“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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Journal Still Promoting Voodoo Economics

October 6th, 2014 · budget policy, Congress, economy, journalism, tax policy

By Denise Tessier

Based on the latest figures from the U.S. Labor Department, USA Today (and other news outlets) reported over the weekend that September’s unemployment rate had dropped below 6 percent for the first time since 2008, when George W. Bush left in his wake a destroyed economy that saw losses of a million jobs a month.

Then, in this morning’s New York Times, Paul Krugman warned that “voodoo economics” will be getting a push in Congress again this year.

So, what did the Albuquerque Journal offer readers on this topic? Yet another column by discredited economist Micha Gisser, paired up with his former Rio Grande Foundation colleague Kenneth Brown, both of whom have been criticized on ABQJournalWatch for their economic analyses, as well as by economists who generally rebut those analyses via letters to the editor or columns of their own.

Five policies that could fix economy” was the title on a column actually promoting the very voodoo economics Krugman warned against (with a call for repeal of Obamacare thrown in for good measure).

As we pointed out in August, even Rio Grande Foundation Director Paul Gessing (in his own letter to the editor of Business Outlook) found himself criticizing a previous column by Gisser, saying he respected Gisser as an economist, “but I think he allows politics to cloud his economic thinking in his recent column on the U.S. and New Mexico economies.”

One need only look at the first of the five Gisser/Brown policy “fix” claims — the one on fiscal policy — to see them proving Krugman’s point (and Gessing’s, although he might not agree with its application here): that politics, rather than economics, is driving their argument. [Read more →]

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It’s Simply Moralizing, You See

October 3rd, 2014 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

The Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday, Sept. 28, that New Mexico press associations recognized excellence in covering breaking news, photography, sports, features, editorial cartoon and mobile apps.

It was good to be reminded there are many talented hardworking staffers doing professional work at the daily.

What’s lacking though is recognition of those in Journal management who see beyond the daily news meeting, past the narrow confines of professionalism and dare to explore new frontiers in journalism, going (as far as I know) where no man or woman has gone before.

That’s why I am announcing here and now the Arthur Alpert award for 2014’s Boldest Flouting of Dull Propriety in the Interest of Who Knows? And since I cannot conceive of anything like it in the next three months, we will name the winner right now.

The envelope, please? Thank you.

[Read more →]

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Not Newsworthy at The Journal: Climate Change Protests, Departure of Google and Facebook from ALEC

September 24th, 2014 · energy policy, environment, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Across the globe, demonstrators marched and chanted and some did civil disobedience to wake the rest of us to the ill effects of climate change. That was Sunday, Sept. 21.

The New York Times’ story the next day, prominently displayed, was headlined “Taking a Call for Climate Change to the Streets”.

The Times also featured another story, headlined “Rockefellers, Heirs to an Oil Fortune, Will Divest Charity of Fossil Fuels”, which evolved into a survey of efforts in academia and foundations to combat climate change.

The Washington Post wrapped three stories – the Rockefeller family decision, global demonstrations and the upcoming UN summit on climate – into one big takeout headlined, “Big Oil’s heirs join call for action as climate summit opens”.

WaPo’s Sept. 21 story also dealt in part with American corporations’ efforts to combat climate change. Some big businesses are, it seems, very worried.

And back in New Mexico, the state’s largest daily published – can you guess?

Well, if you said the Albuquerque Journal ran no story Monday, Sept. 22, on the worldwide demonstrations, the upcoming UN climate talks or the apparent apostasy of Standard Oil’s descendants, you are correct.

Nor was there a story the 23rd.

The Journal did publish an opinion column by Amy Goodman, the syndicated moralist, Saturday, Sept. 20, where she previewed the UN climate change meeting. And Tuesday, Sept. 23, it published Eugene Robinson’s opinions on the topic.

But not a word in what the Journal passes off as news pages.

Was it an accident? Happenstance? Confusing opinion and news?

[Read more →]

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Growing Awareness About Climate Change Too Great To Ignore

September 23rd, 2014 · energy policy, environment, journalism

By Denise Tessier

People must lead in climate change .”

That headline on Eugene Robinson’s column in the Albuquerque Journal this morning couldn’t be more pertinent. The people who will lead in climate change aren’t the world leaders meeting today at the U.N. Climate Summit, but rather the citizens of the world, Robinson wrote, saying “public awareness and pressure are the best hope for effective climate action.”

Among these “people” are the more than 300,000 who marched against climate change in New York City Sunday. Robinson also noted that family members of The Rockefeller Brothers Fund – the foundation of the nation’s greatest oil dynasty – had announced Sunday that they would divest themselves of fossil fuel investments out of concern about climate change. That story ran in the Washington Post Sunday, which Journal subscribers could read free under the paper’s arrangement with the Post.

As the Post reported, this divesture is “no trivial matter”:

For 140 years, the Rockefellers were the oil industry’s first family, scions of a business empire that spawned companies called Exxon, Mobil, Amoco and Chevron. So it was no trivial matter when a group of Rockefeller heirs decided recently to begin severing financial ties to fossil fuels.

“There is a moral imperative to preserve a healthy planet,” said Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, a great-great-granddaughter of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller Sr. and a trustee of the largest charitable foundation in which the family still plays the leading role.

Then, this morning came another announcement: Google would sever its ties with ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the group that has helped the extractive industries by, for example, producing national templates legislators can take back to their states to roll back laws that promote wind and solar energy . Microsoft broke its ties with ALEC a few weeks ago, according to the Chicago Tribune.

As the Tribune reported:

“The consensus within the company was that that was some sort of mistake,” Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said, referring to the initial decision to support ALEC.

“Everyone understands climate change is occurring, and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place,” Schmidt said in an interview with National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm. “And so we should not be aligned with such people – they’re just, they’re just literally lying.”

Literally lying. [Read more →]

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