Is That All There Is?

October 19th, 2014 · Congress, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Is that all there is?

Put that sentence in quotes and you have Peggy Lee’s brilliant hit song, a Rorschach of disillusion, sadness and whatever else you read into it, from 1969.

It also expresses perfectly my reaction to the Election 2014 story the Journal ran Friday, Oct. 17 on the Metro page under the headline “Pearce, Lara square off” (print edition) and James Monteleone’s byline.

I did not watch the televised debate between 2nd CD Rep. Steve Pearce (R., NM) and challenger Roxanne “Rocky” Lara or examine a transcript but the account looks to be accurate and balanced.

But, is that all there is?

The story told us what the candidates said, but lacked context. It was a pure “he said, she said” exercise. The journalist offered no help whatsoever to the reader wondering what was true, what the candidates fudged or if one or both delivered a whopper.

I recognized several places where a reporter could raise questions what a candidate said, but it didn’t happen.

This was, in other words, a perfectly objective report. Objective, meaning “here’s what we observed happened. After that, you are on your own. I’m off to the nearest bar.”

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The Journal’s Bad Habit of Politically Motivated Headlines

October 12th, 2014 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

As I was musing the other day about my last post here, there came to mind, unbidden, a 1940s era radio show called “Can You Top This?” where comedians tried to out-funny each other.

No matter how long I monitor the Albuquerque Journal, I’ll never find anything to top the arrogance, self-indulgence and borderline psychosis exhibited by the Journal editor who wrote a headline for an opinion column that commented on (sneered at) the columnist’s argument.

I still find it hard to believe.

In retrospect, though, the weirdness of that anti-journalistic episode may obscure a crucial point, namely that the Journal habitually writes headlines to promote its political agenda.

Habitually. Oh, they’re not as outré or freakish as that sneer but they’re just as corrupting of journalism. Some cases in point follow.

In case A, the newspaper came out swinging for a candidate and a cause via the headlines (two of them) editors put over a local news story.

That was reporter Dan McKay’s Election 2014 piece on the race between Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, a Democrat, and her GOP challenger, Simon Kubiak, on the front page of the Metro section Wednesday, Oct. 8.

Somebody decided the main headline should be “O’Malley, Kubiak disagree on taxes”.

The same somebody, I presume, decided the second deck should read “Republican challenger says residents of country are already paying enough”. (Note: This appeared in the print edition.)

A professional journalist would have written neither – for they add up to an intervention on Kubiak’s side.

As I have noted here before, editors conventionally write heads based on the reporter’s lead paragraph. That’s because the reporter has put the guts of the story up there or at least what will grab readers.

In this case, McKay’s lead was a grabber:

“Simon Kubiak expects to lose – and lose big – when Bernalillo County voters head to the polls next month.”

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Journal Helps Whip Up ‘Celebrate Sex’ Controversy at UNM

October 11th, 2014 · Education, journalism

By Denise Tessier

The recent brouhaha over four days of “Celebration of Sex” seminars at the University of New Mexico reminded this reader of the CNM administration’s discomfort when a student newspaper dedicated an issue to sex education at that community college last year. Only this time, it could be argued that the Albuquerque Journal helped create the UNM controversy by simply overplaying the story and making it into a big deal.

In doing so, the state’s largest paper basically took sides with a conservative student group, arguably at the expense and over the wishes of students interested in the information those meetings provided.

‘Celebrate Sex’ week stirs controversy at UNM” was the story headline the Journal splashed across the front page on Sept. 30. Not surprisingly, considering the Journal had declared the whole thing a “controversy” in such attention-grabbing fashion, the university started getting emails and phone calls and three days later the Journal had another front-page story: “UNM issues ‘Celebrate Sex Week’ apology.”

