Juxtapostion Decision: Page One Story Trumps Up Conflict between Obama and Veterans

May 31st, 2016 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

“When,” I upbraided myself April 29, “will I write about the Journal’s lack of intellect? Its failures cannot always be traced to politics. Often the editors simply choose to make moral judgments. Moral judgments murder thought. And their arguments are so often simplistic I wonder if they read books.”

I fully intend to write that essay, basing it on the daily’s coverage of Memorial Day, 2016.

But first, here’s one more miserable example of management’s passion for politicizing the “news.”

The political commissars in charge published a truly ugly Page One “report” Saturday, May 28 that sought to tarnish President Obama by linking his visit to Hiroshima with local veterans’ views on Harry Truman’s decision to drop two atom bombs on Japan.

Of course, tarnishing Mr. Obama is what Journal commissars do; it’s in the job description. This article stands out only because the editors outdid themselves, concocting a smear of a pseudo-story.

First, the commissars placed a color photo of Mr. Obama laying a wreath at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park atop their headlines:



Puzzled, I wondered if there was a contradiction between using the A-bomb and regretting the horrific human cost. Then I read reporter Charles D. Brunt’s lead:

“President Barack Obama’s unprecedented visit to Hiroshima evokes varying emotions among American veterans who served in World War II – a war many say would have been far worse had President Harry Truman decided against using the bomb…to force Japans’ surrender.”

In his next two graphs, Brunt reported on Obama’s visit to pay respects to the dead and his hope the world will one day rid itself of nuclear weapons.

In paragraph four, he quotes a 94-year-old veteran who thought it unfortunate Mr. Obama’s visit came so close to Memorial Day because it “shows he doesn’t care too much about American troops.” Finally, he quoted another WWII vet who had no opinion on Mr. Obama’s visit and also backed the use of the A-bomb.

Might a reader get the idea Mr. Obama disagreed with the decision to use the nukes? Might that reader also think the president didn’t care about US fighting men? After all, the assertion went unchallenged in the story. Well, of course.

Was this intentional?  You bet. There had to be deliberate decisions to juxtapose photos and rubrics and the conversation with two (!) veterans in order to trump up a conflict between them and Mr. Obama.

Let me state my personal bias here. I was an impressionable little boy during WWII, deeply immersed in our last “good war,” so when politicians or faux-journalists misuse it, I feel it in the gut.

And I notice when a newspaper, so-called, generalizes from the comments of two veterans to all veterans. Who does that? Answer: no professional journalist would.

Further, while I daresay the guys who fought that war backed Truman’s decision unanimously, that’s not to assert they didn’t regret the loss of life at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those I knew learned to hate war.

But back to the Journal story where, in the jump on page 4, Brunt listens as the above-mentioned vet, Jim Wilson of Albuquerque, talks about all the reasons he believes Truman made the right call.

I re-read the story. Who posed the question? Nobody in the story said Truman was wrong. So the Journal commissars or the reporter asked it. Ah, but why? And why rope in Mr. Obama?

I continued reading:

“He (Wilson) said he’s pleased the president didn’t apologize for our bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, because ‘There’s no reason to apologize for.”

OK, so to sum up, the Journal created a Page One story that merged President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima to pay respects to the dead and pray for the end of nuclear weapons with the memories and opinions of two (!) veterans who defended the nation’s use of the A-bombs against the arguments of, well, nobody.

Nonsensical? Yes and no. Yes, it’s inane but it’s not just inane. It seeks to make Mr. Obama look feckless compared to members of the Greatest Generation.

This isn’t surprising. The Albuquerque Journal campaigned against Mr. Obama before he won the White House the first time and it has never ceased fire. Campaigned against him in the “news columns,” you understand.

Which violation of journalistic decency, it is worth noting, is the Journal’s 907,468th in its war on our trade. (Well, I wouldn’t swear to the number.)

Next time, promise, we will ignore the Journal’s politicking in order to focus on an equally significant source of its journalistic incompetence – lack of intellect.

