August 21st, 2016 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

A thousand years ago when I was young, the Arts and Entertainment editor at my Big Apple newspaper sent me to review a Lenny Bruce show in Greenwich Village. Bruce wasn’t funny at all. What I didn’t know at the time was that he was on his last legs, succumbing to drugs and paranoia. Still, I’ve never forgotten how he ended his routine.

Bruce portrayed a comedian on the way down. Bombing in his gig at the London Palladium, failing to get laughs, this comic desperately pulls out a flag and embarks on a patriotic song-and-dance.

Ever the moralist, Bruce was riffing on Samuel Johnson’s 1775 pronouncement, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

These days, that’s no longer news. We’ve seen countless scoundrels (and “losers,” as Mr. Trump might say) revert to patriotism or law-and-order or scapegoating to divert attention from something they don’t want you to see.

Yes, the key word is “diversion.”

What inspired these thoughts was the Albuquerque Journal’s lead story today, Thursday, Aug. 18, headlined “Gov. to push for return of New Mexico death penalty”.

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Let No Journalistic Malfeasance Go Unremarked

August 8th, 2016 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

So where do I start? That’s the question whenever I sit down at the iMac because every issue of the Albuquerque Journal begs for corrective action and ideally we should let no journalistic malfeasance go unremarked.

Where do I start and (given that my time and energy are finite), which issues do I merely cite and which require a full post?

Case in point, take the Journal’s Page One story Sunday, July 31 headlined “UNMHSC lab assistant’s notebook details use, condition of fetal tissue”.

It ran under Rick Nathanson’s byline. Poor Rick, designated spear-carrier in the Journal’s latest political campaign-cum-news coverage, its relatively new war on Roe v. Wade.

The editors’ decision to run that account on Page One underscores the Journal’s move over the years from political conservatism to the Far Right and the substitution of heavy bias for generally fair news coverage. As for the issue of abortion coverage, please re-read Denise Tessier’s extraordinary March 24 post here.

In the same Sunday paper, Journal editors ran three columns on charter schools side by side on the Op Ed page, as if to demonstrate a variety of opinion. Ah, but on closer examination, two were pro-charter and the third argued the state might not be able to afford more of them right now. Where was the principled opposition to charter schools?

It wasn’t there.

Which makes a kind of sense. The Journal’s editorials assume that politicians and business people should make school policy. And since there’s no wall between editorial and news, it is only logical that the argument against charters gets short shrift in both its “news” and opinion pages.

In other words, the editors publish former assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch (or local educators who agree with her) on school issues as often as they print, say Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz or Dean Baker on economics.

That is, never.

Which reminds me. Just this morning (Monday, Aug. 8), I was reading Krugman’s argument in the NY Times that now is the time, given historically low interest rates, for the government to borrow and invest in infrastructure.

And I’d already skimmed Lawrence Summers’ Washington Post column headlined “Growth and fairness aren’t a trade-off”, the last paragraph of which includes:

“What is needed is more demand for the product of business. This is the core of the case for policy approaches to raising public investment, increasing workers’ purchasing power and promoting competitiveness.”

Now I often disagree with Krugman’s politics, which are liberal. And I’ve never forgiven Summers’ collaboration with Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin and Wall Street in fostering the Lesser Depression. Still, Krugman has a Nobel in economics and Summers an impressive resume including chief economist for the World Bank. So I read their economics advice carefully and take note when they agree.

I read them in the Times and Washington Post, respectively, not in the Albuquerque Journal, which publishes only right-of-center economics. That means, once you translate to the vertical axis that represents the distribution of power in societies, the Journal specializes in economics of, by and for those atop the hierarchy.

Moving right along, remember when I wrote here about my pity for the commissars? I did two pieces (April 29, May 8) on how the Journal had painted itself into a corner. Even as it slimed Hillary Clinton, the editors also dissed Donald Trump in its “news” and opinion pages. How would it extricate itself when he won the GOP nomination?

Well, in an editorial Friday, Aug. 5, they took a baby step away from the reality show star, a baby step that’s worth thinking about and worth its own post.

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Koch Brothers Watch: The Journal did it again and then ran a puzzling correction

July 24th, 2016 · climate change, journalism, Koch brothers, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

Sometimes I just don’t understand. Perhaps you can explain what just happened.

My editor had hardly finished posting my last essay, with its reference to the Albuquerque Journal’s refusal to identify the Koch brothers’ essays it regularly publishes as Koch brothers’ essays, when the daily’s editors did it again! They obfuscated the source of an Op Ed piece.

Well, it wasn’t a perfect rerun. As you will see, this time the essay in question has a more complicated pedigree. But the journalistic issue is the same.

May we start at the beginning?

The article, on the Op Ed page Thursday, July 21 was headlined “Dems’ renewable energy vision is a fantasy”.

The author was one Merrill Matthews and under his name the editors wrote, “The Philadelphia Inquirer”.
It was the tone that roused my suspicions; a nasty quality that often suffuses the work of the aggrieved ruling class, so I Googled Matthews.

