Watching The Journal Cover The Presidential Campaign

July 21st, 2015 · campaign finance reform, journalism, Koch brothers

By Arthur Alpert

As an independent voter, I am watching the burgeoning 2016 presidential campaign without great enthusiasm. When the major parties name their standard-bearers, I’ll have to choose the lesser corporate evil.

It’s great fun, though, watching the Albuquerque Journal – political machine in newspaper costume – cover the campaign.

And the best part is following the Journal’s spinmeisters as they maneuver within the Republican field.

In a May 18 post, we noted the editors had printed news stories and opinion pieces denigrating Jeb Bush and two uncritical news pieces on Ted Cruz. Since then, they have printed news unfavorable to Donald Trump.  And there was a June 13 column from unrepentant neo-conservative Charles Krauthammer, who commented, not unkindly, on several GOP candidates.

Then, Friday, July 17, the Journal ran four paragraphs on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to kill an investigation into possible violations of law in one of Scott Walker’s gubernatorial campaigns. The Journal’s (source-less) account left the impression the jurors foiled a dastardly plot against Gov. Walker.

However, three Washington Post accounts and one by Monica Davey of the NY Times July 16 took a different tack. They all stressed the effects of the court’s ruling on campaign finance laws. From Davey’s Times account:

“But critics of the ruling said it was worrisome because it appeared to open the door for unregulated coordination between political campaigns and outside groups — so long as the groups stuck to advocating particular issues and did not explicitly call on people to vote for a particular candidate.

“The decision is a field day for corruption, and an early Christmas present for the C.E.O.s, multimillionaires and billionaires, who already exercise such an undue influence over our elections,” said Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks money in state political races.”

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Journal Lets Focus of Coverage Be Led by GOP

July 9th, 2015 · climate change, energy policy, environment, labor, regulation, role of government, Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

“Outside groups wrote sick leave bill” was the headline on the front page of the Albuquerque Journal Wednesday (July 8). Now, that’s a shocker.

I’m sorry to say I’m resorting to sarcasm here. The Journal, which has yet to acknowledge – let alone publish anything of substance about the influence a truly “outside” group like the American Legislative Exchange Council has in writing New Mexico policy – found front-page importance in a report that the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, with help from two other local groups, helped write the Fair Workweek Act introduced by two Albuquerque City councilors last month.

You see, it is not a shocker that councilors, legislators and others rely to a great extent on groups that have expertise (and often, an agenda) regarding certain issues. It’s not a shocker that groups share that expertise, usually in the form of white papers disseminated to policy makers. It’s not a shocker that those policy makers then come up with rules, regulations and legislation on all kinds of topics — from impact fees to abortion restrictions.

Often, those white papers are spun off into opinion columns that regularly run on the Op-Ed pages of newspapers like the Albuquerque Journal, further buttressing the validity of the legislation/rules being proposed.

In the case of ALEC, legislators (usually freshmen) are given actual templates of bills that are so detailed all the legislator has to do is change the name of the state in the legislation’s title.

But the Journal doesn’t usually write, let alone publish front-page articles about those groups, some of which, like ALEC, have received pretty damning coverage elsewhere.

But this week, the Journal found this case “unusual” enough to put a story about the role of “outside groups” on the front page. Why?

Because the state Republican Party issued a press release saying it was being done.

And (cue the ominous music here) it was done by Democratic councilors. [Read more →]

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NM’s Corporate Tax Cuts: We’re not in Kansas yet, but it’s not for want of trying

July 8th, 2015 · tax policy

By Arthur Alpert

Following in Winthrop Quigley’s footsteps, Dan Boyd has written a fair, thoughtful essay on political economy. Albuquerque Journal editors published it as an UpFront column Monday, July 6, under the headline, “Are tax incentives working? Jury’s still out”.

At the risk of looking a gift-horse in the mouth, we should read it in the context of the Journal’s treatment of that topic.