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Missing the “Why”: Harvey Yates vs. Pat Rogers

May 23rd, 2016 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert


Why was oilman Harvey Yates Jr. so intent on defeating Governor Martinez’s choice, Pat Rogers, for GOP national committee?

Why and what was his beef?

I’ve been wondering why since the Albuquerque Journal began covering the intra-party dispute, but it never came clear. The Journal told me “who, what, when and where,” but I never could put my finger on “why?”

It is, after all, journalism’s fifth “w.”

So when the state GOP finally convened and Journal editors made Dan Boyd’s report the top story on Page One Sunday, May 22, well, I dove in to find the why. In fact, I read it twice.

Mr. Yates defeated Mr. Rogers, said Boyd in his lead, “elevating an outspoken critic of Gov. Susana Martinez’s governing style to a prestigious – if largely symbolic – GOP position.”

Aha! Her “governing style.” But wanting more, I kept reading.

In the fifth graph, split between the front page and the A11 jump, Yates himself offered another answer:

“We can bring the party to unity but come the next gubernatorial election, if (the economy) isn’t changed, we’re going to be held accountable.”


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A Self-Made Trap: Pity for the Commissars, Part Two

May 8th, 2016 · journalism, Koch brothers

By Arthur Alpert

As I write Thursday, May 6, Albuquerque Journal editors ask a good question at the top of the front page, “Is the GOP ready to follow Trump?

I have a better question –is the Albuquerque Journal ready to follow Trump?

The Journal has spent the entire primary season, after all, clobbering Mr. Trump in its “news columns” and a torrent of opinion pieces.

That’s why I expressed pity for the Journal’s political commissars in my last post. By dumping on Trump, now 99 percent certain to be the Republican standard-bearer, they’ve painted themselves into a corner. How to escape?

To fully grasp their predicament, we should review the newspaper’s so-called news coverage throughout the primary season. First, though, you need to understand why it’s much easier for management to warp national “news” than local.

Where local news is concerned, the commissars must deal with professional rank-and-file staff reporters likely to resent unsubtle interference.

Also, while there’s no longer an Albuquerque Tribune to keep the Journal honest, New Mexicans do have access to local news coverage in newspapers the Journal doesn’t own, on radio and TV stations and a growing number of news-oriented websites.

Conversely, the Journal gets almost all its national news (Michael Coleman’s Washington dispatches excepted) from wire services and 100 percent of international news from syndicated services.

So the editors have a free hand in skewing national and global news and views.

Which free hand they used early on (as we segue into our review) to insult Jeb Bush in two or three news stories. No surprise there; this is not your grandfather’s Pete Domenici-conservative Journal. Today’s Journal gets its inspiration from the Kochs, the Tea Party and (as always) the National Review.

No wonder the Journal promoted Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin at first. Walker, remember, was the Kochs’ first choice.

After he flamed out, the editors moved to Ted Cruz. I remember a story saying Cruz will announce his candidacy “tomorrow” followed the next day (March 23, 2015) by a story saying that he announced his candidacy.

I found the Journal’s apparent affection for a Far Right evangelical notable but dismissed the subject until the newspaper initiated its current political campaign to limit abortion rights -– in the news columns, of course. My mistake, dismissing it.

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Pity for the Commissars

April 29th, 2016 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

The Albuquerque Journal’s trespasses against journalism come so fast and furious there’s no keeping up. It requires that I identify and comment on issues every single day. It’s too much, I get confused trying to figure out what to tackle first, fail to cope and feel guilty.

When will I get around, for example, to writing about the Journal’s failure to write English? To proof-read? Misspellings and grammatical errors are not quite the rule but they’re hardly unusual. And some are awful. This Albuquerque-based newspaper recently referred to the Ernie Pile library. Yes, that branch library in Ernie’s old house on Girard.


And where is my post on ABQ Free Press, Dan Vukelich’s every-other-week publication that’s almost the anti-Journal? There’s no better way to put the Journal in perspective than by looking at this second coming of the old Tribune. (Yes, it’s imperfect but so what? The editor is old-fashioned. He uses news criteria to decide what to cover and print.)

