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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A Nuclear Day of Remembrance

July 16th, 2014 · energy policy, environment

By Denise Tessier

At the risk of initially sounding weird, I remember where I was when word came that United Nuclear’s uranium tailings ponds had breached and spilled radioactive sludge into the Rio Puerco at Church Rock in western New Mexico. The event remains the largest uranium tailings spill in U.S. history.

I remember because that particular day I had taken off from my full-time job as environment writer for the Albuquerque Journal – where, among numerous other things, I covered the uranium industry and wrote countless stories leading up to the opening of the nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. I took the day off so I could attend a conference in Albuquerque and make a little extra money freelancing for Nucleonics Week.

I don’t remember what story I came up with for the McGraw Hill publication, but remember well standing in the Albuquerque Convention Center hallway, hearing about the spill, the front page story that would have been part of my normal reporting beat (that first story ended up being written by another reporter). I was  off that day – July 16, 1979 – because the Journal let staffers take a day for birthdays.

Because it was my day, I immediately noticed a coincidence that would not be picked up until later stories covering the spill. That is, that the breach occurred on the anniversary of another historic nuclear event in New Mexico, the testing of the first atomic bomb at White Sands.

If you’re old enough, you might remember having in your home paper calendars that businesses gave out as advertising in the 1950s and early ’60s. They had squares to write in appointments, but were notable for colorful illustrations that popped up on certain days – white-haired George Washington on his birthday, dark-bearded Abraham Lincoln on his (President’s Day hadn’t been created yet). A heart or arrow-toting cupid landed on Valentine’s Day, a crucifix graced Good Friday and a lily or colored egg could be found on Easter Sunday. The American flag or fireworks illustrated July 4.

On my birthday, July 16, the calendars had a mushroom cloud.

Nuclear events are part and parcel of New Mexico’s history – radiation showers after the bomb test, uranium tailings blowing dust off huge piles near Grants, radioactive rivulets trickling in the canyons near Los Alamos, yellowcake sludge spilling over the banks of the “Perky”, as the Navajo affectionately called the Rio Puerco that slaked the thirst of their sheep before the spill. This year, Valentine’s Day saw the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant’s first radiation leak.

The Trinity nuclear weapons test was conducted July 16, 1945. Today marks the 35th anniversary of the Church Rock spill.

After the spill, I went out to Gallup and Church Rock and wrote stories about the people who relied on the mutton from the sheep that sometimes continued to drink from the Rio Puerco for water. The lead sentence on one was something like, “The Navajo have no word for radiation.”

Earlier this month, on July 7, my former New Mexico Independent editor Trip Jennings did a 35-year remembrance on the Church Rock spill for his more recent journalistic venture, New Mexico In Depth. “Remembering the largest radioactive spill in U.S. history ” not only recounts the spill, but includes insights about its legacy and that of uranium mining from former Los Angeles Times reporter Judy Pasternak’s book, Yellow Dirt.

Here’s one excerpt Jennings picked up from Yellow Dirt about the Church Rock spill:

The water, filled with acids from the milling process, twisted a metal culvert in the Puerco and burned the feet of a little boy who went wading. Sheep keeled over and died, and crops curdled along the banks. The surge of radiation was detected as far away as Sanders, Arizona, fifty miles downstream.

The IHS (Indian Health Service) and the state urged Navajos not to drink the water nor enter it, nor let their animals do so, anywhere downstream from the spill. But the people by the Puerco didn’t have many alternatives.

Kudos to Jennings for taking the time to recount the spill for the many who might not even be aware of it.

I’m glad he remembered, as we all should.


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Journal Comment Lacking on Net Neutrality; Public Can Weigh In Until Midnight

July 15th, 2014 · journalism, regulation

By Denise Tessier

Considering the importance of the internet both in the workplace and at home, it’s a shame the Albuquerque Journal didn’t have the time and resources to cover properly Federal Communications Commissioner Tom Wheeler’s visit to Albuquerque earlier this summer.

Under Wheeler, a former cable-industry lobbyist, the FCC is proposing rules on net neutrality, the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, and the public comment period on those rules ends at midnight tonight.

The Journal’s “coverage” of Wheeler’s visit was four paragraphs at the end of a July 1 Politics Notebook column, the headline of which was based on the column’s main topic (“Martinez ad attacks King for vote on child support”).