The source of the controversy basically came down to one paragraph in the first story the Journal ran: [Read more →]

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Journal Still Promoting Voodoo Economics

October 6th, 2014 · budget policy, Congress, economy, journalism, tax policy

By Denise Tessier

Based on the latest figures from the U.S. Labor Department, USA Today (and other news outlets) reported over the weekend that September’s unemployment rate had dropped below 6 percent for the first time since 2008, when George W. Bush left in his wake a destroyed economy that saw losses of a million jobs a month.

Then, in this morning’s New York Times, Paul Krugman warned that “voodoo economics” will be getting a push in Congress again this year.

So, what did the Albuquerque Journal offer readers on this topic? Yet another column by discredited economist Micha Gisser, paired up with his former Rio Grande Foundation colleague Kenneth Brown, both of whom have been criticized on ABQJournalWatch for their economic analyses, as well as by economists who generally rebut those analyses via letters to the editor or columns of their own.

Five policies that could fix economy” was the title on a column actually promoting the very voodoo economics Krugman warned against (with a call for repeal of Obamacare thrown in for good measure).

As we pointed out in August, even Rio Grande Foundation Director Paul Gessing (in his own letter to the editor of Business Outlook) found himself criticizing a previous column by Gisser, saying he respected Gisser as an economist, “but I think he allows politics to cloud his economic thinking in his recent column on the U.S. and New Mexico economies.”

One need only look at the first of the five Gisser/Brown policy “fix” claims — the one on fiscal policy — to see them proving Krugman’s point (and Gessing’s, although he might not agree with its application here): that politics, rather than economics, is driving their argument. [Read more →]

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It’s Simply Moralizing, You See

October 3rd, 2014 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

The Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday, Sept. 28, that New Mexico press associations recognized excellence in covering breaking news, photography, sports, features, editorial cartoon and mobile apps.

It was good to be reminded there are many talented hardworking staffers doing professional work at the daily.

What’s lacking though is recognition of those in Journal management who see beyond the daily news meeting, past the narrow confines of professionalism and dare to explore new frontiers in journalism, going (as far as I know) where no man or woman has gone before.

That’s why I am announcing here and now the Arthur Alpert award for 2014’s Boldest Flouting of Dull Propriety in the Interest of Who Knows? And since I cannot conceive of anything like it in the next three months, we will name the winner right now.

The envelope, please? Thank you.

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Not Newsworthy at The Journal: Climate Change Protests, Departure of Google and Facebook from ALEC

September 24th, 2014 · energy policy, environment, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Across the globe, demonstrators marched and chanted and some did civil disobedience to wake the rest of us to the ill effects of climate change. That was Sunday, Sept. 21.

The New York Times’ story the next day, prominently displayed, was headlined “Taking a Call for Climate Change to the Streets”.

The Times also featured another story, headlined “Rockefellers, Heirs to an Oil Fortune, Will Divest Charity of Fossil Fuels”, which evolved into a survey of efforts in academia and foundations to combat climate change.

The Washington Post wrapped three stories – the Rockefeller family decision, global demonstrations and the upcoming UN summit on climate – into one big takeout headlined, “Big Oil’s heirs join call for action as climate summit opens”.

WaPo’s Sept. 21 story also dealt in part with American corporations’ efforts to combat climate change. Some big businesses are, it seems, very worried.

And back in New Mexico, the state’s largest daily published – can you guess?

Well, if you said the Albuquerque Journal ran no story Monday, Sept. 22, on the worldwide demonstrations, the upcoming UN climate talks or the apparent apostasy of Standard Oil’s descendants, you are correct.

Nor was there a story the 23rd.

The Journal did publish an opinion column by Amy Goodman, the syndicated moralist, Saturday, Sept. 20, where she previewed the UN climate change meeting. And Tuesday, Sept. 23, it published Eugene Robinson’s opinions on the topic.

But not a word in what the Journal passes off as news pages.

Was it an accident? Happenstance? Confusing opinion and news?

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Growing Awareness About Climate Change Too Great To Ignore

September 23rd, 2014 · energy policy, environment, journalism

By Denise Tessier

People must lead in climate change .”

