Blaming the Poor

June 27th, 2016 · economy, inequality, journalism, labor

By Arthur Alpert

Reading the Albuquerque Journal’s editorials is unpleasant but educational. The most obvious, daily lesson is the firm connection between the editorials and the news (and opinion) pages of the newspaper, a direct line from management’s political agenda to what the editors choose to print (or ignore) as “news.”

Put another way, there’s no wall, as exists at professional newspapers, between management and the news operation. Not even a tiny fence.

The Journal’s editorials also educate us to the owners’ political agenda. Fine. In our system, owners and publishers state their case in editorials. Since critiquing journalism is the job at ABQJournalWatch, I try to ignore what is espoused politically within editorials and focus only on journalistic issues but it’s not easy.

The difficulty is that our politics, yours, mine, everybody’s, rest on deeper values. And we – the institutional Journal and Arthur Alpert – work off very different basic assumptions. That’s something else the editorials have taught me.

Regular readers know where I’m coming from because I strive to tell them. It’s only fair.

That’s not the case at the Albuquerque Journal, which is why I love it when an editorial does reveal management’s underlying beliefs. When that happens, the job of reading editorials becomes – dare I say it? – fun!

Case in point – an editorial praising financial literacy Wednesday, June 15. This is like extolling Mother and apple pie and I was musing about being in full agreement when I read:

“In New Mexico, where almost a quarter of the 2 million residents receives food stamps and one out of every 2.5 is on Medicaid, that ignorance [lack of financial literacy] puts what’s needed to climb out of poverty in sharp focus and underlines that knowledge truly is power.”

Whoa!

So poverty is the fault of the poor?

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Making the Delegate Call: Journal Editorializes against Itself

June 10th, 2016 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Do the honchos at the Albuquerque Journal ever read the Albuquerque Journal?

I’m not kidding. In a moment I will present hard evidence to bolster the hypothesis that they don’t or that they read it but don’t grasp what the words mean. I can’t be certain. But consider this:

On the Opinion page, Wednesday, June 8, the newspaper editorialized against “the media’s” call of a Clinton victory in the Democratic primary just before big contests in seven states, including California and New Mexico.

The headline said: “Media’s call of a Clinton win feeds voter apathy”.

Turns out, the editorialist meant that the Associated Press, which counted delegates won in past primaries and the stated choices of super delegates, was wrong to publish the tally on the eve of the remaining contests.

And not just the AP:

“This was an unwarranted call by the AP and other media outlets,” wrote the editorialist, “and a step backward.”

But one day earlier, the Albuquerque Journal published the AP story in question.

Aaaargh!

Yes, the editors ran the AP report under the rubric, “AP count: Clinton has delegates to win nomination” atop A3, adorned with photos of Secretary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

So the Journal editorialized against itself.

Now, let’s ask why.

 

First, they don’t read their own daily. This view has the virtue of simplicity and- bonus!- also explains the typos and frequent illiteracy.

Of course, it’s also possible the editorialist was critiquing the editor who made the decision to publish that terrible AP story.

I’d love to welcome aboard another journalism critic, but no, sorry, that cannot be the case. For it rests on an absurd premise – that there exists a separation between the Journal’s editorial agenda and its news coverage.

But wait, what if the political commissars were well aware AP was doing the Republic a disservice but felt a responsibility to print the story anyway because, well, because, it was news.

Give me five minutes, please, to stifle the guffaws.

New Mexico’s largest daily deliberately, routinely minimizes or censors stories – national, regional, statewide and local – on the role of big money in politics, Corporate America’s political activities, the hollowing out of the middle class, tax dodges of the super-rich, dangers posed by climate change, progress in finding and exploiting new sources of energy, the consolidation of power over news and efforts to privatize public education and discourage voting by, er, undesirables.

Which is to name just a few subjects on the Journal’s Index of Forbidden Topics (Domestic) and ignore entirely its companion volume, Index of Forbidden Topics (International).

