The Arc of the Journal

arcEfforts to reform the nation’s ailing health system – or non-system as it were – are dominating news headlines.  Yet, if you rely on the Albuquerque Journal (the state and city’s “paper of record”), you’d probably have a rather skewed notion of the parameters of the health care debate.

Turns out I’m not the only one watching the Journal’s puzzling coverage of health care reform.

New Mexico Independent columnist Arthur Alpert aptly picks up on the Albuquerque Journal’s gaming of national health care news.  In a column published in today’s Independent, Alpert points out the common Journal editorial practices of using skewed headlines and reproducing only select parts of national stories.  Alpert carefully sources his column, providing multiple pieces of evidence to support his opinion.  Go check it out, it’s a good read.

Unfortunately for readers of the Albuquerque Journal, using questionable headlines and splicing stories aren’t the only ways editors game the paper’s health care coverage.  The nonexistent firewall between editorial content and news gathering at the Journal gives editors additional tools for foisting their political agenda on readers.

Let’s start with a recent editorial, and then trace the arc of coverage – both in the news section and on the editorial page.

In an editorial published on June 17, Journal editors expressed dismay over the Veteran’s Administration treatment of sick and wounded veterans.  This is not a new story.  For all the Bush Administration’s rhetoric of troop support, they really didn’t live up to their purported values when it came to funding the VA.

Yet, the Journal used this story to bash away at “government run health care.”  Here’s the closing line…

The rest of us might start worrying about the future under a “reformed” system of health care, if this is the best the federal government can provide to meet its obligation to veterans.

Veterans Deserve Safer Medical Procedures, Albuquerque Journal, June 17, 2009.  (You may need a subscription).

That line set the tone for the following nine days of opinions and “news” on the health care reform debate.

On June 21, two guest opinions appeared on the editorial page, one from Senator Jeff Bingaman, the other from Presbyterian Healthcare Services CEO Jim Hinton.  Each piece identified well-known problems with the current system, but both steered clear of what most Americans want to know more about – namely, the public insurance option.  It’s almost as if editors began to employ the old false equivalence trick by publishing Bingaman and Hinton opinions on the same day.

The shades of false equivalence found in Sunday’s editorial page became clearer in the June 22 “Up Front” opinion by sometime reporter and sometime columnist Winthrop Quigley.

Here are the money segments of the column…

There is an awful lot of propaganda out there, which keeps the public in thrall to ideologues and to political cynics who are protecting turf. A national health plan would not be nirvana, nor would it signal the collapse of Western civilization, but you wouldn’t know that if all you listened to was Air America or Fox News. Neither lawsuits nor care for immigrants nor insurance company profits account for a national health care bill of $2 trillion a year, though partisans of various stripes try convince us otherwise.

There are many people who thrive in the current environment and have no interest in change, and they will spend a lot of energy and money to stymie reform. USA Today reported earlier this month that the health insurance and drug industries have spent 41 percent more on lobbying this year than in the same period last year.

Public Must Step Up in Health Care Debate, Albuquerque Journal, June 23, 2009.   (subscription)

It’s as if Journal editors used the company line (“an awful lot of propaganda out there about health care”) as cover for what we all know to be true – those interested in the status quo (insurance companies, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and some doctors) have a lot to lose financially if the system is changed.

Over the next three days, the Journal sprinkled two national stories (using skewed headlines and splicing content that clearly showed an infusion of a political agenda, as Mr. Alpert pointed out in his column) and one opinion piece.  The national stories ignored separate poll results from both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times that showed north of 70% support for a public insurance option.  Instead, they reprinted polling numbers from a Washington Post poll that tested only negative messages – messages being largely used by Republicans on Capitol Hill – about the public insurance option.

The last nine days of health care coverage by the Albuquerque Journal reinforce what more and more New Mexicans are coming to understand.  The Journal takes extraordinary liberties with its nonexistent firewall between editorial content and actual news reporting.  It’s not enough that editors express opinions on the editorial page.  Editors clearly do not feel a responsibility to critically examine nuance, or all sides of a news story.  Coming from the state’s paper of record, that’s just wrong.

Readers of the Albuquerque Journal, remember this: when it comes news and editorial content, the arc of coverage by the Journal always bends in the direction of the newspaper’s political agenda.

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2 Responses

  1. We no longer recieve the Journal, don’t kow about the rest of the area, but Grant county no longer receives it.

    • I think they’ve discontinued their service to most of the Southeast as well, Barry. That said, their circulation and reach still dwarf any other newspaper in the state.

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