Boyd assembled evidence and opinions for and against cutting taxes to attract out-of-state corporations and concluded there’s no definitive answer.

Seems to me the evidence is stronger for the argument against, but the Journal wouldn’t allow that, not on the front page. What the editors did – allowing the questioning of a rightist article of faith – is as broad-minded as they get. So we’ll not quibble.

But it cannot hurt to add some background to what Boyd wrote and the editors permitted.

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Politics Driving News Coverage: The TPP Story

June 29th, 2015 · economy, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Halfway through “The Underpants”, the Carl Sternheim/Steve Martin farce at the Vortex (in which I have a small role), Versati, a poet, says to the government clerk, “I can’t believe that you believe what you believe!”

I feel that way about the Albuquerque Journal, but must concede that management is deeply invested in its politics.

I believe its political beliefs are a murky political soup with ingredients like love of Medieval hierarchy, Dickensian certainty that poverty represents an individual moral defect, religious faith in laissez-faire economics (and directing tax money into corporate subsidies), government is evil except when Corporate America calls the shots and war first, talk later.

All this swims in a brew of an unusual Christianity specially crafted to exalt the rich while scorning both community and justice.

And I believe the Journal is habitually small and mean.

But that’s management’s right and management’s business. It’s not mine.

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Unsourced and Misleading: Who wrote mystery paragraph inserted into wire service Obamacare story?

June 11th, 2015 · Fact Check, health care reform, journalism, Koch brothers, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

Recently, I amused you (I hope) with a post on how the Albuquerque Journal has trained me, as Pavlov did his dogs, to rush to the computer whenever it publishes an Op Ed essay from a group named “Freedom” – something.

Salivating, I turn from breakfast to Google for my reward – the knowledge that the “Freedom” organization is a Koch brothers’ front. Never fails.

That the editors’ decision to hide the source of political opinion from readers amounts to journalistic malfeasance is almost too obvious to state, but the hypocrisy – given the Journal’s editorial passion for “transparency” – demands emphasis.

For when the mission is promoting the Kochs’ political agenda (or that of other plutocratic interests), the Journal makes authorship secret, rendering its own Op Ed page opaque.

(Re those “other plutocratic interests,” the Vets4Energy Op Ed column published Monday, May 25 was, in fact, an American Petroleum Institute political commercial – as the Journal dutifully failed to note.)

Today, however, I want to acquaint you with another Journal habit that sets my antennae a-tingle.

Something like what professional gamblers call a “tell,” it reveals what the editors are up to. A case in point presented itself just the other day and after researching it, I shook my head at how far Journal editors will go to spin the news. But allow me to tell the story and you judge.

The Journal published a wire report Wednesday, June 10, on A3. Its primary headline was “Obama again defends health law”. The second deck read, “High court could gut Affordable Care Act”.

There was no byline below, just “The Associated Press” and that’s what perked my interest. Over the years I’ve learned it signals that the editors have significantly cut the piece and often, not always, fiddled with it.

So as I began reading, I was wary.

And then came the fourth paragraph:

“However, millions of other Americans have lost their insurance coverage and had to purchase more expensive and less comprehensive plans after being misled by Obama and other Democrats, who falsely promised that under the Affordable Care Act, if they liked their insurance plans, they could keep them.”

This brought me up short. Not the content, not immediately, but the tone. This background graph seemed, though I couldn’t put my finger on it, un-journalistic. Even a tad political? And for an author-less article, the language was strong.

So I decided to search for the original.

AP’s Jim Kuhnhenn wrote it, it turns out, with contributions from Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Alan Fram.

The Journal cut the piece by several paragraphs. What was dropped included a reference to a Washington Post-ABC poll that found, one, that a majority of Americans continue to oppose the law and two, that “55 percent of those surveyed don’t want the Supreme Court to block any subsidies.”

