Partisanship Is Not the Problem

November 4th, 2016 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert 

I know what you are thinking.

You saw the Albuquerque Journal Wednesday, Nov. 2, the issue featuring all-Hillary’s emails–all-the-time, and you figure the Journal is in the GOP’s corner.

And you have other evidence. Like the previous day’s imaginative headline, “FBI inquiry into Clinton emails becomes key” over an AP story on A4 that said nothing of the kind, that was in fact about the Clinton campaign’s challenge to the FBI.

Also, there was the big Page One presentation for Gov. Pence’s Oct. 21 appearance here, with color photo and exuberant headline (“Pence brings fighting spirit, Trump’s themes to ABQ”).

Followed by another big Page One splash on Pence’s Las Cruces rally Thursday, Nov. 3.

Oh, and you noted the Journal twice put stories about wayward Democratic workers on the front page. The first ran Oct. 20 under the rubric, “Democratic operatives lose jobs after political black ops video”. Then, Tuesday, Nov. 1, the editors led Page One with the Donna Brazile story. You also saw the Monday, Oct. 31 AP report on A5 headlined,  “Clinton’s circle of loyalists has been politically costly”.

This, you figured, is proof the Journal prefers the GOP because, somehow, the daily has never told readers that Steve Bannon, CEO of the Trump campaign “is known for his bullying tactics and for running a website (Breitbart News) that flirts with white nationalism.” GOP conservative Michael Gerson said that in an August 25 Washington Post column headlined, “Trump’s repellent inner circle”.

Yes, there’s lots of evidence along those lines but I disagree. The Journal is political, yes, political to the nth degree, but it’s not partisan. As I see it, its political agenda is lots more ambitious and the way it pursues that agenda is why the Journal practices anti-journalism.

To explain, let’s begin with the daily’s moral frame of reference. As I wrote last time out in a post headlined “Speculations on the Journal’s Psyche”, the Journal demonstrates moralists’ bad habits:

“Like judging, which a certain, trouble-making Palestinian rabbi once warned against. Judging is the enemy of thinking, cooperation and self-criticism. It forces our minds into a rigid framework of dualism. There’s not much room to understand problems or people within either-or.”

As if on cue, the Journal confirmed all that in an editorial published Sunday, Oct. 30, under the rubric, “No good choice for president”. It was one moral judgment after another. But it was great, too, in revealing the roots of the Journal’s anti-journalism.

Notice first how the editorial meshed perfectly with the daily’s “news coverage.” Both trash Hillary Clinton. Both reveal the paper’s real unhappiness with Donald Trump. Both decline, however, to delve into Trump’s suspect business practices, suspect Foundation practices, still-secret tax returns, the tolerance he’s expressed for pro-Trump violence and the approval he’s received from David Duke and other self-proclaimed white supremacists.

Editorial and newsgathering are one and the same at the Journal. There’s no wall, not even a flimsy curtain.

But since my purpose is to dispel the idea that the Journal is a partisan organ, let’s zoom in on the Journal editorial.

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Speculations on the Journal’s Psyche

October 18th, 2016 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

I don’t pick up the Wall Street Journal regularly and cannot defeat its online pay wall, but I glommed an Embassy Suites free-to-guests issue at the Foundation for Open Government luncheon Wednesday, Oct. 5, took it home and read it cover-to-cover. How refreshing!

The news pages were crisply written and I never detected an editorial thumb on the scale. Better yet, on the Op Ed page under the headline, “A Voter Revolt Against Shareholder Value”, essayist William A. Galston argued against Milton Friedman’s dictum that the sole “social responsibility” of business is to increase its profits. He urged corporations to improve their workers’ lives and incomes and become good citizens of their communities.

(“Shareholder value!” When I interviewed Boone Pickens on his crusade for that – eons ago in New York – I’d no idea it would wreak so much havoc.)

But back to that issue of the Wall Street Journal with its fair reporting and Galston’s Op Ed rap on Corporate America’s knuckles. This was in Rupert Murdoch’s paper, the flagship for the One Percent, where calling the editorials far out would be gross understatement. It happened because the WSJ has a wall between those editorials (the publisher’s politics) and the news operation.

That’s the case at the New York Times, too. On the very day the Times strongly endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, Sunday, Sept. 25, the front page featured an account of the deep ties between both Mrs. Clinton and her husband, on one hand, and Goldman Sachs by reporters Nicholas Confessore and Susanne Craig.

This cast the Democratic candidate as a friend of Wall Street; Goldman is the global investment bank journalist Matt Taibbi famously described it as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” (Rolling Stone, April 5, 2010).

It was the Times’s wall between the news operation and the publisher’s politics that made possible a tough Page One story on Clinton simultaneously with the editorial endorsement.

