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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Unflattering Comparison: The Journal’s Treatment of Immigration Story vs. That of Real Newspapers

August 4th, 2014 · Congress, Fact Check, immigration, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Remember that old Albuquerque Journal hand who told me I was too quick to finger management’s political commissars for what was wrong at the daily. My informant advised that a lot of mistakes could be laid at the door of young, inexperienced staffers.

I’ve not forgotten and sometimes the Old Hand is exactly right. Case in point, the caption on a photo adorning Joline Gutierrez Krueger’s Up Front column Wednesday July 30.

“The steroids give her a bloated look and stretch marks, but that doesn’t phase Alorah.”

My italics.

Let us be kind. A misspelling, after all, is not a crime. Further, the author (who probably was channeling “Star Trek” and its cool phasers) may be a victim of visual learning. And blaming the victim isn’t nice.

Still, the Journal is big on accountability, sometimes, and you wonder if the editors will ever proof read the darn thing to minimize the countless, habitual misspellings and typos and awkward grammar.

It’s part of being accurate, which used to matter in the business.

Perhaps, though, management is too busy (sorry, Old Hand) playing politics with the news.

Having just read the Journal’s treatment of the House’s latest immigration debacle alongside what real newspapers did, I find that conclusion more than plausible.

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An Unlikely (But Worthy) Journal Editorial Topic: Forgiveness of Student Loan Debt

August 1st, 2014 · budget policy, economy, Education, journalism, tax policy

By Denise Tessier

To follow up on yesterday’s post, student loan debt is another topic the Albuquerque Journal editorial board has dealt with incompletely. And it has squandered opportunities to advocate for action that might help put the state and nation on firmer economic ground.

First, some background: While the Journal seems to have had no shortage of space to run stories about Republican investigations of the IRS, it has largely ignored news dispatches about the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bill intended to provide much-needed relief to those in debt with student loans, which was filibustered by Senate Republicans.

New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat, ended up filling in the Journal story gap with a column, which the Journal ran June 15 (“Let’s reduce crushing burden of student loan debt”). Under Warren’s bill, which Heinrich supported, student loan debtors could have refinanced their loans, both private and federal, at the lower interest rates offered to new borrowers. Consumers other than college borrowers are already afforded this option, as when buying a car or home.

As Heinrich pointed out:

Allowing graduates to refinance would put more money in their pockets and strengthen our economy as a whole.

Why is this important? Heinrich explained:

For the first time in our nation’s history, the total amount of student loan debt has exceeded the total amount of credit card debt. (Note: The total is more than $1.2 trillion, with a “T”.) This very real problem weighs heavily on New Mexico families. . . .

Those who pursued an education to get ahead are starting out behind. . . .

In New Mexico, students are graduating with an average of nearly $18,000 in debt.

Outstanding balances not only affect families working to pay those loans – (they affect) the economy as a whole. Because of this debt, many are unable to buy a home, start a business, save for retirement, or even start a family.

In today’s economy, we should be eliminating the obstacles that keep Americans from earning the education needed to get ahead. College should not be a luxury; it should be an opportunity all Americans can afford. . . .(emphasis added)

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Journal Editorials Omit Key Information in Laying Foundation for Positions They Take

July 31st, 2014 · Fact Check, journalism, tax policy

By Denise Tessier

Two recent Albuquerque Journal editorials – on why Americans should celebrate the Fourth of July (“Try Asking a Guatemalan”) and one on the nation’s debt – were called out for criticism by JournalWatch colleague Arthur Alpert last week, and caught my attention as well because of their distorted “analysis”. But, sadly, the two are not the only examples of editorials worthy of critique.

The Journal editorial board has consistently squandered opportunities to guide dialogue with its editorial positions and help move the state and nation forward. Instead, its editorials too often offer misguided perspectives that perpetuate misunderstandings. Some examples: the student loan debt editorial that lamely suggested students become more financially savvy, or its railing against the Albuquerque Tea Party’s “travails” with the IRS.

In these cases, the “official positions” offered by the state’s largest newspaper suffer a shortage of credibility because they omit key pieces of information upon which positions are made. A stool needs at least three legs for sturdiness, but Journal editorials consistently tend to shorten a leg (or two) – or omit one altogether — a convenient ploy writers use when their premise would founder if laid with a foundation of all pertinent facts.