Still, the Journal’s news hole is not infinite and, frankly, I was not up for a close examination of what the editors cut. That fourth graph continued to gnaw at me.

But I couldn’t find it in Kuhnhenn’s original account. Why? Because it wasn’t there. He didn’t write it.

But how could that be? How could a paragraph find its way into a wire service story? And where did it come from? If Kuhnhenn didn’t write it, who did? I had no idea and no clue as to how to find out.

Puzzled, I decided, meanwhile, to check the accuracy of the graph. Did “millions” lose their insurance thanks to Obamacare?

My query brought up 974,000 results. The first was, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which analyzed the claim April 11, 2014 (when the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity was using it in TV ads) and found:

“Critics of the law now say millions lost their health insurance. But that’s misleading. Those individual market plans were discontinued, but policyholders weren’t denied coverage. And the question is, how many millions of insured Americans had plans canceled, and how does that compare with the millions of uninsured Americans who gained coverage under the law.

“There is evidence that far more have gained coverage than had their policies canceled.”

The second citation was from Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler, who parsed House Speaker John Boehner’s claim that Obamacare resulted in a “net loss” of people with health insurance on March 17, 2014, and awarded the Speaker four “Pinocchios” – a big lie.

There were also citations that backed “the millions lost” assertion in the Journal’s mystery paragraph; the first was from the N.Y. Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Both and the WaPo fact checker agreed that President Obama’s promise they could keep their own plans if they so wished was not accurate.

Enough. The remaining 973,997 citations will go unread, not just because I haven’t the time but also because the accuracy of the mystery graph is largely beside the point.

The point is that Albuquerque Journal editors grafted onto the Associated Press news account a paragraph – source unknown – that incorporated a political argument. (It is interesting if slightly tangential that the Journal has made that political argument exactly against Obamacare in its “news” and opinion columns for years.)

To be fair, the active political intervention I’ve just recounted is rare; the Journal habitually biases the news via passive techniques like omitting or burying what doesn’t fit its agenda and not covering stories that might cast unfavorable light on its political favorites. Rare, yes, but still egregious because – wait, I promised to let you do the judging.

And I will, after this reminder. Sixty-one years ago last Tuesday, on June 9, 1954, Army counsel Joseph N. Welch confronted Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy during the Senate-Army Hearings over McCarthy’s attack on a member of Welch’s law firm, Frederick G. Fisher and said:

“Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

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The Principal Issue

June 1st, 2015 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

When grocery shopping, I particularly enjoy the bottled juices aisle. It’s the creativity of the labels, their brilliant use of words, graphics and numbers to persuade consumers to buy colored water under the impression it is juice. I am impressed, as well, with the major corporations behind those profitable deceptions.

And then I shrug. Commercial values do not preclude lying to make a buck, so all one can do is smile and remember Roman wisdom – caveat emptor.

We expect higher ethical standards from a newspaper, of course; though a profit-seeking business, it’s supposed to deliver content fairly. Sadly, nurturing such expectations of the Albuquerque Journal would be naive.

Where to start? Well, back on May 18 I noted the Journal’s dedication to clobbering Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic candidate for president, while sparing most Republican hopefuls any attention at all, except for some adverse criticism of Jeb Bush and two friendly stories on Ted Cruz. So let’s pick up with Mrs. Clinton.

Friday, May 22, the editors ran an AP news account on A2 headlined, “Friend figures in Clinton’s Benghazi emails”.

As the Journal’s web site will confirm, the editors have found the Benghazi story impossible to resist, rarely passing on opportunities to remind readers that Mrs. Clinton ran the State Department when terrorists rampaged there.

However, a House Intelligence Committee led by Republicans told a radically different story last November. The Journal ran an Associated Press account Nov. 22, 2014:

“A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.”

That was reporter Ken Dilianian’s lead. Here’s his second graph:

“Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.”

