By Arthur Alpert
Suppose you owned a newspaper and wanted to use it to advance a political agenda that was rightist – sometimes conservative but more often radically rightist.
And suppose that you, the newspaper owner, weren’t satisfied with editorializing along those lines or loading your opinion pages with ditto-headed writers, but wanted your news pages, too, to carry your message – no matter the insult to journalism.
If that were the case, you probably would want your editor to ignore the current story from Florida on that state’s purging of voter rolls.
No matter that The Miami Herald and other Florida newspapers think it’s worth reporting, as does NPR, and that the N.Y. Times mentioned it. No matter that the Justice Department is wagging its finger at Florida.
Why awaken memories of Katherine Harris?
Nor would you want to publish the Carl Bernstein-Bob Woodward collaboration in last weekend’s Washington Post headlined thus: “40 years after Watergate, Nixon was far worse than we thought”.
The authors assert that, “At its most virulent, Watergate was a brazen and daring assault, led by Nixon himself, against the heart of American democracy: the Constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law.”
Why saunter down that memory lane?
Again, if you thought to use your news columns to advance the fortunes of the political right, you might pass on the N.Y. Times account (June 12) of Jeb Bush wondering in public how Ronald Reagan and Mr. Bush’s own father, former President George H.W. Bush, would fit in “during this Tea Party era.”
Dissension in the ranks surely won’t help the cause.
And you would cover the Wisconsin political battle between Gov. Scott Walker and public employee unions seeking to recall him very, very selectively (see my May 29, April 3 posts) until Mr. Walker’s victory, at which point you would discover the great significance of it all.
Specifically, you might print one front-page story on the electoral win June 6 and three more – count ‘em, three – the next day on the positive political implications of that win for the Right.
Of course, I’m writing about the Albuquerque Journal.
It’s printed not one word on the Florida voter purge, the Watergate + 40 report and Jeb Bush’s comments it’s covered the Wisconsin recall as I have described it.
However, my “here’s the hypothesis and the-evidence-fits-it” approach isn’t foolproof. That a rightist agenda explains all is plausible, yes. As the TV forensics experts say, it’s “consistent” with the evidence. But that it fits doesn’t make it true; there may exist another, superior way to arrive at the “why” behind the editors’ decisions.
It won’t come from journalism, though, not if we define journalism as the fair-minded pursuit and dissemination of small “t” truths about our civic life.
No, journalists make very different news decisions.