A Win for Win

January 28th, 2016 · economy, journalism, role of government

By Arthur Alpert

I’ve just finished reading Winthrop Quigley’s thoughtful Thursday, Jan. 28 UpFront column tying New Mexico’s population losses to the state’s failing economy and I still cannot decide if he’s a super journalist or simply very good.

You understand the problem – seen in contrast to what the Journal does day in and out, his work clearly deserves an A+. But it might earn only an A silhouetted against the background of a competent journalistic vehicle.

Just today, the daily gave us another series of stories from Santa Fe with not one mention of the role of money in the annual legislative session. Not one.

Of course, in Albuquerque Journal-world, politics is about what is moral and rational, not about power and definitely not about who is spending what to promote whose interest.

Which makes Quigley look very good.

And then there is the newspaper’s brainless reporting of legislative efforts to “get tough on crime.”

We’ll save for another time comment on the Journal’s outrage at violent crime in the streets and its inability to even make out crime in Wall Street suites. No, let’s just ask:

How often you have read about politicians getting tough on crime?

How often have you noticed crime diminishing as a result of their brave statements?

Or diminishing as a result of laws enacted to punish criminals more severely?

I thought so.

Brainless is the word because getting tough on crime doesn’t work except in authoritarian states.

Yet the Journal front-paged this yesterday, Wednesday:

“Bills get tough on crime, but can we afford them?”

Notice the framing. We can get tough on crime or save money.

This is how Journal editors think.

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Chalk This One Up to Incompetence

January 20th, 2016 · journalism, NM Legislature

By Arthur Alpert

Regular readers will remember my references to the veteran New Mexico journalist who cautioned me against finding political motives for all the Albuquerque Journal’s missteps. It’s often youth and inexperience, he said, or amateurism.

I think about that advice often, but sadly, political decisions by the editors are the rule and incompetence, the exceptions that prove it. Not today, though. Today, Wednesday, Jan. 20, a doff of the hat to the Old Pro is in order.

I refer to the big headline over the daily’s Page One story on the Governor’s State of the State speech.

Here’s the rubric:  “Governor: Future of NM at stake in session”.

There’s a second deck or sub-head, too, with which we’ll deal in a moment.

First, about the primary headline, Governor Martinez is correct, of course. The state’s future is at stake. It’s at stake whenever the legislature meets. That’s what they do in the Capitol they debate and enact (or reject) legislation to affect the future. Duh.

So despite the Journal’s partnership with the governor, whoever decided her rhetoric deserved a headline was not doing her any favors.

Next, note that the editor who chose that gubernatorial wordplay preferred it to a conventional rubric based on Dan Boyd’s lead paragraph. Boyd opened by characterizing Gov. Martinez’s tone as “stern.” Then he listed what she wanted from the lawmakers, specifically “tougher criminal penalties,” “bills aimed at job creation” and “demand more than mediocrity” in public schools.

Why the headline writer ignored all that to find inspiration in the jump on page 6, paragraph 15, is beyond me, but I see no political motivation. (Let me know if you do.)

That second deck to which I referred did deal with specifics. It read, “Economy, education, crime and Real ID top priorities for Martinez.”

But this, too, is puzzling. First, Boyd listed the priorities differently. He put crime on top, then devoted the next 11 graphs of the story to the Governor’s anti-crime proposals and reaction from Democratic leaders.

Secondly, Boyd never mentioned Real ID; reporter Deborah Baker dealt with that issue in a sidebar on protests outside the Roundhouse.

My powers of divination are limited. I don’t understand why most of this happened. It looks, however, like routine incompetence and nothing like the work of the Journal’s political commissars.

Chalk this one up as a win for the Old Pro.

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Kochtopus Tentacle in [INSERT STATE NAME HERE]

January 19th, 2016 · journalism, Koch brothers

By Arthur Alpert

As an avid follower of politics, it’s my impression the political Left makes too much of the Koch brothers’ efforts to shape the nation. They’re not the only billionaires out to conform the nation to their private interests.