He recapitulated what led to the inquiry under the leadership of Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., noted this was the seventh investigation to reach similar conclusions and continued:

“In the aftermath of the attacks, Republicans criticized the Obama administration and its then-secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016.”

Again, the Journal did publish that story. I don’t remember where it ran but a commenter on the Journal site complained that it should have been on Page One.

But here’s the point – the Journal continues to publish opinion pieces indicting Clinton on Benghazi that fail to mention that Republican House Intelligence Committee report.

I would like to avoid the conclusion that the Journal is out to defeat Hillary Clinton and will use its opinion and “news” pages to do so, but it’s impossible.

Oh, one final note on the May 22 AP story. The second deck of the headline read, ““Man gave her advise about Libyan affairs”.

Those italics are mine, of course.

If the Journal wanted my advice, I would advise adding an editor familiar with our language.

OK, I apologize for that. It’s unkind to ridicule illiterates. But what if it’s more than illiteracy?

Consider that one day earlier, a Journal editorial on PNM told us ”when some of the principles pulled out of the complex deal, etc., etc.” And followed up with “Now PNM and the new principles want the PRC…”

Somebody doesn’t know how to spell “principal.”

If it were simple ignorance, I would forgive but what’s happening here – the principal issue – is not so easily explained. Anybody can make a mistake, that’s why we have editors. So how come an editor didn’t catch those errors?

My educated guess is that Journal editors are distracted from basic duties – overseeing spelling, grammar and usage – by their (unprincipled) determination to politicize the news.

Me, I prefer the bottled juice folks whose lying labels are spelled properly.

Incidentally, the Journal’s animus toward Hillary Clinton – in its news and opinion pages, remember – is just part of a larger subject, how it’s covering the Presidential campaign. Fecklessly, is the brief answer, which judgment I plan to justify in a future post.

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No Denying of Access for Climate Change Deniers

May 22nd, 2015 · climate change, energy policy, environment, journalism

By Denise Tessier

It’s been nearly two years since the Los Angeles Times stopped running letters from climate change deniers, and a few other media outlets have since taken a stand against disseminating misinformation about the science of climate change.

The Albuquerque Journal is not among them.

Once again this past week the Journal ran a guest column advocating skepticism of the existence of climate change.

The May 16 piece by William E. Keller, identified by the Journal as a “Santa Fe Resident,” was written as rebuttal to a letter to the editor that had run a month earlier.

It is possible that Keller submitted his rebuttal in letter form as well, but whatever its intended format, it was run by the Journal as a column. In doing so, Journal editors gave it much more prominent space – on the Journal’s Op-Ed page, at the top right-hand corner – than was given to the letter, which was all of five paragraphs in a page full of letters that ran April 14.

Having cornered Op-Ed page real estate, Keller’s column also got a two-part headline to top it off. “Data support skepticism on climate” was the main headline, followed in smaller type by the sub-head “Hard evidence has debunked some hypotheses that have been part of the party line.”

In his piece, Keller called the previous month’s letter from Charles Caldwell of Albuquerque “a misguided polemic against skeptics” and he put those who are not skeptics on a par with Kermit the Frog (“It’s not easy being green”). From Keller’s column:

Kermit could also have said “it’s not easy being skeptic.” While skepticism is an essential element for science, Caldwell reviles skeptics who don’t agree with him, brazenly exhorting the Journal to “stop wasting ink on denial letters.”…

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The Journal Is Not What Mr. Dooley Had in Mind

May 18th, 2015 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

I’ve always known some journalists believed the purpose of a newspaper was “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” but not until a few days ago did I learn the source of the quote.

Finley Peter Dunne, the 1890s-era humorist, wrote it in the voice of Martin Dooley, his famous bartender/political commentator, as Dooley’s granddaughter told the NY Times Book Review May 10.

