Willed Superficiality

November 20th, 2014 · journalism, NM Legislature

By Arthur Alpert

Not a day passes that the Albuquerque Journal does not offer a lesson or five or six in how not to do journalism. This drives me crazy because I get lost trying to decide what to target first.

Should I point out stories the Journal ignores, presumably because its plutocratic agenda forbids?

OK, here, briefly, are a few of the latest:

  • The DOE expects a five billion dollar profit for the taxpayers from the program that funded Solyndra and other green energy startups, as Bloomberg Business Week (and others) noted Nov. 12. Somehow, the Journal, which ran umpteen stories on Solyndra’s big loss (as I noted here Nov. 16, 2011) hasn’t found space for DOE’s big profit.
  • Speaking of energy, the Journal also missed Donald Blankenship’s indictment. The former Massey Energy Co. CEO is charged with conspiring to violate mine safety standards and to impede mine safety officials, making false statements to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and securities fraud. News organizations reported it Nov. 13.

Of course, they were only miners, the 29 who died in that April 5, 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion, not mine owners.

  • The Journal’s post-election analysis included zero coverage of the decisive role played by dark money.

Of course, the Journal continues to employ a range of tactics to promote its oligarchic agenda, including stories not assigned, stories hidden in the back pages and stories disguised under misleading rubrics. [Read more →]

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Old-fashioned Virtues, Anti-Journalism and Net Neutrality

November 16th, 2014 · health care reform, journalism, net neutrality, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

I wanted today to evaluate the Albuquerque Journal’s political coverage leading up to Nov. 4 – hint, it ranged downward from mediocre – and I will get to it soon. But columns by Winthrop Quigley and D’Val Westphal intervened, reminding me of an old suggestion by my colleague, Denise Tessier and, well, I’ve changed course.

If memory serves, she wondered why the Journal doesn’t replace some syndicated columns (and Op Ed essays from covert sources) with the work of staff writers, publishing them not on Page One but on the editorial and Op Ed pages, as local newspapers traditionally do.

(I’ve just read her Feb. 24, 2010 post and yes, memory did serve but she said a lot more and said it better.)

We’ll get back to Denise’s point but first, the columns I cited above:

In his UpFront column headlined “Opposition to the Affordable Care Act is often ironic”, Quigley gently put down those opponents of Obamacare who cry “Socialism” when the reality is the ACA recruits “new customers for the for-profit insurance industry.”

That was Thursday, Nov. 13. I’m writing Friday and the top story is Westphal’s continuing UpFront inquiry into the facts on testing in the state’s public schools. Facts, that is, as opposed to broad generalizations or wild assertions.

This is not about agreeing with Quigley or Westphal. I don’t always. Quigley seems to side with business rather than the nation when their interests clash. And while Westphal’s decision to ask teachers what goes on in classrooms is as impressive as it is rare these days, I’m wary of how she will link and interpret what she finds given Journal management’s record on improving schools.

What matters, however, is that both essayists are serious journalists who are allowed by Journal management to stray from the party line.

Of course that party line – or rather, management’s use of it in deciding what is “news” and in structuring the opinion pages – is destructive of journalism.

[Read more →]

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More National Attention for New Mexico Police

November 10th, 2014 · regulation, role of government

By Denise Tessier

(November 10, 2014) In newsroom vernacular, the New York Times “scooped” papers in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces with its report on overzealous police departments and civil forfeiture laws, which ran in the Times Sunday (Nov. 9).

It would be hoped that the local papers do some follow-up on this one, because the story mentions those three New Mexico cities, merits greater attention and bears repeating.

The story, “Police Use Department Wish List When Deciding Which Assets To Seize,” included segments of videos from police department seminars (one of which was held in Santa Fe), where officers were actually being advised to target big ticket items like luxury cars and to forget about jewelry and computers when seizing assets related to drug crimes, DWI or prostitution (the latter of which was possible courtesy of the Albuquerque City Council).