As an avid reader of the Albuquerque Journal for purposes of journalistic criticism, I’m struck by how hard management works to obscure the family’s political role and, simultaneously, provide the Kochs a pulpit from which to preach their doctrines.

Thus does the Journal reveal its political agenda and thus does it make clear it feels no need to confine that agenda to the editorials. Management politics determine – suffuse, saturate, permeate – the news and opinion pages.

William Randolph Hearst would approve.

Case in point – Washington Post reporter Tom Hamburger’s report on “Dark Money”, a new book about the Koch brothers’ impact on the American political system, ran in his paper Jan. 15. Other newspapers and magazines and Web sites also have found newsworthy what New Yorker writer Jane Mayer dug up.

Unsurprisingly, the Albuquerque Journal has not, even as the editors did find deserving of print, Jan. 17, another essay by Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, an organization that belongs to the Koch political network.

Not incidentally, the editors eschewed the usual boilerplate italics at the bottom of Gessing’s piece, about the RGF’s independence and nonpartisanship.  This contrasted neatly with what they did the next day, Monday the18th, with an essay lauding the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from Darryl Lorenzo Washington. They gave him this ID:

“Darryl Lorenzo Washington is a poet and critic living in Santa Fe. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues. It is affiliated with the Progressive Magazine. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.”

I approve. Nice to know, to borrow a phrase from younger people, where he’s coming from.

Funny, though, the Journal’s editors don’t do likewise for Gessing or the many other Koch-inspired authors on the Op Ed page. Fairness (if you’ll forgive the word) would suggest Gessing be described as a laissez-faire-ist employed by the Kochs (and other monied interests) to advance their view that big business should dominate government.

Something along those lines, anyway. No need to drag in the historical connections between corporatism and fascism. Just a few facts.

Speaking of fairness, though, I would be remiss if I implied the Journal always hides the source of Koch propaganda. That’s not so.  Sometimes the Kochs step out from behind their front groups, so no cloaking is required.

For example, Mark Holden, General Counsel and Senior VP, Koch Industries, argued under his own name and title that New Mexico should roll back “burdensome occupational licensing regulations” in an Op Ed the Journal ran Dec. 30, 12015.

Ah, but even that admirable forthrightness was accompanied by a slight deception. “What should New Mexico lawmakers’ New Year’s resolutions be?” asked Mr. Holden, addressing us Enchanted folks.

Turns out, Mr. Holden’s message was localized to some 35 newspapers across the country. What we read in New Mexico was what readers from Anchorage to Portland, Maine by way of Charleston read, with only a few words like the name of the state changed, so as to make us think Koch Industries cares. Andy Cush wrote about that at Gawker.com Jan. 13 (“Koch Industries Has a Very Special Personalized Message for [INSERT STATE NAME HERE]“). He also noted that Holden rested his case in part on the “Institute of Justice” without informing us that it is yet another Koch-funded operation.

And so it goes. As the Kochtopus swims, the Albuquerque Journal opts to be a tentacle, political not journalistic.

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Christmas Surprises

December 23rd, 2015 · journalism, Koch brothers

By Arthur Alpert

I cannot be trusted. Last time, Dec. 10, in a post where I suggested the Albuquerque Journal has promoted Gov. Martinez into the “sacred cow” status Pete Domenici once occupied, I promised I would deal next with the daily’s “sourness, narrow-mindedness and ban on ideas the richest do not endorse.”

Ah, but it’s almost Christmas.

This is the time of year believers exult at the birth of an innocent Jewish baby, adoring him (as the carol says) even as feelings of love, peace and hope conquer the negativity we deal with the other 11 months. If you can forget the materialist War on Christmas, that is. And since Christmas has become so intertwined with being American, even unbelievers like me partake of the joy.

It was in that spirit that I read the Journal’s Tuesday, Dec. 22 issue, with a front-page story on how climate change could wipe out our piñon and juniper trees within a generation or two.