(By the way, that piece’s coverage of the ad allowed King to comment, but it did not explain how the Martinez ad was misleading. Steve Terrell at the Santa Fe New Mexican did explain, putting in full detail and perspective the 1993 King vote mischaracterized in the ad.)

The four paragraphs of the Politics Notebook, marked “Connecting NM”, included a summary of the proposed rules, saying they “would allow Internet providers to give faster service to content providers that can pay higher rates. Critics have said the option will mean higher costs to customers for Internet access and content.”

The Journal did publish an Associated Press summary of the net neutrality issue May 15 in the Business section. Other stories about net neutrality are available to Journal subscribers online.

Albuquerque Business First actually covered the Wheeler hearing in Albuquerque. Now with Business First, former Journal writer/editor Dan Mayfield reported that:

Wheeler, although he was appointed by President Obama and has pledged to maintain an open Internet, was clearly in hostile territory Monday night. His past as a lobbyist for industry groups was the topic of conversation before the event. Several in the crowd of about 300 were vocal, shouting, and the moderator had to, at one point, take a break to calm the crowd down.

But Wheeler was anxious to tell how he came to his decision to vote to keep it open.

“When I was an entrepreneur, I had companies fail because they did not have access to networks. I am pro-Internet, and pro-free speech, and all that enables,” he said.

Readers also may find of interest this piece by Marisa Demarco, which appeared courtesy of New Mexico Compass just before Wheeler’s visit. It includes an explanation of the issue, video and contact information for making comments.


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Indulging in a Flight of Fancy

July 2nd, 2014 · journalism, open government, state government

By Arthur Alpert

It isn’t a smoking gun, but the Santa Fe New Mexican’s story last Saturday sure was an eye-opener.

Here’s the headline:

Records: N.M. paid Arizona firm ahead of provider shake-up

And here are reporter Patrick Malone’s first two paragraphs:

“Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration shook up the state’s mental health system last June when it said an audit had revealed 15 nonprofit groups that provided treatment to the poor had overbilled Medicaid by as much as $36 million. The groups were stripped of their contracts, and a handful of companies from Arizona were brought in to replace them.

“But months before the audit was even complete, the Martinez administration was already paying at least one of the Arizona companies for salaries, travel and legal fees, state records show. At least one payment to the company, Agave Health Inc., was made before the audit had even begun, according to the records.”

Before the audit had begun?

The New Mexican asked Matt Kennicott, spokesman for the Human Services Department, which ordered the audit, for comment and he defended the early payments.

“Bottom line is that the transitional agencies were prepping in case a transition did need to occur,” Kennicott said.

Malone updated his story Monday, June 30, noting some Arizona firms got “hefty” payments.

“In one example,” he wrote, “invoices submitted to the state for reimbursement by the Arizona providers show that the executive and management team of one company, Open Skies Healthcare, routinely billed the state $250 an hour to $300 an hour for wait times at airports and extremely long workdays.”

He also talked to some Democratic legislators who want a probe.

So there you have my brief summary of an extraordinary new development in the long-running behavioral health audit story.

Which I tell you for one reason – the Albuquerque Journal hasn’t. Through Wednesday, July 2, there’s been not one word from the state’s largest daily.

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Homeland Security’s Threat Against Journal an Attempt at Intimidating the Press

June 30th, 2014 · journalism, role of government, Washington

By Denise Tessier

The federal government under the Obama administration has been aggressive about prosecuting leaks , and concurrent with it, New York Times reporter James Risen faces jail time for refusing to disclose a source – this despite the Shield Law that is supposed to protect reporters from such prosecution.

Now, it appears the government has embarked on another threat to journalism, this time actually stating that it could exclude the Albuquerque Journal from future press briefings because of the paper’s three-part investigative series by Journal Washington correspondent Michael Coleman about the Department of Homeland Security, which ran in the Journal in April.

This threat was mentioned at the tail end of a Journal story about a 10-month Homeland Security investigation that resulted in 22 arrests (“Homeland Security cracks auto theft case ,” June 27). In it, Journal reporter Ryan Boetel included this reference to Dennis Ulrich, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New Mexico and Texas:

Ulrich took the opportunity at Thursday’s news conference to criticize the Journal’s series on Homeland Security earlier this year and threatened not to invite the Journal to future news conferences. The series reported on questions about how the agency’s mission has expanded since it was created after the 9/11 attacks and its increasing participation in local law enforcement.