Mind you, few publishers agreed. In the early 1900s most newspapers reflected their owners’ class interests, notwithstanding Teddy Roosevelt’s muckrakers. Then about midway through the 20th century, publishers adopted a kind of professionalism. Out with the most sensational and fictional (bye-bye, “Front Page”) and in with relative sobriety, accuracy and “objectivity.”

This professionalism was tilted toward the status quo, relying heavily on Establishment sources, “balance” and little questioning of the powerful. Nothing surprising there; a newspaper, like life, is hierarchical and owners, not reporters, call the shots.

At this mid-century point I got into the business, captivated by the joy of getting paid to learn how the world worked, innocent of the history.

Since then, beginning with the collapse (after Richard Nixon) of the liberal consensus that had prevailed since the Great Depression, we’ve experienced challenges to that professional model.

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Carrying Water for the Right. . .and Other Blunders

May 3rd, 2015 · campaign finance reform, climate change, environment, foreign policy, inequality, journalism

By Denise Tessier

Ideas for ABQJournalWatch posts have far surpassed my time to write of late, and rather than let them get too moldy to use (as has often been the case in the past), the following are brief riffs on (fairly) recent Albuquerque Journal eyebrow raisers.

It’s OK for Susana but Not the Dems

We weren’t the only ones to notice when the Journal pounced on Attorney General Hector Balderas and Auditor Tim Keller in an April 29 editorial that criticized the two for sending email donation requests to fellow Democrats in advance of next year’s elections. Joe Monahan’s newmexicoblogspot of April 30 noted that the two Democrats had been “singled out for an editorial bashing”.

The editorial said Balderas and Keller “should take the high ground” and refrain from “scrounging for donations”, saying the two men are “supposed to be governed by rule of law and protect the taxpayers’ bottom line” and therefore “should be above partisan politics.”

The editorial questioned whether either man plans “to treat New Mexicans of all political stripes equitably and fairly” in their official duties, considering their letters ask for donations to not only defeat Republicans but help fellow Democrats.

Funny thing is, the Journal didn’t concern itself enough to editorialize when Gov. Susana Martinez sent out email solicitations for donations when announcing her formation of Susana PAC! a few years ago.

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‘New’ Media Making Newsworthy In-Roads

May 1st, 2015 · environment, journalism

By Denise Tessier

For the second time in as many days, this morning’s Albuquerque Journal carried a front-page story that had been covered first by other New Mexico media.

In “DA Fears for her safety after charging APD officers,” the Journal directly quoted District Attorney Kari Brandenburg’s comments that had been published in last week’s ABQ Free Press:

I fear for my safety because other Albuquerque Police Department officers have told me that I should. I don’t think they’re going to kill me, but I have been told to fear for my safety.

The previous day, the Journal reported on plans for construction of a 32-acre “interim” commercial nuclear waste storage site for southeastern New Mexico, five days after the Santa Fe New Mexican advanced the story (the subject of yesterday’s ABQJournalWatch post.)

The district attorney’s comments, made during what ABQ Free Press reporter Dennis Domrzalski had called a “wide-ranging interview,” were important enough to warrant a story and follow-up by other media, including the Journal. And the Journal noted in its story that Brandenburg has declined to talk to anyone else:

Brandenburg, through a spokeswoman, declined to discuss the issue with the Journal and has not done interviews with local television stations on the subject.

This is not to chide the Journal (again) for calling itself “New Mexico’s Leading News Source”. Nor is it to remake the point that “scooping” the competition – so important decades ago, when local TV was a rival rather than a partner and the daily Albuquerque Tribune was robust – is not so important to the Journal these days.

In fact, the Journal story about Brandenburg’s comments contained new information: that the U.S. Attorney’s Office was ready to make a referral to the FBI to investigate any threats, but Brandenburg told them not to pursue the matter, and that Albuquerque Police Department officials first learned about the DA’s fears from the ABQ Free Press interview; it received no request from the DA’s office to investigate.

What is noteworthy here is that ABQ Free Press has “made the news” in this way.

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