Cooking the Books, or Just a Kooky Column?

April 21st, 2014 · financial coverage, health care reform, journalism

By Denise Tessier

“Cooking the books” is a sizzling charge against anyone. The Albuquerque Journal, via a column by Bloomberg News columnist Megan McArdle, levied that claim Friday against the president.  (“Census books cooked to boost Obamacare? ” April 18)

The style of the column was off-putting enough. McArdle referred to herself with the word “I” 18 times over 13 column inches – “I’ve been saying…,” “No, I’m not kidding. I wish I was,” “I just don’t get it.”

Beyond that, and perhaps in part because of that, the premise of the column raised red flags that it might warrant some background checking. The Journal itself had not provided background by way of a news story from which one could gauge the column’s merit.

As stated in her column, McArdle’s piece was a response to The New York Times’ (April 15) report, “Census Survey Revisions Mask Health Law Effects ,” which is worth a read in its entirety to understand what McArdle is railing against.

In her defense, her original column appeared as a blog that not only linked to the Times piece for reference but included whole block-quoted paragraphs from the article that ran in the Times.

As a column atop the Op-Ed page in the Journal, however, there was no news story to refer to, and even the blog-quoted Times’ paragraphs were excised, leaving it strictly as opinion response.

Readers of her blog might have thought McArdle was raising an interesting point about the timing of changes at Census, because it had context, which would give some credence to the provocative premise in its headline, “Is Obama Cooking the Census Books for Obamacare?”

But readers of the Journal were likely left with just the railing part – and saw blame left solely with President Obama. Using essentially the same headline as the blog, the Journal included a sub-headline that offered this summary: “A good way to judge ACA is to look at census data, but the White House has made the information unavailable.”

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Covering New Mexico’s Second ‘Scathing’ Report of the Month

April 17th, 2014 · state government

By Denise Tessier

By now, most know that the U.S. Department of Justice wasn’t the only group issuing a scathing report related to New Mexico this month. Mother Jones’ article about Gov. Susana Martinez  was a hot story on national media sites Wednesday and made same-day news on all the local television stations (although KRQE held off on the story until 10).

The Albuquerque Journal could not avoid running something on this political fireball this morning, and it did run a story, placing “Mother Jones takes on Martinez” at the bottom of the front page.

But it’s interesting that the emergence of Mother Jones’ highly critical and politically explosive article, coupled with the Martinez camp’s lightning swift reaction, did not merit any mention Wednesday via the Journal’s electronic news alerts – even though local TV stations KOB and KOAT already had stories up on their web sites during the day.

This omission indicates the paper’s editors were hesitant, even reluctant to promote it, despite its real importance and the traffic it would have driven to the Journal’s web site.

(This is not to say the Journal should release stories just to beat the competition – although in reality the Journal has not made an effort to “scoop” much of any of its reporting, even when a story is written and waiting, a malaise that dates to the waning circulation days of its historical rival, the Albuquerque Tribune.)

But it easily could have issued an alert that could have led to a few short lines about the Mother Jones story and Martinez camp reaction, as the Journal has done in the past and with stories of far less importance.

This omission has led to complaints that the Journal continues to promote/protect Martinez.

It would likely be more accurate, however, to speculate that the omission reflects more on the Journal protecting itself, loathe to trumpet that national media was able to get more on Martinez – the damning audio tapes, her appointment schedules – than local media had.

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More Flailing Against Obamacare, and Related Backdoor Attacks on the IRS

April 14th, 2014 · campaign finance reform, health care reform, tax policy

By Denise Tessier

When the health care enrollment deadline of March 31 passed with more than 7 million people signed up nationwide – “beating expectations” as the Associated Press put it – the Albuquerque Journal put the news inside , deciding the front-page story should be “NM lags on health care sign-ups.”

The latter, more negative of the two stories reported the state expected to fall short of its enrollment “goal” of up to 50,000, with about 18,700 signed up. That’s about half the 36,000 figure the board that oversees New Mexico’s health insurance exchange “realistically” would like to see, the New Mexico AP story added.

So, the Journal ran “positive” health care news inside (indexed on A1) and the “negative” news got the A1 slot, when the two just as easily (and justifiably) could have been reversed.

Two days later, the Journal ran what could be considered a “positive” New Mexico insurance story: “Health-exchange sign-ups tallied; NM insurance co-op among better-performing across U.S.” That story said New Mexico Health Connections “went from zero customers last September to about 10,000” as of the March 31 enrollment period closure.

