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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What’s behind the Journal’s anti-Trump campaign?

October 2nd, 2015 · Fact Check, journalism, Koch brothers, tax policy

By Arthur Alpert

Most mornings, I read the Albuquerque Journal over breakfast, then turn to the computer to sample the Washington Post and NY Times.

The Post’s news stories are all over the lot, leaving me with no clue as to what the Post’s editorials will say.

The same is true of the NY Times; the stories and the editorials don’t cohere.

I don’t read the Wall Street Journal every day, but when I pick it up I find (even under Murdoch) that its news columns aren’t in synch with its editorial page.

Only the Albuquerque Journal allows me to trace a bold, colorful line from its “news” pages to its editorial stance. And backwards. Tracing the pattern is fun, sometimes so satisfying I almost forget it’s not journalism. Or, to couch it in positive terms, it’s evidence Journal management publishes a daily political broadsheet disguised as a newspaper.

And if you think that’s overstated, well, you have not been following the Journal’s campaign against poor Donald Trump, which reached its apotheosis Wednesday, Sept. 30, with an Associated Press “Fact Check” on Trump’s tax plan on A5.

There had been a few news stories leaning anti-Trump and a few anti-Trump opinion pieces and even an editorial slapping him (August 5) but this study of Mr. Trump’s tax plan soared above. You see, Jeff Horwitz’s analysis said the scheme “would also be likely to help the wealthy – including people like himself.”

Predictably, the Journal ignored his lead and headlined Horwitz’ conclusion that “Math in Trump’s tax plan doesn’t add up”. However, in the second deck, a Journal editor wrote:

“Often, wealthy will benefit the most.”

Unbelievable! Unprecedented! The Journal’s second-deck rubric actually referred to the rich getting richer. And the editors ran it over a story that questioned redistributing wealth upwards by way of the tax code.

Lordy, Lordy, how great is the Journal hierarchy’s hatred or fear of The Donald? Sufficiently so that the editors would, to denigrate him, contradict the Journal’s own basic narrative? Yes, I think so.

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Daily Politicization of the News

September 18th, 2015 · climate change, economy, financial coverage, health care reform, journalism, Koch brothers, role of government

By Arthur Alpert

The Albuquerque Journal’s daily politicization of news isn’t always dramatic. The editors don’t slip political material into Associated Press stories every day. Nor do they edit those AP accounts to remove “objectionable” content every day. Sometimes Journal commissars are content to employ relatively pedestrian tools.

Today, for example, Friday, Sept. 18, there’s another front pager on the EPA-caused mine spill. For obvious reasons, Journal editors cannot get enough of that story and relish putting it on Page One. This time, government was to blame; what better confirmation of the Journal’s prime narrative – government is the enemy. (Except, of course, when it cossets, underwrites and protects corporate America.)

It’s a stark contrast to the daily’s treatment of private enterprise-caused spills, fires and other disasters; they are relegated to the inside pages or ignored. (For tracking environmental insults, I recommend Climateprogress.org.)

Also on the front page was Rosalie Rayburn’s account for what Census figures show, fewer New Mexicans are going without health insurance although a big number, 14 percent, still lack protection.

You can read the entire story and not find a mention of Obamacare, the reason for the decline, but don’t blame Rayburn. Journal editors frown on kind words for Obamacare anywhere in the newspaper and in particular on Page One.

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Follow-up: New Low in Pseudo-journalism, Misreporting the Iran Nuclear Deal

September 2nd, 2015 · Fact Check, journalism, war and peace

By Arthur Alpert

Last week, I demonstrated how the Albuquerque Journal is misreporting, egregiously so, the Administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, but warned you that “the True Believers have plumbed a new low in pseudo-journalism over the last few days.”

The new low is the editors’ use of an Aug. 19 story from George Jahn of the Associated Press headlined “UN to let Iran inspect alleged nuke work site”.

Jahn got the story wrong, but others covering it spotted the problem immediately. The very next day, for example:

Juan Cole wrote (juancole.com), “No, AP, Iran doesn’t get to inspect its own nuclear facilities under deal”.

• And Josh Marshall wrote, “Breaking: Nuclear Stuff Really Complicated” at TalkingPointsMemo.com. (Yes, Marshall’s headline was snarky.)

• And at Vox, Max Fisher had a comprehensive critique. Under the rubric, “The AP’s controversial and badly flawed Iran inspections story, explained”, he wrote:

“The bottom line here is that this is all over a mild and widely anticipated compromise on a single set of inspections to a single, long-dormant site. The AP, deliberately or not, has distorted that into something that sounds much worse but actually isn’t. The whole incident is a fascinating, if disturbing, example of how misleading reporting on technical issues can play into the politics of foreign policy.”

And a bit further down, Fisher on how these mistakes happen:

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The Iran Nuclear Deal: True Believers Practicing Pseudo-journalism

August 26th, 2015 · Fact Check, foreign policy, journalism, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

Respectable newspapers build walls to ensure a separation between the owners’ political opinions and the news operation. That is why, to take a current example, nobody is much surprised when the N.Y. Times (establishment liberal) breaks the story that Hillary Clinton (establishment liberal) used a private email server.

A newspaper lacking such a partition forfeits respect; in fact, it probably needs to be re-categorized as a political tract.