Or that piece I’ve pondered forever in which I list all the Journal political narratives, where’s that? Add them up and the sum is the Journal’s politics, which becomes an issue for a journalism blog because they leak from the editorials to infect 99 percent of the newspaper.

These days, incidentally, they’re mostly Far Right, sometimes conservative and on occasion Establishment.

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More Lessons in Public Interest Journalism: The Fiduciary Rule

April 19th, 2016 · financial coverage, journalism, labor, regulation, role of government

By Arthur Alpert

As I was saying last time, seeing “Spotlight”, the Oscar winning film about the Boston Globe’s exposé of widespread abuse of children in the local Archdiocese, reminded me that many newspapers set themselves the goal of serving the public interest.

But what is the public interest?

Well, a commonsense definition might be “the welfare of the general public in contrast to the selfish interest of a person, group or firm.”

Or, if you prefer:

“The welfare or well-being of the general public; commonwealth.”

I found both definitions on the Web, selecting them from millions, many along the same lines. It’s about most of us, not a few.

Of course, when we get down to specifics, citizens will differ on what’s in the public interest and how to reach it. Yet whether we situate ourselves on the left or right, most of us would agree a public interest exists. (Some libertarians, for whom there are only individual struggles in a Hobbesian world, might dissent.)

I’m telling you all this because the public interest came to mind when I read the story –and headline – the Albuquerque Journal ran on the first Business page Thursday, April 7. Atop the Associated Press (Washington) piece by Marcy Gordon, the editors placed this rubric:

“Retirement investment brokers face tightened rules.”

That grabbed me. You see, Ms. Gordon’s lead said “The Obama administration acted Wednesday to require that brokers who recommend investments for retirement savers meet a stricter standard that now applies to registered advisers. They must act as fiduciaries – trustees who are obligated to put their clients’ best interests above all.”

(Journal editors put the fiduciary part in a second deck.)

Not a great lead, convoluted, but it did tell us the Administration promulgated new rules forcing these advisers to put our interests before theirs.

So how come the headline writer highlighted the brokers’ new situation?

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Lessons in Public Interest Journalism from “Spotlight” and “The Big Short”

April 14th, 2016 · economy, financial coverage, journalism, regulation

By Arthur Alpert

I’m so old I prefer to see movies in movie houses, so when the 2016 Oscar winner, “Spotlight” and one of its competitors, “The Big Short” finally arrived at the dollar theater (which isn’t a buck anymore), I caught both of them in one week.

“The Big Short” sought to turn Michael Lewis’s excellent book about the few investors who foresaw the global financial shock of 2008 into a feature film. Gutsy effort, I thought, boldly done, but limited by Lewis’ initial decision to focus on the handful of contrarian seers instead of on how Wall Street banks, brokerages, credit raters and their buddies, including the captured regulators, stole from the rest of us.

Too little attention paid, that is, to how politically powerful, greedy, ignorant and sometimes criminal perpetrators of the rip-off got away with it and in some cases, were bailed out with my money and yours.

Of course, I mused, the Albuquerque Journal reported this story minimally. Also, it continues to ignore how Wall Street works in both news coverage and published opinions. This is not happenstance. It’s policy. Management’s political agenda (government bad, Corporate America noble) determines what is and isn’t newsworthy.

Not even when Neel Kashkari warns that we have banks “still too big to fail” does the Journal pay attention. Yes, that’s the same Kashkari tasked with saving the banks as a Treasury Department official in the George W. Bush administration. He’s just become president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

His warning was reported by Binyamin Appelbaum in the Feb.16 N.Y. Times and elsewhere, of course, but not in the Journal.

And today (April 14) when Nathaniel Popper and Peter Eavis reported in the N.Y. Times that the Federal Reserve and FDIC said five of the nation’s eight largest banks are “still too big to fail,” there was nothing in the Journal.

Oh, I’m certain they’ll print a paragraph or two any day now.

