George Will’s Ethical Lapses Bespeak Allegiance to Oligarchy

September 12th, 2014 · campaign finance reform, Congress, inequality, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

The Albuquerque Journal just published still another George Will column (9/11) in which he upends history, common sense and rationality to argue for the interests of the American oligarchy.

That may not be coincidence. Will’s argument may be a quid pro quo for what his benefactors paid him.

Recently, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) “overhauled its Code of Ethics to include new transparency provisions” in response to 60 Minutes’ Benghazi debacle, CNN’s failure to disclose Newt Gingrich’s political ties and “Washington Post columnist George Will’s failure to disclose his ties to conservative group Americans for Prosperity.”

That’s from Joe Strupp’s Media Matters blog dated Sept. 9. Strupp wrote:

“Kevin Smith, outgoing SPJ ethics chair, told Media Matters the revisions were done in part to address the growing problems with transparency, including news outlets failing to disclose clear conflicts of interest.”

Specifically, Smith said, Will attending a private VIP dinner hosted by the Koch-backed conservative group Americans for Prosperity after spending months using his columns to champion the candidates and ideas favored by the Koch brothers and refusing to disclose whether his participation was paid was one of the “most noted examples” of recent transparency failures.”

In a Media Matters blog post Sept. 2, Zachary Pleat and Ellie Sandmeyer cited a number of Koch-supported candidates Will praised in recent columns.

They noted Will also boosted Koch-funded organizations including the Institute for Justice and the Goldwater Institute.

And Will also offered praise for U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa, who halted a criminal investigation into possible illegal coordination between the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and outside groups during a recall election. Walker has benefited from more than $10 million in spending by AFP.

In a Sept. 3 blog post, Strupp quoted Ken Auletta, media writer for “The New Yorker”, who recalled a piece he wrote in 1994 about journalists’ speaking fees in which Will declined to discuss his income from such events.

Auletta said the issue should be viewed the same as a politician who takes money from interested parties.

“One basic way to approach this logically is to say what if you are the editor of a newspaper?” Auletta said. “What if a politician, a member of the House of Representatives, went before the pharmaceutical industry and he or she is chair of or a member of the health care committee and went before the pharmaceutical industry and didn’t disclose he was paid $20,000 for that appearance and didn’t disclose that he was given campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, what would you do? You’d put it on Page One.”

Well, no, not every newspaper would, Ken.

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Gessing, Gisser and the Common Good

September 4th, 2014 · Fact Check, journalism, role of government, tax policy

By Arthur Alpert

I’m involved in a production of Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” opening Sept. 5 at the brand-new Vortex on Carlisle NE. Given its authorship, it’s no big surprise the play is funny, but in rehearsal I realized Martin also excels at making audiences feel intelligent.

My colleague, Denise Tessier, has the same talent. Her posts flatter, get me thinking and anxious to expound on her subject or write variations on her theme.

That’s what I plan to do today, working off her insightful and good humored August 27 essay on a surprising confluence of letters in the Aug. 25 Business Outlook from rightist activists Paul Gessing and Micha Gisser and a knowledgeable Journal reader, one William Jewell of Placitas.

If you missed it, look again because Gessing wrist-slapped Professor Gisser, a former collaborator. Seems the retired UNM prof had allowed “politics to cloud his economic thinking.”

As if politics and economic thinking can be disassociated!

As if Gessing’s own work for the Koch-supported Rio Grande Foundation is non-political!

As Dave Barry likes to say, you can’t make this stuff up.

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Gessing Kills Two Birds With One Stone in Letter Criticizing Gisser

August 27th, 2014 · budget policy, economy, financial coverage, journalism, labor, tax policy

By Denise Tessier

It’s safe to expect that when a column by economist Micha Gisser appears in the Albuquerque Journal, a letter of rebuttal or critique soon will follow. Gisser’s latest, in Business Outlook on Aug. 18, actually prompted two refutations.

What was unexpected was that one of the two critiques Monday (Aug. 25) came from the president of the Rio Grande Foundation, the conservative/libertarian think tank that once listed Gisser among of its stable of experts. Even more surprising was the letter from Paul Gessing led with this:

I respect Micha 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.