This describes the Albuquerque Journal, of course, where editors routinely make “ news decisions” that further management’s politics. But you knew that.

I want to explore today what I’ve concluded after reading our morning daily closely for more than three years, that the newspaper’s journalistic malfeasance comes in two strains; I call them the “Practical” and the “True Believer.”

The newspaper’s seemingly disorganized, incoherent coverage of the races for the Democratic and Republican Presidential nominations qualifies as practical, by which I mean deliberate, considered and a means to an end.

Surely you have grasped the game plan. Pound Hillary Clinton every day. Ignore Sen. Sanders except when he can be used to denigrate Mrs. Clinton.

In the other race, the candidates are sacrosanct; speak no ill of them. Well, with two exceptions. There were the early slaps at Jeb Bush, a reminder this is not your father’s GOP Establishment Albuquerque Journal. The second is current, serious and ongoing, a campaign against Donald Trump conducted mostly in the opinion pages but reinforced by an editorial.

I don’t know why the Journal is anti-Trump. Management may object to his obnoxious comments about Hispanic immigrants for fear American Hispanics will punish the GOP. It may worry that voters will notice how the rank-and-file has cheered his bigotry. Of course, the Journal may just be reaffirming its ties to the anti-Trump Koch brothers or, maybe, management fears candidate Trump would lose the general election.

Whatever the reason, this (journalistically reprehensible) treatment of the candidates is, as I suggested, eminently practical, intended to promote the Journal’s oligarchic ends. Which distinguishes it from the Journal’s treatment of the president’s nuclear deal with Iran. Here, the editors reveal (and impose upon readers) great ignorance and moral certainty, marks of the True Believer.

Before I demonstrate how, please understand I don’t expect the newspaper to agree with me politically. No, it can hold fast to its long-held neo-conservative and militaristic beliefs and argue for them in editorials. The most basic journalistic responsibility, however, requires that it report the story accurately, with as much detail and context as possible.

Sadly, the Albuquerque Journal has done almost the contrary.

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The Journal is troubled by undue influence of the rich and powerful — but only when it comes to the Clinton Foundation

August 6th, 2015 · campaign finance reform, journalism

By Arthur Alpert


I mean that literally. Sometimes what I happen upon in the Albuquerque Journal is not to be believed. Well, in truth the Journal publishes material every day for which grains of salt are recommended, but what happened today (August 6) was so blatant and egregious as to elicit that “Unbelievable!”

Or, in comic book parlance, “Aaaaaargh!”

Consider the editorial published Thursday, August 6, under the headline, “Clinton Foundation lures largess from the powerful”. It argues that donations to the Clinton Foundation even as Hillary Clinton runs for president, while perhaps legal, are “a questionable practice ethically.”

As a citizen, I largely agree with that but the editorial’s ostensible argument is quite beside the point.

The point, to be revealed further down in this essay after we have adduced some evidence and offered context, is – rest assured – journalistic.

But back to the editorial in which the Albuquerque Journal says it’s very concerned with “powerful and politically connected people” donating to the Clinton Foundation just as Mrs. Clinton is “ramping up her presidential campaign.”

An Associated Press analysis, the editorial continues, shows that some of her old supporters, corporations and foreign governments “with interests before the US government” increased their contributions. Among them were major corporations like Barclays, Citigroup, and HSBC banks, Duke Energy, Cisco, Cheniere Energy (LNG terminals), Toyota and Chevron.

“Donations to campaigns,” the editorial asserts, “have their limits and reporting is required. This avenue toward trying to ensure future favorable treatment is allegedly cleaner and separate from the less pristine path of donating directly to a campaign.”

“While it may be all legal, it is a questionable practice ethically.”

Talk about out of an orange-colored sky! I never saw that coming.

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Tools of Misapprehension

July 30th, 2015 · health care reform, journalism, role of government, social safety net, war and peace

By Arthur Alpert

That the Albuquerque Journal makes most news decisions politically is so obvious it’s become (borderline) boring. Yet the skill with which the editors wield their tools to produce the paper’s daily misapprehension of reality still fascinates me, as does the relentlessness of the effort.

By tools, I mean headlines, where stories run, editing of copy, ignoring or minimizing stories, carrying other stories ad nauseam, printing opinions or leaving them out. Hiding the real source of opinions, too. In combination, they produce the Journal’s narrative (or management gospel) which is advocated newspaper-wide.

This substitutes for journalism, which – emphasizing questions, not answers – probes for what is happening and inquires why.

In this context, misinforming readers is merely a by-product of the Journal’s drive to print The Truth.

Today, for example, Thursday, July 30, on A5, the editors published a piece on the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of AP’s Washington Bureau. As regular readers know, he’s been the go-to-guy for trashing Obamacare for years.

This time, however, Alonso-Zaldivar, while hardly gushing, noted both programs’ achievements in the first few paragraphs. Problem – if the editors wrote a headline the conventional way it might say something positive about those programs.

The Journal’s headline writer’s solution was to go down to paragraph six for this sentence:

“But the long-range solvency of both programs remains cloudy.”

He or she then wrote this rubric: “Medicare, Medicaid face challenges as they turn 50”.

That’s true. It’s not news, of course, but who cares?

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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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