“Spotlight” was more impressive, probably because it reminded me that at its best, the press operates in the public interest. That was why the Boston Globe, a newspaper business, took on the local Roman Catholic Archdiocese on behalf of victimized kids. In fact, lots of excellent journalism emerges from newspaper businesses whose owners allow their news people to pursue the news.

Those owners risk economic retaliation, of course, but they may gain financially when readers and advertisers respect the journalistic integrity they demonstrate.

Win or lose financially, these owners erect a wall between the news and the business sides of the enterprise to ensure news coverage in the public interest.

That is one way to do business. In another, publishers use their newspapers to advance their personal or class political interests, sometimes boldly and without shame.

This is the Journal’s approach, of course, as we will document further next time when we return to “Spotlight” for further guidance.

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Ignoring History

April 4th, 2016 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

“The Journal is complicit is helping shrink women’s access to health services (and putting roadblocks in front of life-saving stem cell research) and appears to be doing so purposefully by putting on appearances of thoroughly covering an issue, while withholding critical information.”

That was how Denise Tessier summed up her persuasive analysis here (March 24) of the Albuquerque Journal’s recent coverage of women’s health care, including abortion services.

And as I read it, I couldn’t help but wonder how does that happen? How do people who present themselves as journalists perpetrate what Denise so brilliantly described.

Oh, it would be easy to call them names and leave it at that, but that’s what they do – make moral judgments rather than try to understand. Besides, the folks we call bad or evil almost never think of themselves that way. We humans have a great capacity for messing up with excellent intentions.

So why do they do what they do?

I suspect it begins with that species of ignorance we call lack of self-knowledge.

The top of the Journal hierarchy, for that’s who I am writing about, must not know, for example, Faulkner’s oft-quoted:

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

(I’ve always assumed he said it at the Nobel ceremony. Wrong! Turns out it’s from his “Requiem for a Nun”.)

Not knowing that we live in history helps the editors ignore history, at least the parts that contradict its editorial agenda, or rewrite the past so that it buoys the Journal’s agenda.

Victor Davis Hanson is best at this chore but the daily buys the work of several other syndicated columnists (most egregiously Krauthammer, Thomas, Will and Goldberg) who themselves ignore history or adapt it to their narrow purposes.

So, for example, it would be futile to consult the Journal’s syndicated columns in search of the history of the Political Right globally or in the US.

It’s not there. The Journal never examines it. This makes a strange kind of sense, because the Journal is that Political Right. Refusing to look in the mirror may be essential to preserving ignorance.

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‘Hotly Disputed,’ Outright Misleading: More on the Journal’s Anti-Planned Parenthood Campaign

March 24th, 2016 · budget policy, civil rights, Congress, inequality, role of government, social safety net

By Denise Tessier

After nearly a year’s hiatus from writing for ABQJournalWatch, I am compelled to add to the points my colleague Arthur Alpert made Tuesday in his post about the Journal’s anti-Planned Parenthood campaign.

The impetus is Wednesday’s UpFront column – “100 years of fighting for reproductive rights”.

At first, the front-page headline prompted thoughts that the Journal was injecting some months-overdue fairness into its generous coverage of the pro-birth, anti-choice movement and its attacks designed to cripple and even eliminate Planned Parenthood, an organization that for decades has done much to improve women’s health.

That the UpFront had been written by the exceptional Joline Gutierrez Krueger held promise that the article would be fair and enlightening. It was just coincidence that the column appeared the day after Arthur’s post, as it was clear she had been working on it before.

But the column in fact served to obfuscate one critical point – the damning and oft-repeated allegations that the women health’s organization was selling fetal parts.

“Hotly disputed” is the weak description chosen to characterize allegations of fetal tissue sales, keeping Planned Parenthood in the defensive position for purposes of the Journal column.

From the column:

Planned Parenthood . . . has been lashed lately by a host of bad press: allegations – hotly disputed – of selling fetal body parts for profit, defunding threats by Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates and the shooting deaths of three people at a Colorado Springs clinic in November by a self-described “warrior for the babies.”