What struck me was that the author, Mark Oswald of Journal North, assumed climate change, yet the editors published it. On the front page! I re-read it to make certain I hadn’t missed some climate change denier wisdom inserted by the editors but there was none.

What a pleasant Christmas surprise!

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Old Story: The Journal repackages the “Worst-Run State”

December 10th, 2015 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

“You know what the problem with the Journal is,” said the guy in the other barber’s chair, a lawyer. “There’s nothing in it.”

That isn’t exactly true, of course. Nor is it fair to the newspaper’s rank-and-file; they try hard to inform us accurately and fairly. But we know what he meant. I’d restate it this way – Journal editors work slavishly to make certain the news and opinion pages carry darn little that questions or contradicts the Journal’s political agenda.

Which means, since reality has a liberal bias, they leave out so much that it sure feels as if  “There’s nothing in it.”

This leads many people, in and out of the barbershop, to call the newspaper “partisan.” OK, sometimes, but that’s a trivial fault compared to what I want to discuss today – the sourness of tone, narrow-mindedness, promotion of a political agenda both oligarchic and neo-conservative to the point of refusing to publish ideas of which the richest and most bellicose disapprove.

When Finley Peter Dunne said newspapers “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted,” he was putting down the muckraking newspapers of his day for self-importance.

No matter how you mean it, that description would not fit the Albuquerque Journal, dedicated to the reverse – plumping the pillows of the comfortable and blaming the afflicted for their afflictions.

Consider Dan Boyd’s Political Notebook Thursday, Dec. 10, on the first page of the Metro section under the rubric:

Gov. disputes group’s ranking of New Mexico as worst-run state”.

Did you know that’s an old story? The report, I mean, from 247WallSt, a respectable source of business and financial news. It was published a week ago, Dec. 3. The Santa Fe New Mexican and other state news organs, print and online, printed it in timely fashion. In fact, by Sunday, Dec. 6, the New Mexican’s Milan Simonich was wrapping that sad ranking into an opinion piece headlined. “Last on the lists, NM needs a shakeup”.

So how come the Journal never touched it? I don’t know. Given, however, the Journal’s inability to stop publishing photos of Governor Martinez reading to school kids or (lately) vowing to be tough on crime, I’ll hazard a guess.

We didn’t get it until today because the Journal has cast Governor Martinez in Pete Domenici’s old role. She’s the new sacred cow.

Ergo, with everybody else having reported this story, what was a Journal editor to do? Easy. Turn the negative on its head. First, hold it ‘til it cools. Next, put the Governor’s rebuttal atop a bare-bones summary of the original in a “Notebook”. Neat. She gets the lead and the headline and, not incidentally, the whole thing is relegated to the Metro section.

Poor readers. Poor journalism. Poor Dan Boyd.

And you know what’s really sad? Faced with that ranking, editors at a real newspaper might assign their best reporters to finding out what’s behind it. Instead of playing politics, they could follow Win Quigley’s lead, exploring what’s wrong, isolating the state’s options and reporting them back to the citizenry.

This is naïve, maybe, but not unheard of. In fact, it’s par for the course at journalistic enterprises. Setting a public interest agenda, I mean, and asking questions instead of expounding management’s views in the news.

But today’s post was supposed to be about the Albuquerque Journal’s sourness, narrow-mindedness and ban on ideas the richest do not endorse. And I went on a walkabout.

Sorry. Next time. I promise.

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Economic Mobility and Poverty: Journal’s political agenda overrides the facts

November 30th, 2015 · economy, Fact Check, inequality, journalism, Koch brothers, social safety net

By Arthur Alpert

It is Monday, Nov. 30 and having just finished reading the Albuquerque Journal, I’m shaking my head. It’s more of the same. Political advocacy I mean, disguised as journalism.

Sorry Donald Trump, the daily’s editors don’t want you to be the GOP nominee. Sorry, Hillary Clinton, judging from today’s double-barreled assault (yet another Op Ed column on your political handicaps and no account of your new jobs-and- infrastructure plan), the editors fear you more.