That headline on Eugene Robinson’s column in the Albuquerque Journal this morning couldn’t be more pertinent. The people who will lead in climate change aren’t the world leaders meeting today at the U.N. Climate Summit, but rather the citizens of the world, Robinson wrote, saying “public awareness and pressure are the best hope for effective climate action.”

Among these “people” are the more than 300,000 who marched against climate change in New York City Sunday. Robinson also noted that family members of The Rockefeller Brothers Fund – the foundation of the nation’s greatest oil dynasty – had announced Sunday that they would divest themselves of fossil fuel investments out of concern about climate change. That story ran in the Washington Post Sunday, which Journal subscribers could read free under the paper’s arrangement with the Post.

As the Post reported, this divesture is “no trivial matter”:

For 140 years, the Rockefellers were the oil industry’s first family, scions of a business empire that spawned companies called Exxon, Mobil, Amoco and Chevron. So it was no trivial matter when a group of Rockefeller heirs decided recently to begin severing financial ties to fossil fuels.

“There is a moral imperative to preserve a healthy planet,” said Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, a great-great-granddaughter of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller Sr. and a trustee of the largest charitable foundation in which the family still plays the leading role.

Then, this morning came another announcement: Google would sever its ties with ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the group that has helped the extractive industries by, for example, producing national templates legislators can take back to their states to roll back laws that promote wind and solar energy . Microsoft broke its ties with ALEC a few weeks ago, according to the Chicago Tribune.

As the Tribune reported:

“The consensus within the company was that that was some sort of mistake,” Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said, referring to the initial decision to support ALEC.

“Everyone understands climate change is occurring, and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place,” Schmidt said in an interview with National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm. “And so we should not be aligned with such people – they’re just, they’re just literally lying.”

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On Losing Tesla: Blame the Unions

September 19th, 2014 · budget policy, economy, journalism, labor, tax policy

By Denise Tessier

In the days since Tesla announced its decision to locate its $2 billion “mega” battery factory in Nevada, a number of stories have pondered New Mexico’s “loss.”

In the ABQ Free Press, reporter Peter St. Cyr talked to politicians, business leaders and “free market advocates” and came up with a list of things that need to be corrected if New Mexico is to attract a Tesla-like enterprise in the future: “underperforming higher and elementary education systems, restrictive government regulations, high taxes, limited infrastructure and transportation shortfalls” (“What Did N.M. Learn from Tesla?”, Sept. 10; no link online).

In “Looking past the Tesla blame game” (Sept. 7), Albuquerque Journal UpFront columnist Winthrop Quigley focused beyond political blame (Gov. Susana Martinez’s weak leadership or anti-business Democrats in the Legislature, “depending on whom you believe”) to point out it was God who “put us more than 800 miles away from the nearest deep-water port (and) put the nation’s lithium in Nevada.” [Read more →]

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More Journalistic Offenses of Commission and Omission

September 17th, 2014 · economy, financial coverage, health care reform, inequality, journalism, polling

By Arthur Alpert

Some days this gig is frustrating. No, that’s incorrect; it’s frustrating most days because I cannot decide if I should alert you to Albuquerque Journal management’s daily journalistic offenses of commission or its offenses of omission.

Should I say the headline on Winthrop Quigley’s Sept. 14 UpFront column on commercial insurance rates managed to miss the most fascinating part of his complex analysis –the impact of one pricey new hepatitis C drug – while succeeding in bad-mouthing Obamacare?

Or, alternatively, that the Journal has totally ignored the issue of refunding the Export-Import Bank, which subsidizes major American enterprises. This failure has nothing to do, I’m sure, with the Journal’s determination to downplay the struggle between Tea Partiers who oppose and conservatives who support the ExIm Bank.

Oh, and speaking of that struggle within the Right, you would not know from the Journal’s coverage of the US response to ISIS that there are rightists warning against intervention. Instead, the usual suspects beat the war drums.