Need I say no such wall exists at the Albuquerque Journal?

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Like the Pot Calling the Kettle Black: Albuquerque Journal takes on “media bias”

October 6th, 2016 · Fact Check, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

It boggles the mind.

Did you see it? I refer to the headline, “Charges of media bias have merit” atop an essay the editors at the Albuquerque Journal ran on the editorial page, prominently on the editorial page Sunday, Oct. 2.

The Albuquerque Journal charging bias! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Talk about chutzpah! Talk about double-talk!

Where did the editor (or editors) find the gall? As readers of this website know too well, they manage a Hearstian political broadsheet, censoring news that doesn’t fit the Journal’s political agenda; using “news columns” to conduct political campaigns; rewarding political friends and punishing political enemies by spinning “news” coverage and weighting opinion pages until they lean not conservative but far, far Right.

And now they inform us they’ve detected bias in the world?

I know we humans excel at self-deception, but can anybody be that blind? Or are they cynics, cold-eyed and self-aware? I don’t know.

The column is by the Journal’s Washington correspondent, Michael Coleman. It’s not his finest hour but consider the guy’s situation. It’s a plum of a job, he (like other Journal staffers) knows what his editors like and don’t and he walks a fine line.

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The Facebook Data Center Story: Is it really a “Big Win” for New Mexico?

September 22nd, 2016 · corporate welfare, economy, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

As a citizen who has read the Albuquerque Journal’s reporting and editorializing on Facebook’s decision to build a data center in Los Lunas, I am skeptical. I suspect New Mexico’s embrace of that deal will end badly. But it’s a complex arrangement and there are some unanswered questions, so I’ll try to keep an open mind.

As a critic of journalism, however, I’ve absolutely no doubt that the Albuquerque Journal is selling the deal and promoting its prime booster, Governor Martinez.

This example of the Journals’ preference for politics over journalism should be seen in context, but let’s start with the big Thursday, Sept. 15 story and differentiate what the reporters did from the editors’ handiwork.

Did I write “big?” That’s too small a word. An editor or editors decided the story was worth a show, so the Page One layout was as lovely as it was extensive. A bold, celebratory headline ran at the very top:

“It’s official Facebook breaks ground in NM next month”.

Underneath and dominating the page, was a big color photograph of a pretty, blue sky and below, a small color rendering of the proposed plant. The pictures rested on the first few paragraphs of Marie C. Baca’s main story and Dan Boyd’s sidebar as well as a small summary box under the rubric “Los Lunas Project”, that included several facts (and one assertion).

The song-and-dance consumed four of the page’s five columns from the top of the page to below the fold.

As usual, the headlines were noteworthy. Over Marie C. Baca’s straight news account, they wrote, “Data center in Los Lunas is expected to bring more businesses to state”.

Oh? Interesting that the editor should opt for that rubric, given that it wasn’t in the reporter’s lead or her first six paragraphs. But what do reporters know, anyway?

Still it’s a key issue, so why the passive voice? Why not say who expects it to spur additional business? I don’t know why. The editor probably based it on Jon Barela’s statement of confidence about seven paragraphs down. Barela, the Economic Development secretary, is hardly a disinterested party.

In fact, from what I’ve read, there’s not only no consensus that data centers of this kind inspire economic activity but the burden of expert opinion is they don’t. More on that below.

First, however, let’s see what else the headline writer might have highlighted.

 

How about the breathtakingly tiny number of permanent jobs the state is buying with its millions in subsidies? Baca had that information in paragraph three.

Or the size of the subsidy, found in paragraph five in the jump on A2?

The headline writer also passed on referencing the fascinating PNM angle – Facebook wants renewable energy – about 16 graphs down. Also rejected for attention were Utah’s reservations about both the project’s water requirements and the big dollar investment (18 graphs in).

Of course, none of these headline decisions was made for a political reason.

The rubric over Dan Boyd’s excellent sidebar was even more effective advertising for the project:

“Governor calls data center in Los Lunas a ‘big win’ for state”.

Yes, she did that. And yes, Boyd dutifully reported it. But to his credit and from the very top, he described a complex reality. His lead, for example, reminded readers New Mexico “missed out” on a Tesla battery factory two years ago. Some readers may have remembered Tesla projected 6500 permanent jobs. Facebook promises 30 to 50.

And Boyd’s second graph noted one group had “concerns about generous state subsidies and tax breaks used to lure Facebook to the state.”

He was referring, we learn in paragraph 10 in the A3 jump, to the “Albuquerque-based Rio Grande Foundation.” Paul Gessing, its president, “expressed wariness over the incentive package Facebook is getting.”

