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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Shining a Light on the Attacks on Solar Energy

January 9th, 2015 · energy policy, environment, journalism, regulation

By Denise Tessier

A year ago this month, I posted some of the 2014 new year’s goals for the powerful “bill mill” known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), one of which was to protect polluters and attack clean energy sources by metering and charging those who produce their own solar energy.

A few months before, Huffington Post had reported an example of this how this scheme could play out, saying Arizona Public Service was given state approval to charge its roof-top solar ratepayers a monthly 70 cents per kilowatt generated. (APS, which has coal, nuclear, gas and oil-fired power plants, had originally proposed charging rooftop solar customers an additional $50-100 on their monthly bills.)

A year later, Public Service Company of New Mexico is asking the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission to allow it to charge solar rooftop generators a fee. [Read more →]

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Standing Up for George Orwell, Citing Pete Domenici and Fact-checking The Fact-free Victor Davis Hanson

January 7th, 2015 · budget policy, energy policy, Fact Check, journalism, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

Is a newspaper responsible for its syndicated columnists? For the columnists’ factual accuracy and intellectual honesty, I mean. It’s not an easy question. An answer in the affirmative puts a serious burden on editors. It’s time-consuming to read copy carefully and decide if it should be published as is, corrected or shelved.

Victor Davis Hanson’s column in the Albuquerque Journal Monday, January 5, under the rubric, “Oil glut saved Obama from himself”, inspired the query.

As a member of the Journal’s squad of conservative and far right syndicated columnists, Hanson’s primary role (befitting a “classicist and historian”) has been rewriter of history. A tireless cherry picker, he inevitably finds evidence in the Past for endorsing the partisan desires of today’s oligarchs.

And he is creative. I’ve never forgotten his portrayal (Feb. 13, 2014) of George Orwell as a rightist! This required that Hanson ignore testimony to the contrary from George Orwell himself, which is precisely what he did.

It was downright Orwellian.

But Hanson sometimes plays another role at the Journal. Editors use him, in rotation with other syndicated and local rightists, as a political hit man on trending political and economic issues.

As in Monday’s column, the message of which is clear if a trifle convoluted:

The American economy is not surging, but if it is surging, don’t credit President Obama. He did everything wrong. Heroic oilmen rescued us.

That’s fine. It’s an opinion column.

I’ll try to steer around the politics below so as to focus on Hanson’s accuracy and intellectual honesty – the better to discuss the Journal’s responsibility, if any.

First, though, let’s cheer the editor who wrote the headline – accurate, active voice, easily understood. Journal editors can write good rubrics when they want to.

Also, let’s note that the editors interjected information (on Albuquerque gas prices) at the very top of Hanson’s column. This is evidence they read it, worth keeping in mind.

In paragraph six Hanson claims that President Obama “promised” in the 2008 campaign “Under my plan…electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

He adds that Mr. Obama proposed that, “shutting down coal plants and using higher-priced but cleaner natural gas would pave the way for even pricier mandated wind and solar generation.”

This is a canard.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Mr. Obama did say those words. If, however, you credit the Washington Post’s fact checker, Hanson’s use is unfair.

When a fossil fuel lobby included that quote in an ad, WaPo’s Josh Hicks analyzed it. His Oct. 22, 2012 account headlined “Did Obama promise a ‘war on affordable energy’?” reached this conclusion:

“The American Energy Alliance used cropped footage of Obama’s 2008 interview to suggest the president is bent on raising electricity rates and bankrupting coal-powered energy plants. But the extended version of his remarks show that he supported clean-coal technology and thought it was possible to mitigate the higher electricity rates that would result from cap-and-trade.”

Yet Hanson doubled down on the American Energy Alliance misuse.

Five graphs further down, Hanson implied the Keystone XL pipeline is a factor in domestic oil supply, though TransCanada’s goal is to export its product.

In the next graph, Hanson referred to the “noble cause of curbing supposed man-made global warming.”

Forget the sneering “noble,” but make a note of the “supposed.” Hanson, a Hoover Institute scholar, is a climate change denier.

Why am I surprised?

Moving right along, Hanson writes that “sky high oil prices” proved an economic disaster.” Now I’m not certain to what disaster he refers. I hope it wasn’t Wall Street’s gift of 2008 which inspired President George W. Bush (and later, President Obama) to bail out the banks, insurance and mortgage companies that brought down the Temple.