Also, the Journal’s passionate friendship with the Koch brothers continues apace with another un-credited contribution from their political network. Jay Ambrose’s Op Ed column argues it’s unwise to tax Corporate America, which you might evaluate differently if you knew he’s tied into the Independence Institute, funded by the Kochs. That, however, isn’t how the Journal identifies him.

But it isn’t news that the Journal advocates via its decisions on what news and views to publish, which to reject and a broad repertoire of deceptive techniques, all of which we’ve documented here.

What would be novel and what I’ve never fully grasped is to learn what lies behind the Journal’s journalistic malfeasance, the deeper assumptions that (I suspect) blind management to its personal and institutional responsibilities.

So it was with great pleasure that I read the UpFront column by Dan Herrera, editorial page editor, Friday, Nov. 6, wherein he revealed some of the bedrock beneath the editors’ decisions.

(In response, a few New Mexicans offered up-from-poverty stories Friday, Nov. 20 and Veronica Garcia of New Mexico Voices for Children rebutted Herrera in an Op Ed, Wednesday, Nov. 25.)

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The Rules for Covering Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid: Bad news gets page one, good news gets buried, and Big Pharma gets ignored entirely

November 23rd, 2015 · health care reform, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

“Premiums to rise for Medicare drug plan” was the headline Journal editors ran over an Associated Press story they front-paged today, Monday, Nov. 23.

Of course, they ran it on the front page. There must be a rule at the Journal – anything negative, even potentially negative about Obamacare, Medicare or Medicaid must run on Page One.

Its converse is obvious. If we have to publish news favorable to those programs, let’s bury it.

Oh, and before we consider today’s account from Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of AP’s Washington Bureau, a word to the wise.

Our national healthcare system is a partnership between government and Corporate America’s Health Industries Division. Traditionally, corporate interests have hidden behind government to rip off citizens. (See the ICC and railroads, the FCC and broadcasting.)

Read carefully, and you’ll find the Albuquerque Journal failing, consistently, to distinguish between the health partners in its news coverage. I have no idea why that is, but readers could blame Washington when the health industry is at fault.

Just sayin’.

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The ExxonMobil Global Warming Cover-Up Story: Its first Journal appearance portrays the oil giant as a victim

November 12th, 2015 · climate change, energy policy, environment, journalism, regulation

By Arthur Alpert

Darn that Albuquerque Journal. I was working on an essay aimed at giving you insight into the editors’ sad assumptions that underlie the daily’s journalistic failures. And what happens? The very same editors execute a simple but characteristic political maneuver that screams for my immediate attention and yours.

They did so via another opinion piece from Robert Samuelson, the well-intentioned bumbler, situated high on the editorial page Wednesday, Nov. 11 and headlined:

“A political cheap shot at free speech”.

“Oh, Lord, “ I told myself. It isn’t enough to force-feed us Samuelson’s deep ignorance of political economy; now the editors will give us his take on free speech.

I was wrong. Samuelson brought his usual ignorant certainty to several topics, not just free speech.

He set out to defend poor ExxonMobil, the victim – yes, victim – of scapegoating by environmental and scientific groups.

Those organizations, he explained, want state and federal Attorneys General to find out if it’s true Exxon Mobil’s own research confirmed fossil fuels’ role in climate change years ago — information the corporation suppressed even as it funded disinformation campaigns to deceive the citizenry on global warming.

Now before we parse his essay, know this. The ExxonMobil story has been around for months. And for months the Journal has published nothing.

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Kevin McCarthy, Benghazi And The Journal’s Twelve Day Gaffe Gap

October 22nd, 2015 · Congress, Fact Check, journalism, Washington

By Arthur Alpert

Last time out, I copped to my masochism in reading the Albuquerque Journal closely for five years, shared my initial shock and eventual acceptance of the fact that management deliberately and routinely substitutes political decisions for what are, at respectable newspapers, news decisions, and wrote:

“I can no longer extend the benefit of the doubt to Journal editors. Yes, I keep an eye out for the innocent mistake, one wants to forgive, but my operative question as I unfurl the paper at breakfast is, how low will they go today?