He allows politics to cloud his economic thinking?

Now, there’s a revelation. [

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‘Real Attacks, Fake News’

August 26th, 2014 · Congress, journalism, Washington

By Denise Tessier

My colleague Arthur Alpert is quite good at pointing out instances in which the Albuquerque Journal fails to carry a column that is at cross-purposes with the conservative newspaper’s ideological bent.

Here’s yet another glaring example: The Journal (so far) has failed to run a Dana Milbank column that warned news consumers about fake news sites created by Republicans.

It’s always dicey writing about something the Journal hasn’t run, because the paper still could run it. But this Milbank column, headlined “Republicans embrace their phoniness” in the Washington Post, has been available nearly two weeks, so it’s likely by now been spiked by the state’s largest daily.

This isn’t just a column criticizing the Republican Party. This is a “buyer beware” / “scam alert” type story about which the Journal missed a chance to inform its readers.

Milbank, a Washington Post columnist who is regularly found on the Journal’s editorial pages, used his column to confirm a National Journal story headlined, “NRCC Launches Fake News Sites to Attack Democratic Candidates,” which said the National Republican Congressional Committee has been setting up faux news sites designed to look like local news sources around the country. From Milbank’s column:

These two dozen sites, with names such as “North County Update” and “Central Valley Update” look like political fact-checking sites; the NRCC’s spokeswoman, Andrea Bozek, called it “a new and effective way to disseminate information.”

An NRCC official told me the sites are legal because, if you scroll all the way to the bottom, you’ll find, “Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee” in small print. “They’re not fake Web sites,” the official said. “These are real attack Web sites.”

As the National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher reported, and Milbank repeated, the NRCC “came under fire earlier this year for a deceptive series of fake Democratic candidate websites that it later changed after public outcry. . .”

“Real attacks, but fake news,” Milbank wrote.

Actually, it’s possible the Journal might have run this Milbank column had it just stuck to warning about the fake news site deception. But the rest of the column finds Milbank debunking a whole series of the Journal’s own favorite subjects for repeated public attack and editorial fodder. [Read more →]

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Linthicum’s Leaving Not Reason Enough for Readers to Follow

August 25th, 2014 · journalism

By Denise Tessier

Recently, when talking about the Albuquerque Journal, an acquaintance said, “The only reason I read the Journal is Leslie Linthicum.”

When pressed, this person acknowledged other excellent writers who work at the Journal – Win Quigley and Joline Gutierrez Krueger came up for mention. My acquaintance couldn’t argue with the journalistic value of John Fleck, courthouse and city hall reportage, or the impressively strong newcomer to the paper’s Las Cruces office, Lauren Villagran. But when Linthicum leaves, this particular reader said she planned to leave the Journal, too.

Really? I find that sad.

You’ll get no argument from me about Linthicum’s talent when it has come to writing, connecting with readers and her choice of topics. It’s not surprising she was named “Best Columnist – Ever” by Johnny Mango on Duke City Fix. She’s had a brilliant career, not only at the Journal, but at the Albuquerque Tribune before that.

In the Sunday Journal, Linthicum published her last column for the paper, “Endings are hard, but vaya con Dios.”

Two weeks ago, however, my acquaintance made clear her reason for dropping the Journal when Linthicum leaves went beyond the columnist’s talent. With Linthicum gone, she said, the Journal would lose a critical counterbalance to its editorials, and that would be the deal-breaker in terms of continuing to read the paper.

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An Inquiry into The Absence of Fact-Checking at The Journal

August 21st, 2014 · energy policy, Fact Check, journalism, tax policy

By Arthur Alpert

In a July 21 post hypothesizing that a True Believer or two in the Albuquerque Journal hierarchy may explain the newspaper’s egregious faults, I noted that the editors do not fact-check the columns they run on the editorial and Op Ed pages.

Today let’s consider why.