There is no mention of the fact that in January a Texas grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing and actually indicted two anti-abortion extremists for allegedly trying to buy fetal body parts. The extremists were also charged with tampering with a governmental record after they made videos edited to mislead viewers into believing a Texas Planned Parenthood clinic was engaged in fetal parts sales.

Those allegations weren’t just “hotly disputed,” they were essentially put to rest by a conservative Texas court.

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Politicizing The News: Albuquerque Journal uses front page to launch its latest political campaign

March 22nd, 2016 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Sorry about my long silence, but I’ve been ill. Almost at full strength now, but because the Albuquerque Journal never took a break from politicizing the news, the backlog of critiques facing me is sky high.

I could begin with the Journal’s frenzied attacks on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the news and opinion pages. At the Journal, a political pamphlet in newspaper garb, there’s no need to consult the editorials to know what management thinks. It’s all politics, all the time, everywhere.

Or, I could document management’s see-no-evil coverage of the Governor and her policies. Remind me to point out how what looks bad for the Journal’s friends in Santa Fe is spiked or, at best, relegated to C2.

Also, while I was away, the political commissars maintained their near-absolute ban on mainstream economics; I could begin there or with their absolute ban on “demand-side” economics.

I’ll try to get to all those topics but today let’s mark the arrival of a new Journal editorial campaign, which, like its eternal war on Obamacare, will be conducted in the “pretend” news pages.

Be forewarned. The editors will –if their treatment of Obamacare is a precedent – use their power to assign (or opt to ignore) local stories for coverage, to publish or deep-six wire copy, to write accurate (or inaccurate, biased or muddy) headlines and to run stories up front or bury them depending solely on management’s political druthers.

And if you listen carefully, you will hear William Randolph Hearst chortling in his grave, “I’m not dead yet.”

Oh, but I haven’t named the campaign. Sorry. The Journal favors restricting abortion rights. How do I know this?

Sunday, Jan. 31, the Journal ran a story by reporter Rick Nathanson. An editor composed this top headline:


(Note the bold capitals.)

The second deck read:

“Bud and Tara Shaver take no prisoners in their ‘culture of life campaign.”

This was Nathanson’s lead:

“Think June and Ward Cleaver with a soapbox and a megaphone.”

Good lead. It tells us this is going to be a profile, basically, a friendly profile.

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National vs. Local

February 15th, 2016 · budget policy, Congress, Fact Check, journalism, Washington

By Arthur Alpert

About a week go I bumped into a former Albuquerque Journal reporter who said – I paraphrase – we’re essentially on target in our critiques of the daily but I write too often on national and global stories, not enough about the daily’s local coverage.

My reaction to the “on target” was to exhale. The endorsement was welcome because I’m always fearful of getting it wrong, misunderstanding or in some way being unfair to the Journal.

As for not spending sufficient time on local coverage, well, that ex-Journal staffer is correct. I plead guilty, Your Honor, and will try to improve, but may I explain?

My explanation may not get me of the hook, but it should give readers a better idea of how I approach the job.

You see, Your Honor, it’s easier to demonstrate how the Journal substitutes politicking for journalism when the topics are national or international. That’s because the editors can skew the news to fit management’s agenda without ever talking to a staffer.

There’s zero need to deal with the professional reporters and columnists on staff when the issue is what wire copy will run, what stories, analyses and opinions on happenings in Washington, the nation and around the world

Editors can and do discard wire copy on their own. And as I’ve often tried to demonstrate, they throw out what doesn’t fit the party line.

(Example: search the Journal website for a story on what the Iranians gave up in the nuke deal and, please, let me know what you find. Me, I found one glancing reference. One.)

Editors can and do chose what wire copy to publish on their own, then edit it on their own (I almost wrote, “fiddle” with it) and headline it on their own.

That is why the Journal’s politics come through so loud and so clear in its coverage (if that’s the word) of national and international affairs. The editors make it conform to the newspapers’ political line with no interference from the staff.
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