, who wrote this Thursday, Feb. 6, piece, first notes the CBO report touched off criticism from those “who’ve claimed all along that the law will kill jobs.”

“But,” writes Woodard, “some aren’t telling it straight.”

“Workers aren’t being laid off,” he continues. “They are taking themselves out of the workforce, in many cases opening job opportunities for others.”

Woodard went on to contrast what the CBO said with what critics said it said, to the detriment of those critics. And he concluded:

“But the predicted withdrawal from the labor market is no more a killer of jobs than today’s surge of retirements by baby boomers entering old age. If anything, it could open job opportunities for people who can’t get in the workforce now.”

Need I tell you the Journal didn’t publish that Fact Check?

The Journal did put it on its website. It sits near the pieces by Milbank, Goldberg, Will, the editorial and Angus Hamilton’s inaccuracy.

Journal-style fairness strikes again.

Now encumbered as I am by a more conventional idea of fairness, let’s turn to the recipe variation I mentioned earlier.

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A Quick Example of Bias Infecting ACA News

February 12th, 2014 · health care reform, journalism

By Denise Tessier

Part of the blame for the Albuquerque Journal’s perceived overall conservative bias comes from the mixing of opinion with news. This is a not problem that lies in the work of its staff reporters, but in its use of national Associated Press stories that increasingly seem infected with opinion. The problem, too, is that the Journal runs these stories without the addition of an “analysis” label or, in the alternative,  judicious editing.

My colleague Arthur Alpert has rightly noted in past posts  that one of the regular AP offenders in this category is Washington-based reporter Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, whose work regularly runs in the Albuquerque Journal as the official word on the Affordable Care Act.

Late last month, the Journal ran at the bottom of A3 the first few paragraphs of an Alonso-Zaldivar piece that offers an opportunity to illustrate quickly the infection of straight news by overreaching editorial comment.

Here’s the opening sentence on the piece (no link available via the Journal online):

Maybe the health care law was about wealth transfer, after all.

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Was Christie Headline Due to Inexperience?

February 9th, 2014 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

An individual with inside knowledge of the Albuquerque Journal told me over lunch the other day that I was making a serious mistake in these posts.

Too often, this authority said, I attributed the daily’s journalistic failures to the editors’ political skullduggery; in truth, they are more likely the result of inexperienced staff.

Given the speaker’s credentials, I accepted the critique and resolved to ride herd on myself.

No rushes to judgment. No jumps to big conclusions. From now on, I resolved, my default conclusion will be that inexperience (or perhaps incompetence) accounts for the Journal’s daily disasters.

And then came the Tuesday, Feb. 4 Journal with a Chris Christie story on A2.

Two Trenton, New Jersey-based Associated Press reporters wrote that Gov. Christie said his office is cooperating with a subpoena from federal authorities investigating whether laws were broken when traffic lanes at the George Washington Bridge were closed, apparently for political retribution.

That Christie is cooperating with a federal subpoena was their lead.

In the second graph, they reported more of what Christie said in a radio interview, his first responses to reporter’s questions in more than three weeks on what transpired in Ft. Lee, N.J., when he learned about it and what he did.

Graph three quoted the Governor defending himself.

Graph four was background.

And here is graph five:

“Meanwhile Monday, Christie’s campaign sought to exceed New Jersey’s election spending cap to pay for lawyers dealing with subpoenas stemming from a political payback scandal.”

Now a question – - what did the headline writer use as the basis for his or her rubric?

The correct answer is the editor skipped the reporters’ first four graphs to seize upon five, concerning the Governor’s money situation. Thus, the Journal’s headline in its print edition:

“Christie needs cash for lawyers”.

And if that did not cause your tears to well up, here’s the second deck of the head:

“Money needed to reply to subpoenas”.

Hold on. I must find a Kleenex.

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