It could be ignorance; what management doesn’t know about journalism is impressive. Perhaps, the editing staff is thin. I would like to believe it’s ignorance or penury but sadly, there’s evidence it’s deliberate. The Journal publishes lots of essays to promote its editorial agenda and what’s the point of questioning a partner in advocacy?

Take, for example, the Cal Thomas syndicated column that ran August 6 under the rubric, “UK, Kansas reaping benefits from cutting taxes”.

I choose this piece from among legions because it’s a near-perfect misstatement of reality. Is it a lie? I cannot get into Mr. Thomas head; let’s just say he has a good grasp on an alternative reality that jibes 100 percent with the agenda of the One Percent.

But let’s appreciate his work in detail.

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Headline Spin Reveals Undeniable Favoritism

August 16th, 2014 · Education, Fact Check, journalism, open government, state government, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

Here’s what Rasmussen Reports, the national polling firm, said Thursday, July 24:

“A new statewide telephone survey of Likely New Mexico Voters finds Martinez and King each with 43% support. Seven percent (7%) like some other candidate, and another seven percent (7%) are undecided.”

Big surprise, huh? Many New Mexicans, given Governor Martinez’s overwhelming advantage in campaign dollars, probably figured she was miles ahead. And Rasmussen has a reputation as GOP-friendly.

I know the poll buoyed lots of Democrats because their exuberance was all over the blogosphere. Joe Monahan wrote an insightful column on the Rasmussen poll in Dan Vukelich’s (lively) new “Albuquerque Free Press”.

Me, I’ve no idea if the race is tight or if Rasmussen’s results were an aberration.

But this I do know – the Albuquerque Journal never reported it.

You read that right. Here we are three weeks later, and the Journal has carried lots of poll results. One was its own July 13 “flash poll” that showed folks cool to President Obama’s handling of immigration and landed – big surprise – on the front page!

But not a word on a poll result that’s – on its face – bad news for its candidate.

What? Am I saying the Journal is behind Governor Martinez?

Yes. Obviously.

My conclusion is based on some blatant evidence, like the Journal’s lack of interest in how the Martinez administration started getting rid of 15 behavioral health contractors even before it read a questionable audit. What we know about the Administration’s behind-the-scene operations is almost exclusively courtesy of New Mexico In Depth, the Las Cruces Sun-News, Santa Fe Reporter and KUNM radio.

Also in the blatant category is the daily’s sudden loss of all interest in Secretary of State Duran’s claims that lots of New Mexicans were voting fraudulently when, after reporter Dan Boyd questioned them, her numbers started to shrivel.

If memory serves, the ACLU is pursuing her records, not the Journal.

For at the Journal, not all transparency is created equal.

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Still Short on Postal News — Especially What’s Most Important to New Mexicans

August 14th, 2014 · Congress, journalism, role of government

By Denise Tessier

Nearly 150 post offices in rural communities across New Mexico have or will have their hours trimmed over the next year as the U.S. Post Office seeks to cut its budget.

That’s the opening line of a story that ran Sunday in the Las Cruces Sun-News. But that news has yet to be reported by the Albuquerque Journal.

The Journal did report, on Monday, that some Americans have a problem with the U.S. Postal Service selling stamps that depict musicians (like Elvis and Janis Joplin) and fictional characters (like Harry Potter and Bugs Bunny). Those critics say stamps should be staid and stick to history and heritage themes instead.

Interesting stamp story, but it doesn’t affect New Mexicans as much as post office hours reductions will.

Also on the Post Office front, the Journal Wednesday (Aug. 13) ran two paragraphs of a wire service story saying USPS is $2 billion in the red.

Information on the effect of that deficit – and how it affects New Mexicans – has not been forthcoming so far from the state’s leading daily. But according to the Sun-News:

. . .“the 149 (New Mexico) offices are part of the more than 9,400 sites across the country that will face shortened hours, with another 3,000 locations under consideration, according to a USPS spokeswoman. The changes are expected to save the federal agency $500 million annually.

USPS initially suggested closing 3,700 post offices around the country, but reconsidered after members of the public and elected officials expressed concern.