“I don’t see this (project) as some sort of game-changer,” Gessing told the daily, adding it’s unclear the project will benefit the surrounding area. “I’m not going to break out the champagne bottles.”

Wow! This is Paul Gessing, the Journal’s hero, its go-to guy on everything.  Yet a reader would have to read all the way to A3 to learn what he said. And the headline writer failed to pick up on anything he said. Nor was his disenchantment reflected in a pull-quote. There were no pull-quotes. I mention that not just because they’re kind to the eyes, breaking up walls of words, but also because they can grab readers.

Tangent Alert! While Boyd correctly identified the Rio Grande Foundation as Albuquerque-based, readers might have profited more from knowing it’s an arm of the Koch brothers’ political network.

Tangent Alert 2!  Once again the Albuquerque Journal surveyed expert opinion ranging – if “ranging” is the word – from the political right to the political far right.)

Returning to our analysis, Gessing’s lack of enthusiasm for the state’s deal probably found sympathetic ears among economic development experts (see below) as well as critics of corporate welfare on the political left.

After all, Facebook topped $2 billion in quarterly profits for the second quarter this year, only six months after crossing the billion-dollar mark for the first time. (Deepa Seetharaman, Wall Street Journal July 27.) That made it the fourth most valuable listed company in the US.

So where was the other sidebar? The piece that asks why the State of New Mexico, facing a $589 million budgetary shortfall, is investing millions in tax subsidies and tax breaks for 50 permanent jobs (and hundreds of construction jobs), I mean.

Rhetorical question.

Of course, the Governor and the Journal may be correct in proclaiming the Facebook center will spur economic development. But, Lord, need I say this? That’s for the Journal to say in an editorial (as it did Sunday). Newspapers do not editorialize in their news columns, not since William Randolph Hearst, anyway. Newspapers adduce evidence and provide context to help readers make informed decisions.

Well, real newspapers do.

Moving right along, Boyd’s fine sidebar certainly began the job. And were the Journal editors editors, not political commissars, they would have assembled lots more information on the project by now. For example, Boyd reported a big discrepancy on the Facebook plant’s water requirements. What’s the answer? And where’s the water coming from?

Also, to return to the Journal’s headline assertion, will the Facebook plant spur economic development or not?

I did some Googling and came up with reports and analyses suggesting it won’t.

Iowa has lots of data centers, two Microsofts (a third coming) two Facebooks, two Googles and a smattering of smaller plants, but fewer than 300 jobs in all, writes Dave Swenson (“Data Centers Do Not Make Iowa a High Tech State,” July 25).

“Once up and running, data centers have very lean connections to the rest of Iowa’s economy, as well,” he continues. “Yes, they will buy gargantuan amounts of electricity, but they will require precious little else. They will neither tap into nor stimulate technology sectors in the state. They are big, remote, and super-secure hot boxes that have, literally, hardly anything to do with the rest of Iowa.”

Swenson, a professor at Iowa State who’s studied the economic impact of technical facilities, told KOAT’s Matt Howerton:

“At the price you’re paying for it, it’s a net loss to the regional economy,” Swenson said. “Your taxpayers will never be paid back, and all you’re doing is enriching Facebook investors.”

A NY Times piece by Quentin Hardy Aug. 26 was headlined  “Cloud Computing Brings Sprawling Centers, but Few Jobs, to Small Towns” included this discouraging paragraph:

“As small as the staffs at these mammoth facilities are, companies say, perhaps a third of the company jobs will eventually be filled by robots.”

Robots!

Case Study: Server Farms”, on goodjobsfirst.org, a subsidy-tracking website, quotes one John Rath of Rath Consulting:

“Attracting data centers to cities and states is big business. Cities go all out to offer whatever they can to companies that will bring this type of business to their area. Internet companies have received unprecedented incentives and tax breaks to locate their data centers throughout the U.S.

So intense is the competition, that subsidy offerings frequently exceed any projected wages or taxes. Moreover, these are some of the most profitable growth companies in the country, ones with billions in profits that have no need for the millions that hard-strapped communities are shelling out.”

Mike Rogoway’s readable and neutral piece in the Oregonian (Portland) Oct.12 2015 was headlined “Rural Towns Farm More Servers, Fewer Crops”.

I couldn’t find articles arguing that data centers do spur local economies, but my surfing skills are poor. I’m sure they exist.

Let’s say, though, the state’s Facebook deal is a fait accompli. Here’s a job for a newspaper, asking if New Mexico will monitor the subsidies to see if they help or hurt. Wanna bet the Journal declines that task?

There’s more to say on this subject, most crucially how the Journal’s selling of the Facebook project was predictable given its record on business news and the protection of the Governor.