Should I point out the Sept. 14 story on the Journal’s poll showing Governor Martinez widening her lead over Attorney General King dealt only with that? The editors found no room to note that a NY Times/CBS poll found Martinez’s lead shrinking. (See NM Telegram, Sept. 12.) Nor have they found room to cite the NYT/CBS poll elsewhere.

Or that the editors have neglected to inform you that, as the NY Times Upshot noted Sept. 3, per capita Medicare spending is actually falling, even as they have published several more AP Washington reports on Obamacare’s terribleness.

Should I note the Journal’s amazing hire, a mind-reading headline writer? “Winter wants to build bridges, cut drama” was the headline atop Jon Swedien’s interview with interim APS superintendent Brad Winter on page one, Sept. 16.

Poor Swedien. Lacking ESP, he reported only what Winter said. The writer of the rubric, however, saw into the politician’s soul.

In this case, the problem would appear to be basic journalistic ignorance, not bias. I find that cheering.

However, while it’s fine that Swedien failed to identify Winter as of the same political persuasion as the governor and interim education secretary, the editors’ decision to put the story on the front page suggests we should keep an eye on the Journal’s treatment of the APS situation.

Returning to omissions, I must point out the Journal’s failure to report a big Standard and Poor’s story because it’s really odd. The Journal loved and respected S&P when it lowered its long-term credit rating on the U.S. (Barack Obama, president) Aug. 5, 2011. The editors’ appreciation of S&P was so strong they never mentioned it lied about bond values, thereby abetting other banksters in perpetrating the great Wall Street heist of 2008.

Yet despite all that, the Journal ignored the S&P study this past August 4 that argued income and wealth inequality is causing slower economic growth.

Pretty good story! The Wall Street Journal reported it August 5. And Neil Irwin wrote in the NY Times the same day:

“The fact that S&P, an apolitical organization that aims to produce reliable research for bond investors and others, is raising alarms about the risks that emerge from income inequality is a small but important sign of how a debate that has been largely confined to the academic world and left-of-center political circles is becoming more mainstream.”

Mainstream, maybe, but not in Albuquerque’s faux newspaper, where debate is not always welcome and discussion of inequality is – what’s the word?

Oh yes, carping.

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Siding With the Rich and Powerful: The Journal’s Lack of Support for the Voice of the Citizenry

September 13th, 2014 · campaign finance reform, Congress, inequality, tax policy, voting rights

By Denise Tessier

Unlike the Albuquerque Journal, New Mexico Telegraph blogger Matt Reichbach saw the importance of one particular news story from Thursday. The first entry on his “Morning Word” list of stories from around the state today was this:

• As expected, a Republican filibuster blocked the passage of a constitutional amendment to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. Sen. Tom Udall was the sponsor of the amendment. After the vote he said he was “encouraged” by the growing support for the Citizens United repeal.

In contrast, the Journal treated its version of that story with a resigned, ho-hum attitude exhibiting all the signs its editors were focused on the “as expected” aspect of the story – or worse, were downplaying it on purpose.

First it buried the story on the back page of the A section. Then, the Journal’s headline framed the story as a “failure” by Udall (“Udall effort to counter high court rulings fails”) when it should have put the onus on Republican obstructionism, paid for by the very (rich) persons whose political influence the high court ruling protects.

The fault, dear Brutus, lies not with Journal reporter Michael Coleman’s dispatches from Washington, D.C.  Coleman’s story this morning was straightforward and complete in both reportage and tone. His previous report Tuesday in advance of Thursday’s congressional vote (“Udall, Senate Dems force debate on campaign finance amendment”) was similarly straightforward and complete.

But editors decided Coleman’s first story this week didn’t even merit the A section. It was banished to the middle of the second page of Section C, below police blotter stories and a photo of a child finger-painting.

How should the Journal have treated this story?

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