Star witness for the Times’ indictment of police coveting cars was Harry S. Connelly, Las Cruces city attorney, who is shown in a video (embedded in the Times’ story) relating how his city’s police department was disappointed it couldn’t nail a guy, despite their best efforts to pin something on him in order to get his “exotic” Mercedes. From the video footage of Connelly:

A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new. Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like Ahhhh.” And he gets out and he’s just reeking of alcohol. And it’s like, Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.”

The Times’ news story noted that since the expansion of the “War on Drugs” in the 1980s, civil forfeiture has become a law enforcement staple to the point that it helps finance police work, with some department personnel personally using assets like cars that have not been sold at auction.

What is new in the story is that police and prosecutors like Connelly are sharing tips on how to best score these high-dollar assets via continuing education seminars – like the one held in Santa Fe – some of which were videotaped. [Read more →]

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Why Endorse?

November 3rd, 2014 · journalism

By Denise Tessier

Could the Albuquerque Journal’s endorsement of Susana Martinez for governor actually cut the number of votes she gets?

Or does the paper’s endorsement give her a boost?

For that matter, does a Journal endorsement (or lack thereof) affect the chances of approval for any of the dozens of candidates, State Constitutional amendments, bonds, mill levy and advisory questions on Tuesday’s ballot?

The data-driven news site Vox recently offered a partial answer to those questions by highlighting a study that concluded: The answer depends on whether the voter’s views are ideologically similar to that of the newspaper.

At this point it almost goes without saying that the Journal is perceived as ideologically conservative (Republican-leaning), regardless of how many endorsements it gave Democrats in this year’s races.

The 2012 study by Dartmouth’s Kyle Dropp and MIT’s Chris Warshaw found that with regard to general elections, an endorsement from newspapers ideologically similar to the voter increased support for the candidate by approximately 5 points.

Regarding primary elections, the study came to a similar conclusion, but also found that an endorsement from an ideologically dissimilar paper reduced voter support by about 10 points.

So, this study tells us that an endorsement is added incentive for voters who like their paper’s views in general, but that those who disagree with their paper disagree with a bit more passion. One has to assume that there’s also a contingent of voters for whom the endorsements matter not a whit. [Read more →]

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“Plutocrats Against Democracy”: The news deemed not fit to print by the Journal

October 29th, 2014 · climate change, economy, health care reform, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

I had no idea Paul Krugman read the Albuquerque Journal, did you?

Hard to believe, I know, but his Oct. 23 NY Times column contains big hints that he follows our local daily closely.

It’s headlined, “Plutocrats Against Democracy”.

Krugman argues first that plutocrats (that is, persons whose power derives from their wealth) fear democracy. He says that’s why they invest in propaganda, telling voters, “often and loudly, that taxing the rich and helping the poor will cause economic disaster, while cutting taxes on ‘job creators’ will create prosperity for all” by way of “a lavishly funded industry of think tanks and media organizations dedicated to promoting and preserving that faith.”

See what I mean? The Nobel-winning economist has offered a neat description of the Journal’s narrative. He’s also noticed our daily’s reliance on “lavishly funded industry of think tanks” for its Op Ed pages. I wish he’d mentioned the Journal’s unwillingness to identify the money behind those essays, but c’est la vie.

Krugman also points to the plutocrats’ efforts to make “sure government programs fail, or never come into existence, so that voters never learn that things could be different.”

He must have had the Journal’s eternal war on Obamacare in mind, don’t you think?

“But these strategies for protecting plutocrats from the mob are indirect and imperfect,” Krugman wrote. And the obvious answer, he concluded, is “Don’t let the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 90 percent, vote.”

“And now you understand,” he continues, “why there’s so much furor on the right over the alleged but actually almost nonexistent problem of voter fraud, and so much support for voter ID laws that make it hard for the poor and even the working class to cast ballots.”

OK, at this point, I must cease being a wise guy. Paul Krugman almost certainly doesn’t read the Albuquerque Journal. He’s writing about the plutocrats, not the Journal. I pretended otherwise to highlight the strong resemblance – maybe they’re twins – between plutocrats and the paper.

For the Journal is not a newspaper defined by the search for stories (and let the chips fall where they may) but rather a politics-driven advocate for the very rich.