Another time.

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The Journal’s Trump Problem

September 1st, 2016 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

We’ve already done three performances of “Electoral Dysfunctions”, eight short plays on political themes at the new Vortex on Carlisle, with two more weekends to go, but I’m feeling pretty good about my role. I wrote and perform –in a Trumpian wig – an introduction to the show that Sunday’s audience, bless ‘em, found funny.

That’s satisfying because it isn’t easy to provoke laughter about a man whose real political efforts are no laughing matter.

As the Albuquerque Journal’s coverage of Mr. Trump is no laughing matter.

As you surely noticed, the Journal didn’t want the Donald to be the GOP nominee. It ran news stories and opinion pieces favoring Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin first and after he dropped out, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Its “news stories” and opinion pieces consistently reflected the paper’s distaste for Trump.

I wrote about this April 29 and May 8, expressing pity for the Journal’s political commissars, wondering how they would extricate themselves from the corner into which they’d painted themselves when Trump won.

Well, they tried in an editorial Friday, Aug. 5, headlined:

“Trump should step aside and let a statesman run”.

Read it for yourself, please, and you’ll see that the Journal’s fundamental objection to the candidate is a “temperament…ill-suited to lead America and the free world.”

His temperament? That is their problem?

Funny, but I might have expected the editorialist to note a few other limitations. Like the following culled exclusively from Republicans and other right-of-center commentators:

I am shocked that the oh-so-moralistic Albuquerque Journal didn’t find that bothersome.

  • “Trump has hired and elevated some of the very worst people in American politics, known for their cruelty, radicalism, prejudice and corruption,” wrote Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson Aug. 25. Gerson was speechwriter, senior policy adviser and member of the Iraq Study Group in George W. Bush’s White House.

Gerson’s objections didn’t make it into the Journal editorial either.

  • “Trump also would undermine democracy abroad by virtue of his disrespect for democratic norms at home. He has endorsed torture and other illegal acts of war, disparaged freedom of the press, undermined a free judiciary, campaigned by invective rather than debate and warned critics that they will suffer if he is elected. And if all that is not enough to give comfort to authoritarian rulers with similar values, Trump has expressed open admiration for the world’s worst thugs, from Russia’s Vladi­mir Putin to the butchers of Tiananmen Square.”

That’s an Aug. 28 view from Fred Hiatt, the rightist WaPo editorialist. Journal editors have published him on the Op Ed pages a half-dozen times.

George Will has been screaming at top of his voice for the GOP to resist Trump. He did that in a July 29 column headlined “How entangled with Russia is Trump?” The Journal didn’t publish it.

He did it a few days later, Aug. 3, in a column headlined “Trump’s shallowness runs deep”. The Journal didn’t publish it.

He did it again August 6 under the headline “The sinking fantasy that Trump would defend the Constitution” and no, the Journal didn’t publish it.

(Winthrop Quigley did cite Will’s opposition to Trump in an UpFront column Aug. 20.)

Meanwhile, Mr. Will discovered he’s a man of principle and announced he would quit the Republican Party because it was running Trump for president. (That was reported widely in late June.)

Of course, the Journal has never reported that. Too busy, I presume, demanding transparency from all Creation.

And then there is Jennifer Rubin, author of the right-wing “Right Turn” blog for the Washington Post in which she takes no prisoners. This tough lady has so impressed the Journal’s editors that they’ve published her on the Op Ed page about 10 times.

But two recent Rubin “Right Turn” essays (Aug. 9, 10) blamed the GOP for failing to take on Trump. Her second piece concluded:

“If Clinton now sounds like a Republican (respect for the military, defense of the rule of law, respect for religious minorities), it’s because Republicans forfeited much of the center-right ground in a fruitless effort to out-crazy Trump. If Clinton is smart, she will keep at it, creating a vast center-left to center-right coalition. She did not so much steal the GOP’s issues and thoughtful voters; rather, the GOP gave up on both. Now, it’s too late to get them back.”

This time, the editors found neither Rubin essay inspiring.

Enough. What they believe Trump is is abundantly clear.

But what is the Albuquerque Journal? What does our local daily tell us about itself when it openly politicks for candidates and causes in its so-called news pages and then, editorially, falls to its knees to ask Mr. Trump to quit because his “temperament” is ill-suited to the job even as it censors serious observations about the candidate and the GOP from rightist friends?

The answers, I suspect, may be found in various and sundry political considerations that have the Journal tied up in knots. Unfortunately, I cannot dive in without embroiling myself in the political. So let’s just say what’s patently clear – the Journal’s actions do not describe a journalistic operation.

You’re free, of course, to arrive at your own conclusions. To laugh, too, or cry.

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Diversion

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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