Where did the Journal run this “positive” health insurance coverage story? It let the Business desk run it, inside, on B1.

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Op Ed Page: Hiding Information Denies Needed Perspective

April 14th, 2014 · energy policy, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Last time out, I wrote about a host of economic stories and topics the Albuquerque Journal bans from the newspaper, presumably because they contradict its political agenda.

I’d planned to continue, offering lots more news the Journal finds not fit to print, but I won’t. We interrupt that program to detour to the Op Ed page to show how the editors corrupt it, too.

As you know, most of the syndicated columnists the Journal runs alongside its editorials espouse oligarchy and imperial foreign policy, so you’d think management would try to even the playing field on the Op Ed page.

And you would be wrong.

The Op Ed page also carries a preponderance of conservative and radical right opinion. But that’s not my subject today. It is that beyond using both pages to plump for the haves, the editors also take pains to hide useful information from readers.

If the Journal carried a range of views, like the liberal Establishment N.Y. Times or the conservative Establishment Washington Post, we wouldn’t need much identification of authors or sponsors of opinions.

But that’s not the case.

So that when editors published the newspaper’s five millionth argument for laissez-faire economics Sunday, April 6, from Kenneth Brown, minus a crucial identification, it matters.

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The Real Driver

April 7th, 2014 · inequality, journalism, tax policy

By Arthur Alpert

 There can be no doubt the Albuquerque Journal is a broadsheet of political advocacy rather than a conventional, old-fashioned, story-driven newspaper. And the strongest evidence for that proposition lies in what it won’t cover. 

The daily ignores broad swaths of American (and New Mexican) life, but for neatness sake, let’s confine ourselves today to the political economy.

The Journal won’t report on what’s dysfunctional in our economic system.

Nor will it abide coverage of Corporate America’s political power over that system.

Journal business pages, it’s true, record instances of individual and corporate law breaking, but they never, ever tell us about corporate law making.

For the past 35 years, business has used both political parties to discard rules and practices prevailing in that terrible period between 1945 and, say, 1980. As a result, major businesses have profited mightily while the rest of us experienced only minor downsides.

Minor downsides like a massive redistribution of wealth upward and the Lesser Depression of 2008-9. 

The Journal not only ignores what transpired, but takes a daily pass on how the system works now; an example is its blackout of news on Washington’s subsidization of corporate America, including hedge funds and private equity.

How many Journal readers know many high earners don’t pay taxes the way, say, cops and firemen and teachers do? How many know the affluent enjoy lower capital gains rates?

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WIPP: Reconsidering the ‘Impossible’

April 1st, 2014 · environment

By Denise Tessier

Before the leak, a radiation incident at WIPP was considered virtually impossible. . .

That’s a line from the Journal’s March 27 editorial in which the Albuquerque Journal revealed a collective change of heart about the infallibility of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, the only existing repository for the nation’s transuranic U.S. defense nuclear waste.

Apparently it took the “impossible” for this editorial change.

Which begs the question: Why consider a radiation leak impossible?

Taking every precaution is imperative when dealing with these highly toxic, long-lived wastes. But even if WIPP’s managers had maintained their initial safety culture and record – which, according to a report by federal investigators, had declined in recent years – to consider any leak “impossible” reflects an almost faith-based trust in WIPP.

The Albuquerque Journal has consistently been a booster of WIPP, even before the plant opened more than 15 years ago. Because of its economic benefits, bolstered by the safety record of its first decade or so, it also has enjoyed strong support from southern New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce and Carlsbad residents like Mayor Dale Janway.

The Valentine’s Day leak of radiation — revealed Feb. 19 during ongoing air sampling by the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring Center at an exhaust shaft about a half mile from WIPP — led to closure of WIPP from further acceptance of waste, pending investigation. The Journal’s first editorial after the leak (Feb. 25) was headlined, “Base WIPP response on science, not emotions.”

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Daily Show Appearance by Marita K. Noon Puts ‘Fun’ in Fracking

March 30th, 2014 · energy policy, environment

By Denise Tessier

In the simplistic world of Marita K. Noon, energy makes America great.

Energy Makes America Great, Inc., is in fact, is the name of the organization headed by Noon, whose pro-industry pieces appear in the Albuquerque Journal.

And now, kids, thanks to Noon’s appearance on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, we learn that not only is energy great, but fracking can be fun! [Read more →]

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Selective Sunshine

March 23rd, 2014 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

It’s Sunshine Week, Leslie Linthicum reminded us Thursday, March 20, “the time each year when special attention is given to the government’s responsibility to provide information to the public.”