Next Hanson complains those elevated gas prices were the reason the economy didn’t recover faster from the recession.

That’s borderline nuts. You will find few economists of any political stripe who agree.

But four graphs further down, Hanson soars. Oil and gas prices finally fell, he explains because of the “can do attitude of the private sector.

“Americans can thank the US oilman…who did the impossible.

“Oilmen, not the government, returned hundreds of millions of dollars to American consumers,” he added.

Funny, that’s not the way Pete Domenici tells it.

In Pete’s version, those heroic oilmen got a hand up from the taxpayer. As the former Senator put it in a Journal column Monday, Aug.18, 2014:

“Decades of research and development, a partnership of government and energy producers, prepared the way to current innovation.”

Domenici singled out for kudos Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs, the Bureau of Mines and the National Energy Technology Laboratory for developing the technology used in fracturing rock.

He didn’t quite say it, but the American taxpayer paid for those “decades” of R&D by, er, government agencies. Which subsidies Domenici thinks right, proper and the way to go:

“And that government-industry partnership is paramount to future breakthroughs,” he wrote.

Duly noted – Victor Davis Hanson and Pete Domenici both like the “can do” oil industry but one of them also knows what government can do for the industry.

Back to the Hoover Institution classicist/historian whose next paragraph boggles the mind:

“Almost everything Obama tried for six years in an effort to rev the economy – from near-zero interest rates and $1 trillion annual budget deficits to Obamacare and vast increases in entitlements – has failed.”

Forgive me for not parsing that sentence in full; I don’t want to slip into political commentary. But it opens with blatant ignorance – the Fed determines interest rates, not the White House. And the Constitution empowers the House on budgets, not the White House. Oh, and the Fed’s interest rate policy has been very successful; that’s the consensus not just nationally but worldwide.

Well, except for Mr. Hanson and the governor of Texas.

Time to taper off. I’ve suggested that Hanson’s essay combines (scholarly) ignorance with fierce partisanship. And that’s just in what he states affirmatively. Imagine the length of this post if I had to examine what he left out!

Like the effect of austerity on economic development, best expressed as premeditated murder. See Western Europe.

Like what the exploitation of fossil fuels does to humans and their environment. (Yes, I know Milton Friedman said corporations should shirk social responsibilities.)

Now it’s time to step back and consider the Journal editors who read Mr. Hanson’s essay riddled with basic inaccuracies and a gaping hole where intellectual honesty should be?

What to do?

Nothing, they did nothing but add a few words about gas prices in Albuquerque. Perhaps those editors agree with Hanson that the President determines interest rates and passes a budget. Perhaps they think journalists should excel in the picking of cherries.

Or maybe they just get s kick out of publishing syndicated columns proclaiming the Journal’s political agenda.

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Not Much Fanfare Now That Solyndra Loan Program Promise Is Fulfilled

January 3rd, 2015 · energy policy, environment, journalism, Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

During years of constant claims by conservatives – parroted by media like the Albuquerque Journal – the name “Solyndra” became shorthand for a fool’s errand, both in terms of the promise of green alternative energy and the Obama administration’s encouragement of it.

So, now that the federal loan program behind Solyndra has been proven a tremendous success – $5 billion in earnings to the federal government! Tens of thousands of jobs! – the Journal at least has run that information, even if its placement at the bottom of the business page isn’t quite equal to the frequent front-page coverage the multiple “failure” stories received.

And while the Journal headline on the Associated Press story it ran Tuesday (Dec. 30) is technically correct, it doesn’t convey the story’s information about just how successful the federal green energy loan program of 2009 has been.

First, let’s look at how other media outlets headlined their versions of the same success story. From Businessweek:

“U.S. Expects $5 Billion From Program That Funded Solyndra”

From the Washington Post:

“Remember Solyndra? Those loans are making money”

Here’s the Journal’s headline:

“Green-energy program overcomes Solyndra flop”

Now, as a long-time headline writer, I can see the value of “flop” – it’s short; it fits.

But to the conditioned news follower, “Solyndra flop” carries negative weight that almost prevents the reader from bothering to read the story that follows it. And in this case, the success story merits greater emphasis precisely because the Department of Energy green energy loans received so much bad press in the past.

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