New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are among the concerned elected officials, according to the Sun-News, because earlier this month the two senators wrote the Postmaster General on behalf of “many constituents who are anxious about reduced service areas in their communities. Reductions in hours or consolidation into another nearby office can be especially hard hitting in rural areas, where customers often have to drive for miles to reach their closest post office.”

Despite yesterday’s less-than-informative two-paragraph story, the Journal has continued to neglect the U.S. Postal Service crisis – a crisis artificially created by Congress.

It has yet to weigh in with editorial support, despite the fact that many New Mexicans rely on post offices, not only for mailing services, but for lock boxes, passports and money orders.

As the Sun-News story reveals, the Journal is also neglecting to run news stories.

And in the news category, there is another glaring omission: stories about proposals that might help the Postal Service, such as postal banking.

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Heritage Foundation Op Eds Are Flunking Fact Checks, but the Journal Looks the Other Way

August 8th, 2014 · economy, Fact Check, journalism, tax policy

By Arthur Alpert

This morning (Friday, Aug. 8) I was enjoying the Albuquerque Journal’s editorial on making food stamp recipients shape up (subtext, it’s entirely their fault) until they used one Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation as an expert witness.

That’s when my amusement at the Ebenezer Scrooge performance gave way to – I don’t know – bemusement, sadness, disgust. Again, the editors thumbed the paper’s nose at journalistic decency.

In the immediate aftermath of Heritage’s most recent embarrassment, how could they?

Since the Journal hasn’t recounted that episode, I will. Heritage, a right-wing lobby in think tank clothing, was caught fudging numbers to fit one of its oligarchic political /economic positions.

Here’s the story, based on a July 31 Columbia Journalism Review analysis.

CJR reported the Kansas City Star won’t run any more essays from Stephen Moore, Heritage’s top economist. Here’s why:

The Star ran a Paul Krugman column naming Moore as one of the “charlatans and cranks” who have influenced policymakers at all levels to enact low-tax, supply-side economic policies—with ruinous effects.

Like Governor Brownback’s faltering Kansas.

Moore’s people called and the Star agreed to run his rebuttal.

Moore, formerly of The Wall Street Journal, submitted a column he’d published in Investor’s Business Daily contending that Kansas’s tax-cut experiment needed more time to work, and citing statistics to show that states “following Krugman’s (and President Barack Obama’s) economic strategy are getting clobbered by tax-cutting states.”

The Star ran Moore’s column on July 7. Weeks later a Star columnist realized one key paragraph—the one containing the most specific data in support of Moore’s claim—didn’t check out.

Moore had written:

“No-income-tax Texas gained 1 million jobs over the last five years; California, with its 13 percent tax rate, managed to lose jobs. Oops. Florida gained hundreds of thousands of jobs while New York lost jobs. Oops.”

Oops, indeed. His numbers were wrong. Specifically, he used incorrect Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers. Secondly, he paid minimal attention to other factors like how housing costs shape population and job growth.

In fact, Texas didn’t gain 1 million jobs in the 2007-2012 period Moore measured. The correct figure was half that. Florida did not add hundreds of thousands of jobs but lost 461,500. And high income tax New York didn’t lose jobs. It gained 75,900.

Moore admitted he’d gotten the numbers wrong, but defended his conclusions.

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Dozens of Benghazi Stories — Why Not This One?

August 4th, 2014 · Congress, journalism, Washington

By Denise Tessier

For a while there, the Albuquerque Journal was running something about Benghazi pretty much every day.

Correction: For a while there, the Journal was running stories about what Republicans were saying about Benghazi pretty much every day.

But last week, when it was reported that the House Intelligence Committee – led by Republicans – concluded there was no deliberate wrongdoing by the Obama administration in the 2012 attack, the Journal was silent.

To read that report, Journal readers must go to a different newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle:

(08-01) 11:42 PDT WASHINGTON — The House Intelligence Committee, led by Republicans, has concluded that there was no deliberate wrongdoing by the Obama administration in the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, said Rep. Mike Thompson of St. Helena, the second-ranking Democrat on the committee.

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