Now I just said a mouthful. It’s a big, broad indictment. To back it up, I should be able to demonstrate not just how it spins the news it prints (as we do habitually at ABQJournalWatch.com) but also that it refuses to cover stories or carry opinion that contradicts its political line.

Well, guess what? I can. Without breaking a sweat. Censorship is the case. Exactly. Egregiously. And in spades.

The Albuquerque Journal averts its eyes from huge swaths of the local, national and global scenes – pretty much everything the plutocracy would have us ignorant of.

Which is why I have a little list of such stories, about a dozen, assuming I can read the notes I’ve been scribbling for the past week or 10 days. Let’s look at a few today.

[Read more →]

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Journal Editorial Alleging ‘Political Shenanigans’ Displays Partisanship of Its Own

October 25th, 2014 · journalism, regulation, role of government, tax policy, voting rights

By Denise Tessier

“. . .voters should be allowed to help settle the debate. . .” – 2011 Albuquerque Journal editorial, urging voters to support a ballot question regarding red light cameras

The Albuquerque Journal showed a glaring inconsistency last week when it called on voters to reject two advisory questions – on whether marijuana should be decriminalized and whether the county should fund mental health services via a tax – questions that are already printed on this year’s Bernalillo County ballot.

In an Oct 16 editorial that at best was merely hypocritical and at worst, maliciously partisan and undemocratic, the Journal said the two questions “serve no real purpose other than partisan political pandering” and urged voters to vote no on those questions to “register their displeasure” with the Bernalillo County Commission.

Yet in June 2011, when the Albuquerque City Council was split on whether to put to a vote a non-binding question regarding red light cameras, the Journal editorial board advised Mayor Richard Berry to break the tie and put it on the ballot, saying:

. . . while voters do elect officials to make the tough decisions, and public safety isn’t something that necessarily belongs on a referendum, Albuquerque’s red-light cameras should go to a public vote. . .

So, three years ago, the Journal said the issue of red light cameras should go to a vote “if for no other reason than to quiet the talk-radio conspiracy theorists and build community confidence in the program.”

Yet today, when the ballots are already printed up and being viewed by early and absentee voters, the Journal advocates that voters undermine the process and vote “no” to voice their displeasure with the County Commission. In essence, the Journal is advocating that voters throw a monkey wrench into the integrity of the process and forever throw into question whether voters in this election will have cast a “no” against decriminalization and mental health services via a tax or whether they were merely voting “no”– as the Journal urged them – to teach commissioners a lesson. [Read more →]

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Journal Publishes Misleading Voice of ‘Reason’

October 23rd, 2014 · environment, journalism

By Denise Tessier

Last month, the day after about 400 people marched in Albuquerque and hundreds of thousands marched worldwide to demand action on climate change, the Albuquerque Journal ran a relevant but industry-slanted piece that was soon after debunked by one of the paper’s own readers and nationally discredited by the watchdog site, Media Matters.

The timing in running the piece likely was mere coincidence when Journal editors decided to give generous Op-Ed page space to “Plastic bag bans not a panacea for the environment.” But that it would run questionable information and overlook the industry background of the writer is of more egregious concern, and gives the impression the Journal essentially has chosen to chastise two New Mexico cities for banning plastic bags.

The piece was written by Julian Morris, listed as “Vice President of Research” for the Reason Foundation, which, as pointed out by Journal letter writer Bruce G. Trigg, is funded in part by the Koch brothers, one of whom, David Koch, serves as a Foundation trustee. It can be said that these industrial billionaires have an interest in plastic bags, which in the United States are made from a waste by-product of natural gas refining, according to American Plastic Manufacturing.

Let’s look at just the first few paragraphs in the Morris column:

Over 200 municipalities in the United States, including two in New Mexico – Santa Fe and Silver City – have banned the distribution of lightweight plastic shopping bags.

Proponents of these bag bans claim they will reduce litter and protect the marine environment, diminish our consumption of resources and emissions of greenhouse gases, reduce waste and save taxpayers’ money.

. . . a recent report for the Reason Foundation shows that all these claims are false. (My emphasis added.)