Ulrich didn’t offer specifics about what he thought was wrong with series, titled “Mission Creep,” and Homeland Security hasn’t requested any corrections to the report.

Those two paragraphs were easy to overlook, coming as they did at the end of a news story, but Coleman himself brought attention to the threat via Twitter , writing:

Check this out: DHS threatens to bar my newspaper from pressers over my recent series on “mission creep” at agency.

Make no mistake, Ulrich’s comments – even if they are not carried out – are intended to have a chilling effect on the press.

While written for the Journal, with a New Mexico focus, the stories drawing the department’s ire were national in scope.  Coleman’s three-part series “MISSION CREEP” was one of the best enterprise pieces of journalism the Albuquerque Journal has done in recent years.

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Shame on the Journal for ‘Lame’ Editorial That Tried To Shame the IRS

June 23rd, 2014 · journalism, tax policy

By Denise Tessier

The Albuquerque Journal’s editorial board used ridicule to try to shame the Internal Revenue Service with Saturday’s shallow editorial, “Lame IRS excuse should be good for all taxpayers” (June 21). But sadly, in doing so, the Journal should be ashamed of itself.

The springboard for the editorial was the June 14 Associated Press story, “IRS lost emails by official in tea party probe,” which revealed a 2011 crash of the computer belonging to Lois Lerner, head of the division processing tax-exempt status applications during the time of alleged improprieties, and the resulting loss of her emails.

The AP story said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp was outraged, to the point that the Michigan Republican said, “There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the inspector general.”

Keep in mind that Ways and Means is one of three GOP-led congressional committees investigating the IRS over its handling of tax exempt applications from 2010 to 2012, plus the Justice Department and the IRS inspector general already are investigating.

As an editorial topic, the missing emails development was low-hanging-fruit – emails lost during investigation! The computer crash was years before the investigations commenced. And the Journal editorial chose to compare the loss to a child’s “dog ate my homework” excuse, which it characterized as “lame”. [Read more →]

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Samuelson and Piketty: It’s the “political” economy, stupid!

June 21st, 2014 · economy, labor, tax policy, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

I’m lucky to have fallen, years ago, into journalism, where they paid me to learn how the world works. The cherry on the cake was a crash course in financial markets and economics courtesy of Financial News Network, CNBC and the Wall Street Journal Business Report for TV, tuition-free again with paychecks.

OK, they weren’t always big paychecks, but why carp?

I’m neither an economist nor a market whiz, but the folks I covered and my colleagues taught the ABCs.

Case in point – markets and the economy differ. While the stock market affects the real economy (and visa-versa), it doesn’t predict it, not reliably. Sometimes (said Wall Street pros) the market represents the value of future profits and sometimes, it signals where GDP is headed, that’s all.

Basic stuff, but Robert Samuelson, who has been reporting on markets and the economy for some 40 years, doesn’t know it.

That’s why his syndicated column in Wednesday’s Albuquerque Journal (June 18) isn’t helpful.

It’s all about how the stock market is up, “suggesting a recovery that’s on track and strengthening,” while interest rates on bonds have fallen, suggesting “bond investors expect the economy to weaken.”

Guess he’s forgotten the market’s steady ascent in 2007 just before we plunged into the Lesser Depression.

There are numerous examples of the markets’ disconnection from the economy, but let’s not pile on. For I believe Samuelson represents the Journal’s best foot forward in economics coverage.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Let me explain.

Besides Samuelson, the editors adorn the editorial page with George Will’s libertarian orthodoxy (no, he’s not a conservative any more) and claptrap (sometimes, partisan claptrap) from several other ideologues, of whom Cal Thomas is my favorite.

He’s unmatched in deifying the powerful.

Doubt that? Please read (or re-read) the Thomas column published under the rubric “Work ethic beaten down by disdain for wealthy” in the May 28 Albuquerque Journal. Note his failure to mention how the tax code favors Wall Street gamblers over, say, cops, firemen and teachers.

Or Thomas’ argument (Journal, May 14) against redistribution of wealth downward; note the topic of redistribution upward (via the political process) is nowhere to be found. Oversight?

Meanwhile, over on the Op Ed page, libertarians – some local, some imported – dominate again.

Samuelson, meanwhile, strikes me as well meaning if self-deluded. Take his attempt to size up Thomas Piketty, the author of the current intellectual sensation, “Capital in the 21st Century” in a column the Journal ran April 22.

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