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Casual Insult Elicits Defense From Reporter’s Colleagues, Apology from Director of Think Tank

July 28th, 2014 · journalism, state government, tax policy

By Denise Tessier

Paid libertarian Paul Gessing set off a Twitter run of comments last week when he tweeted the question:

What’s worse, the economic return on NM film industry or reporting on new study?

The point of the tweet was to direct Twitter followers to Gessing’s essay “New Study confirms film subsidies are a boondoggle.” In it, he straightaway dismissed film incentives and glibly insulted media reporting on the topic as “clueless.” Gessing is director of the Rio Grande Foundation (RGF), the self-described “research institute” funded by and following the policy of national ultra-conservative groups.

Gessing was referring to (and inferring “clueless” reporting about) the front page Albuquerque Journal story, “New Mexico film impact estimated at $1.5 billion” by Journal Capitol Bureau reporter Dan Boyd, which ran July 23.

Boyd’s story thoroughly reported on the results of a State Legislature-mandated study that had been released the previous day. The story (deservedly) was given prominent play, and his  capabilities as a seasoned daily reporter were evident in that he not only outlined the study’s major points, he compared them to two previous studies. He solicited and printed reactions from the Senate sponsor of study legislation, from a studio CEO, and from a business agent for a local film workers union. The story also included a statement from the governor.

Journal science writer John Fleck (@jfleck) was the first to weigh in with a response to Gessing’s tweet (@pgessing) and essay, questioning Gessing’s calculations about subsidy costs per full-time job (which Gessing later acknowledged as an error, both in his tweeted response to Fleck and in a correction posted on “Errors of Enchantment,” Gessing’s RGF blog).

Fleck continued the Twitter conversation, saying, “To be clear, I’m agnostic about film studies,” but added that he found Gessing’s other two arguments “unpersuasive” and that he found Gessing’s use of the word “clueless” when talking about Boyd “offensive.” [Read more →]

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Distorting the Dialogue on Debt

July 24th, 2014 · budget policy, economy, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

The Albuquerque Journal editorial on U.S. debt in the Wednesday, July 23, edition provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how management distorts the political dialogue.

It was yet another Journal warning that unless we cut the debt soon and the US learns to “live within its means,” there’s an “impending fiscal calamity” ahead.

Obviously, it’s right and proper that the newspaper state the boss’s views in an editorial.

But if the newspaper is published in the public interest – big “if” – there should be dissenting views, too. Sadly, those views have been and remain nowhere to be seen.

After all, strong voices disagree; some read the new Congressional Budget Office report differently and conclude it supports their premise that the debt is not today’s danger.

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Inaccurate and Bigoted Editorial Evokes “The Paranoid Style”

July 21st, 2014 · economy, environment, health care reform, immigration, inequality, journalism, regulation, role of government, tax policy

By Arthur Alpert

Wow! What a July 4 editorial! I found it angry, bitter, twisted, deeply ignorant and inaccurate.

That is to say, very satisfying.

Let me explain. I have been reading the Albuquerque Journal closely for years but cannot figure out why it’s an insult to journalism.

Why do the editors regularly violate its simplest requirements, like accuracy and fairness?

This much I know – it’s not what you think.

It is true the daily habitually makes news decisions politically. And that its narratives – oligarchic in domestic matters and neo-conservative in foreign affairs – emerge sharply from what the editors decide is news, as well as opinion pages that list sharply to starboard.

In Journal-world, Government is responsible for 98 percent of what’s wrong with the world, labor unions the remainder.

And it is true the editors lately find lotsa space for multiple stories on Benghazi, a concocted IRS “scandal” and lately, some shots across Hillary Clinton’s bow.

Further, our daily bans stories on the economy’s systemic problems, on Wall Street’s political power, Corporate America’s massive tax evasion and one with New Mexico resonance – how Governor Brownback’s sweeping tax-cuts are cratering the Kansas economy.

So I understand when friends say the Journal is the Republican playbook plus sports and comics. But you know what? Even if the Journal were partisan that would not explain its journalistic malfeasance.

For you can be partisan without trashing journalism. The very Republican Wall Street Journal offers excellent news reporting.

So if the Albuquerque Journal were partisan, that wouldn’t account for the daily trespasses against journalistic decency we’ve documented here over the years.

And if the Journal were partisan, so what? From the perspective of a journalism critic, a partisan newspaper is unfortunate – i.e., tough on local candidates – but not tragic.

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