So the idea that the editors are committed to printing “the news” even if it bugs them is, well…..

Sorry, I need five minutes more, this time to stop the tears.

OK, I’m back. There’s more to say about the Journal editorial, including the obligatory slap at Hillary Clinton. This reminds me to pick up on a discussion of how the Journal will wriggle out of its “we-don’t-like-Trump” stance and the likelihood it will involve even more Hillary-bashing in the “news” columns. Soon.

And then there’s the Journal’s use of “the media.” Sadly, not just the Journal but 99 percent of American journalism has bought into Spiro Agnew’s fabrication. He turned medium (singular) into media (plural), then inserted “the” to turn the plural back into a singular.

As if everything from Twitter to the New York Times by way of local newspapers and radio stations, cable and websites, were of one mind and direction!

Slime-ball Spiro’s motive was clear – to create a scapegoat to divert attention from his (and Richard Nixon’s) crimes. Why journalists of all stripes have adopted it is beyond me, but heck, it’s a post-literate world.

So we return to the Journal’s very high-minded objection to what the Journal did one day earlier and ask why.

Your guess is as good as mine.

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Finding a Tidbit of Reality in an Unexpected Place

June 4th, 2016 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Be still, my heart!

The Albuquerque Journal just published a story on how Corporate America really works.

Ok, it wasn’t a story, more like a paragraph. And it wasn’t part of a discussion, just a quote.

But I shouldn’t nitpick. Fact is, the Journal, whose narrative on American business is a fairy tale in which major business enterprises just love competition, just hate to accept federal welfare and will never be caught buying legislation, just published a tidbit of reality.

In the sports section!

It came Thursday, June 2, on page D4, inside AP’s report that the PGA was exporting the World Golfing Championship tournament from Donald Trump’s Doral resort in Florida to the Club de Golf Chapultepec course near Mexico City.
Trump himself offered the reality:

“No different from Nabisco, Carrier and many other American companies, the PGA Tour has put profit ahead of thousands of American jobs, millions of dollars in revenue for local communities and charities and enjoyment of hundreds of thousands of fans …”

What’s he talking about?

Carrier, the air conditioning outfit, said Feb. 11 it would close two units in Indianapolis, lay off some 2100 workers there and relocate to Monterey, Mexico.

The Albuquerque Journal never reported it.

And Nabisco’s parent, Mondelez International, announced last July it would close a Chicago production line for Oreos and other cookies, erasing 600 jobs, investing instead in Salinas, Mexico. (Trump has been boycotting Oreos for some time, per Robert Farley at FactCheck.org, Nov. 19, 2015.)

The Journal has mentioned the Nabisco move a few times, including Esther Cepeda’s column (April 22, 2016) ruing the company’s decision and Paul Wiseman’s piece for the AP (March 14, 2016) where he sided with pro-free trade economists against Trump.

Cepeda’s lament for lost jobs was an outlier. As regular readers know, the Journal’s narrative is that there exists something called “free trade.” And it is good, no matter how many American jobs vanish.

(For those who think newspapers should question rather than believe, consider this March 24, 2016 tweet from Bruce Bartlett, conservative economist and aide to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush: “Free trade is a myth; all we have is managed trade. The question is for whom? In practice, only corporations benefit. Why not workers also?”)

Meanwhile, New Mexico’s largest newspaper plays booster to business instead of reporting on it critically. Logically, then, mentions of outsourcing jobs are rare and questions almost nonexistent. In the news pages and the opinion pages.

Which is why Trump’s comments jumped out at me.

Hey, better a tidbit of reality in the sports pages than not at all.

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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:

“LOCAL VETERANS ON THE DECISION TO DROP THE ATOMIC BOMB” AND – IN BIG, BLACK TYPE – “IT HAD TO BE DONE”.

Huh?

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?

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.”

Oh.

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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.

Pile?

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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