Then, in her UpFront column, Linthicum expertly took the Albuquerque Police Department to task for lack of it.

I relished her take on transparency.

“Transparency is all the rage today. It’s the kale of public discourse – so trendy and so good for you. Politicians promise during their campaigns that they’ll be transparent. And when they go from politicking to governing, they like to describe their administrations as transparent, regardless of how open they actually are.

“Transparency is apparently in the eye of the beholder.

“Here’s my definition: Outside of simply following the law on public disclosures, it’s also telling as much as you possibly can, as accurately as you can, as soon as you can. Everything, and in plain English, please. That way we can understand what our government is doing.”

Well said.

This raises a few questions, however, not for Linthicum but for Journal management and readers of this blog.

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Contrary to the Journal’s Contention, Keystone XL Decision Should NOT Be Easy

March 18th, 2014 · energy policy

By Denise Tessier

On Feb. 27, while I was away from New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal ran an editorial whose headline summarized the leading daily’s official position: “Keystone XL approval should be easy decision.”

In terms of laying out the Journal’s position, it was a well-written editorial. But its premise is arguable. Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline should not be an easy decision. Considering where we are at this point in planetary history, it cannot be an easy decision. I will attempt to make the case as to why.

As fodder for its argument, the Journal editorial said a State Department review of the project, released in January, “found the pipeline would not have a significant effect on global warming.”

The effect of the pipeline itself might be negligible, but once the pipeline is in place, Canada has the incentive to extract more oil from tar sands and oil shale – and that extraction process will have a significant effect on the environment in terms of carbon release and global warming.

The editorial argued that Canadian officials say most of the Keystone XL oil “would be for U.S. consumption, with a small portion – mainly diesel – going to other markets.” This is contrary to other reports that say the pipeline would carry the oil to Houston ports for export.

“Even without Keystone XL, Canada will move some of its oil through the United States on trains and trucks, a far more dangerous and carbon-exhaust-producing method than a pipeline,” the editorial added.

The danger from trains is indisputable. Canada has experienced train explosions and forced evacuations. An oil tanker train derailed and exploded in December on the North Dakota prairie. The volunteer fire department in the area could not fight the fire with water or foam; they had to let it burn. The temperature the day of the explosion reportedly was -20F. And if it had happened just two miles distant on the same track, it would have destroyed the North Dakota city of Casselton.

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Journal Isn’t Telling Whole Story About IRS “Scandal”

March 14th, 2014 · campaign finance reform, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

You’ve probably noticed I shy away from writing about the major political parties. There are several reasons. One is my working premise that both parties respond to their corporate underwriters.  And there’s a practical concern – were I to condemn Albuquerque Journal editors for tilting toward Party A, it might read as if I’m siding with Party B.

Yet I will risk being misunderstood here because there’s lots at stake in the Journal’s campaign to persuade readers there’s an IRS “scandal” involving discrimination against right-wing groups.

What’s at stake is not just journalistic malpractice but a dire civic problem. We’ll take them in order.

Of course, there could be such a scandal. Heck, it wouldn’t be the first time the IRS violated citizens’ rights. Thus far, however, I don’t know if it exists.

What I do know is the Journal isn‘t telling the whole story.

First, let’s recap recent campaign events. Journal editors ran a Victor Davis Hanson syndicated column Feb. 19 in which he stated the “scandal” allegations as fact and tied the IRS to George Orwell’s Big Brother.

Next, March 6, the editors ran a three-paragraph brief on A3 headlined  “Ex-IRS boss takes 5th, again”, which reported as fact the IRS “improperly singled out Tea Party and other conservative groups.”

And March 9 they printed a George Will essay in which he accepted the “scandal” as fact and blamed the President for it.

It’s noteworthy that Hanson, Will and the Journal are relaying the House Committee leadership’s allegations and (perhaps) information from others allied with the leadership.

There’s nothing from the House minority. And nothing from journalists covering the story.

We’ll get to what reporters have unearthed, but first let’s consider the source of the IRS “scandal.”

He’s Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican whose past includes beating charges of grand theft auto and arson. For a glimpse into Issa’s criminal and political biography, and informed speculation on his role in harassing Barack Obama, see Ryan Lizza’s celebrated “Don’t look Back” in the January 24, 2011 New Yorker.

There’s been no questioning of Issa’s bona fides from Hanson, Will or the Journal.

Next, let’s look at what the IRS is accused of.

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