His Institute for Policy Innovation was founded in 1987 by then Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, who later led the Koch brothers’ Freedom Works organization. IPI has received money from the Kochs’ Claude R. Lambe Foundation, Scaife Foundations and the Bradley Foundation as well as Exxon Mobil. I learned all that from SourceWatch.org,

Matthews campaigned against Obamacare as director of the “Council for Affordable Health Insurance (CAHI), an association of insurance companies.

His IPI is a member of the (Koch-supported) American Legislative Exchange Council. It has worked with ALEC on a variety of issues, including school choice, according to SourceWatch.

In 1995, IPI sent comments in favor of the tobacco industry to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Matthews also is associated with the Heartland Institute, which denies global warming and opposes regulating the sale of tobacco and which has received significant dollars from Exxon Mobil, tobacco companies Phillip Morris, Altria and Reynolds America and pharmaceutical manufacturers like GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Eli Lilly.

Heartland no longer discloses its funding sources, according to Wikipedia, but has in the recent past received big money from Donors Trust (a Koch conduit) and the Scaife, Olin and Bradley foundations.

I think you get the idea. I sure did and was pondering writing about this when this morning’s Journal arrived – it’s Friday, July 22 as I write – and there at the bottom of A2 was a “For the Record” item.

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The Journal and the Web of Climate Change Denial

July 18th, 2016 · climate change, energy policy, Fact Check, journalism, Koch brothers

By Arthur Alpert

Years ago back East, I taught journalism as an adjunct professor at colleges and a university. If I were to do it again, say at UNM, I’d insist my students read the Albuquerque Journal. To pick up tips from some excellent reporters and columnists, yes, but mostly to learn from the editors how to trash the news trade.

The Journal, a hierarchy like almost all journalistic institutions, is fairly authoritarian, former employees tell me. The top calls the shots and enforces the rules. That’s unlike the late, lamented Tribune, they say, where lots of ideas percolated upward from staff.

I try to remember that when I stumble upon a news article as useful for my educational purposes here as Michael Coleman’s “Political Notebook” Wednesday, July 13, on the front page of the “ Metro & NM” section.

(My purpose has evolved over the years; I see it now as exploring the chasm between professional journalism and whatever it is the Journal does.)

I remind myself, too, that Coleman’s work generally is professional and that I’ve absolutely no idea how the editors assign, supervise and edit his Washington beat efforts.

So the working assumption is that he’s not responsible for what I find objectionable. In other words, I presume the professional competence of all the working stiffs, including Coleman.

With that preface, let’s look at the Notebook. It was headlined in the print edition:

Senators denounce front groups”.

Here’s the lead:

“Sen. Tom Udall joined other Democrats on the Senate floor Monday and Tuesday to denounce a ‘web of denial’ they said is being spun by fossil industry front groups who use money and misleading information to muddy the debate on climate change.”

Here’s the very next paragraph:

“But critics of the senators’ strategy – including the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington and the Rio Grande Foundation in Albuquerque – said it smacked of political intimidation.”

Let’s stop for an observation I’ve made which you may want to keep in mind as you read the Journal. When the editors don’t agree with the force of a story’s first graph, they make sure it’s immediately questioned or contradicted. Conversely, when they like the premise, they relegate any dissent to the bottom of the story. Or leave it out. And never, never use it in a pull quote.

But here’s a more serious problem. The account contained no reporting on those organizations to cast light on Udall’s “web of denial” charge.

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How to Report Business News: The Pharmaceutical Industry

July 5th, 2016 · business coverage, journalism, regulation, role of government

By Arthur Alpert

I was not born ancient. First I was a child, an American boy of the New York City variety, caught up in the great debate of my times – was Mays, Mantle or Snider the best center fielder ever – and lesser but still crucial sports topics. So naturally, I tackled the sports section of the morning paper first. I still do.

After sports, I always turned to the general news pages until, very late in life, there dawned on me what serious capitalists and Marxists have always understood – economic arrangements explain most of what’s in the news pages.

So I now reach for the business news after the sports. Well, I do when reading newspapers and web sites that report on business. This does not include our local daily. Sorry, but despite printing a “business page” six days a week and publishing Business Outlook every Monday, the Albuquerque Journal does not report on business.

(Of course, I use the word “report” to mean giving a critical and comprehensive account of events and circumstances, without a political agenda.)

What reminded me was a NY Times story Friday, July 1, headlined:

Brand-Name Drug Makers Wary of Letting Generic Rival Join Their Club”.

Reporter Robert Pear, who’s been writing about the health business for years, wrote this lead:

“For decades, brand-name and generic drug companies have fought each other in Congress, at international trade negotiations and in court. So when the world’s largest generic drug company moved this year to join the powerful trade association for producers (PhRMA*) of brand-name medicines pharmaceutical lobbyists were in a swivet.”

(“Swivet” means fluster or panic, which I didn’t know until I looked it up. Did you?)

After establishing the history of conflict between the brand-name companies and the firms that make generics, Pear delves into a whole bunch of subjects you won’t read about in the Journal except in an industry-supplied OpEd.

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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.”


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.


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:



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 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.”


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