“Which brings us to Hillary Clinton and Benghazi and, lately, her emails.”

Sorry for the cliffhanger, but today, finally, we’ll look at the daily’s treatment of those stories. After this brief digression on partisanship, that is.

Because we’re dealing with Journal coverage of a partisan story, you could take my adverse criticism of it as evidence of my partisanship. Please don’t. Partisan? I don’t even accept the horizontal paradigm that places Democrats and Republicans in mortal combat. From my hierarchical perspective, the parties seem to have lots in common, including subservience to Corporate America.

My job here, in any case, is to advance good journalism and its core value, fairness, and make a fuss when they’re missing.

OK, let’s look at how the Journal has covered Benghazi, Hillary and her private email server.

You know the background. After the death of four American diplomats in Benghazi, seven Republican-led House committees investigated. The current inquiry led by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R., SC, is number eight. (Two bipartisan Senate committees did likewise.)

For a probe-by-probe recap, however, please read Clayton Youngman’s excellent work for politifact.com under the rubric “Clinton: 7 Benghazi probes so far” dated Oct. 12, 2015.

You certainly are aware, too, that when John Boehner said he doesn’t want to be Speaker anymore, his second-in-command, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, (R., Ca.) said he’d like the job. But in a friendly interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity Sept. 29, McCarthy boasted:

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee, what are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping, why? Because she’s untrustable [sic]. But no one would have known any of that had happened.”

Furor. Outrage. Dismay. Gnashing of teeth. To gauge the Right’s unhappiness, read conservative Kathleen Parker’s Oct. 2 column in the Washington Post, headlined “The New McCarthyism is dead on arrival”. The Journal chose not to reprint it.
Journal columnist Charles Krauthammer also was very upset on TV (Fox) and in a column the Journal published Saturday, Oct. 17, where he called McCarthy’s frankness the “gaffe of the decade.”

This widespread anguish was not because Rep. McCarthy speaks a poor approximation of English. Nor was it because he lied; there’s almost 100 percent agreement he spoke truth. His mistake was saying out loud what anybody with s scintilla of skepticism understood – this Benghazi committee’s purpose was to cut candidate Clinton down to size.

What a fantastic political story! Naturally, it blew up in print and broadcast and digital mediums, wherever juicy political gossip is savored.

Except in the Albuquerque Journal. What I’m about to write is hard to believe but true. Our local daily didn’t mention McCarthy’s truth telling for 12 days! Not a word, even as it kept tabs on the House GOP’s effort to get as new Speaker as conservatives and Tea party extremists feuded.

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Falsifying The News

October 16th, 2015 · health care reform, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Gosh, I’ve been Albuquerque Journal watching on and off for five years now. Just checked. Seems I started in January, 2010.That’s surprising. So is my initial naïveté.

I anticipated I would criticize both the political bias seeping into the news pages and the daily’s amateur, incompetent journalism. As it turns out, and I apologize for this, I haven’t written much on the latter. For as I read it became absolutely clear that bias seeping into the news was the least of it. That happens, it’s forgivable and what I saw wasn’t.

It was, however, shocking, so shocking I squirmed and tried to evade it for a long time. Put simply, the editors were deliberately falsifying the news. (Whether they knew what they were doing or persuaded themselves their actions were justified I don’t know. That’s a question for students of our human capacity for deceiving ourselves. I’d guess they are sometimes self-aware, sometimes not.)

Their actions, however, were unambiguously political, not journalistic. They cut sentences and paragraphs that contradicted the Journal’s editorial agenda from stories supplied by the Associated Press or Washington Post. Once in a while they inserted sentences or paragraphs advancing the Journal’s politics into news stories. This was done secretly, not a word to readers, no matter that the daily trumpets its dedication to transparency.

As the Journal uses the word, I learned, transparency is a virtue for other institutions.

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