Media Matters’ point-by-point analysis of Morris’s article shows the claims by bag ban proponents are not false, and instead it was Morris making misleading and false claims in his widely disseminated opinion piece. [Read more →]

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Is That All There Is?

October 19th, 2014 · Congress, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Is that all there is?

Put that sentence in quotes and you have Peggy Lee’s brilliant hit song, a Rorschach of disillusion, sadness and whatever else you read into it, from 1969.

It also expresses perfectly my reaction to the Election 2014 story the Journal ran Friday, Oct. 17 on the Metro page under the headline “Pearce, Lara square off” (print edition) and James Monteleone’s byline.

I did not watch the televised debate between 2nd CD Rep. Steve Pearce (R., NM) and challenger Roxanne “Rocky” Lara or examine a transcript but the account looks to be accurate and balanced.

But, is that all there is?

The story told us what the candidates said, but lacked context. It was a pure “he said, she said” exercise. The journalist offered no help whatsoever to the reader wondering what was true, what the candidates fudged or if one or both delivered a whopper.

I recognized several places where a reporter could raise questions what a candidate said, but it didn’t happen.

This was, in other words, a perfectly objective report. Objective, meaning “here’s what we observed happened. After that, you are on your own. I’m off to the nearest bar.”

[Read more →]

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The Journal’s Bad Habit of Politically Motivated Headlines

October 12th, 2014 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

As I was musing the other day about my last post here, there came to mind, unbidden, a 1940s era radio show called “Can You Top This?” where comedians tried to out-funny each other.

No matter how long I monitor the Albuquerque Journal, I’ll never find anything to top the arrogance, self-indulgence and borderline psychosis exhibited by the Journal editor who wrote a headline for an opinion column that commented on (sneered at) the columnist’s argument.

I still find it hard to believe.

In retrospect, though, the weirdness of that anti-journalistic episode may obscure a crucial point, namely that the Journal habitually writes headlines to promote its political agenda.

Habitually. Oh, they’re not as outré or freakish as that sneer but they’re just as corrupting of journalism. Some cases in point follow.

In case A, the newspaper came out swinging for a candidate and a cause via the headlines (two of them) editors put over a local news story.

That was reporter Dan McKay’s Election 2014 piece on the race between Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, a Democrat, and her GOP challenger, Simon Kubiak, on the front page of the Metro section Wednesday, Oct. 8.

Somebody decided the main headline should be “O’Malley, Kubiak disagree on taxes”.

The same somebody, I presume, decided the second deck should read “Republican challenger says residents of country are already paying enough”. (Note: This appeared in the print edition.)

A professional journalist would have written neither – for they add up to an intervention on Kubiak’s side.

As I have noted here before, editors conventionally write heads based on the reporter’s lead paragraph. That’s because the reporter has put the guts of the story up there or at least what will grab readers.

In this case, McKay’s lead was a grabber:

“Simon Kubiak expects to lose – and lose big – when Bernalillo County voters head to the polls next month.”

[Read more →]

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Journal Helps Whip Up ‘Celebrate Sex’ Controversy at UNM

October 11th, 2014 · Education, journalism

By Denise Tessier

The recent brouhaha over four days of “Celebration of Sex” seminars at the University of New Mexico reminded this reader of the CNM administration’s discomfort when a student newspaper dedicated an issue to sex education at that community college last year. Only this time, it could be argued that the Albuquerque Journal helped create the UNM controversy by simply overplaying the story and making it into a big deal.

In doing so, the state’s largest paper basically took sides with a conservative student group, arguably at the expense and over the wishes of students interested in the information those meetings provided.

‘Celebrate Sex’ week stirs controversy at UNM” was the story headline the Journal splashed across the front page on Sept. 30. Not surprisingly, considering the Journal had declared the whole thing a “controversy” in such attention-grabbing fashion, the university started getting emails and phone calls and three days later the Journal had another front-page story: “UNM issues ‘Celebrate Sex Week’ apology.”

The source of the controversy basically came down to one paragraph in the first story the Journal ran: [Read more →]

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