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…

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More Corporate Welfare For Polluters?

transmissionlineAs the Waxman-Markey climate bill continues to slowly crawl to an upcoming vote,  more and more debate emerges.  This time it’s Blue Dog Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota taking the reins for energy producers who already emit too many noxious emissions into our environment.  Congressman Peterson represents rural electric producers (mainly ones who burn coal and ethanol to produce electricity) and claims this bill leaves them behind.

Congressman Peterson is protecting the exact companies (i.e. coal and ethanol plants) that this bill is trying to force to make more cleaner and more efficient.  Of course he shouldn’t expect good favor from this bill (i.e. tons of money).  Yet, by some twisted logic, that’s exactly what he’s asking for.

Peterson wants electric producers who burn coal and ethanol (see how the San Juan Generating plant is holding up in NM with their emissions production) to get back 100% of the allowances they pay for excess emissions.

To me this is like taking away your kid’s allowance because he’s bad, then giving it right back to him because he needs the money to be good.

Seeing how the fine paid by San Juan (which is owned by PNM) was the largest in state history, it is mind boggling to think how much money would be given away via 100% allowances nationwide.

Secondly, Peterson argues that many of the low-income people in his Farm Belt region would be affected more than others in the nation.  While there may be a small increase in his constituents’ rates (mostly a result of electric generators in this area not being clean or efficient enough and thus they have to spend large amounts of money to get their plants in order) it will not add up to the thousands of dollars that these dirty energy representatives claim it will.

The Congressional Budget Office released a report last Friday that estimates that the total costs passed on to households from the Waxman-Markey bill will be a whopping $175 a year.  And, the report says, the low-income consumers that Peterson talks about won’t have their rates raised – instead, they’ll actually get back about $40 a year.

So once again, I have to ask the question:

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Not Really Insuring Anything

gimmemoneyFor a long time, tobacco companies denied the fact that smoking actually increased the chances one could develop cancer, emphysema, lung disease and other sorts of upper respiratory afflictions.  Tobacco companies also spent the better part of two decades trying their best to convince the public and Congress that nicotine was not addictive.

Their public relations campaigns actually worked pretty well on Capitol Hill.

But, the truth about tobacco and its effects on the human body eventually reached a critical level of understanding and acceptance.  The consensus about tobacco is now so broad that Congress voted last week to bring tobacco under the auspices of federal regulation.  The truth was eventually undeniable.

Today’s health insurance companies are kind of where the tobacco companies were 15-20 years ago.  They’re becoming increasingly unpopular because of their profit model – a model that maximizes the collection of premiums and minimizes (sometimes through very dubious means) actual coverage of claims made by their customers.  Like the tobacco industry denials before them, the insurance industry has refused to cop to an open secret about their treatment of consumers.

That is, until now.

This morning’s LA Times describes in stark detail how three of the largest health insurance companies have been systematically denying coverage to patients that develop cancer or lymphoma.  They even deny coverage to women who get pregnant.  The three insurance companies (they’re the only three that have admitted to this practice) routinely pull the rug out from under their own customers when they are most vulnerable.

From the Times…

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Gary’s Italian Mafia Holiday

Paulie and TonyAttorney General Gary King is cracking down on the seething, Mafioso cesspool in New Mexico by taking a trip to Italy next week.  Granted, King has been working with law enforcement officials from Mexico as of late to combat crime that is trickling over the border, yet is it really necessary to go all the way to Italy to learn about ways to combat organized crime?  I figure he would do just as well going to Jersey and hitting up Tony Soprano and Paulie Walnuts  for that info, so he could come back and spend more time in New Mexico.

I’d also figure the Attorney General would want to experience the entire week-long conference, seeing how much he wants to learn about fighting organized crime, instead of the mere three days he plans on attending (here and here).  For anyone who’s attended long conferences like these, you know the first few days are mostly full of jet lag, intros, and mixers anyways.

And it’s obvious that other border states are just as interested in learning about Italy’s infamous crime fighting ways as the other state AG’s who are attending are from Idaho and North Dakota.  It definitely makes me wonder why AGs from border states California, Arizona, and Texas decided not to attend. Perhaps they figured out that they could get the same information from an upcoming and very similar conference being held by California’s Attorney General. Or shoot, why not even take the two-hour flight to, I don’t know, how about Mexico, to learn about border crime.

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No Speech for You!

seinfeld_soupnaziWith each passing day, life inside the confines of the Albuquerque Journal must be getting weirder and weirder.  In addition to having little in the way of a firewall between their political agenda and their news reporting (and in some cases openly flaunting this journalistic taboo), the Albuquerque Journal has now anointed itself the sole arbiter of what a person or organization can say.

Really.

The Albuquerque Journal has transformed itself into the Speech Nazi.  If you’re going to say something publicly, you better not step out of line.

Say something that comports with the Journal’s political agenda and you’re engaging in free speech.  Say something the Journal disagrees with and you might be “straying” into the yet-to-be defined “political arena.”

In today’s lead editorial, the Albuquerque Journal dug up the past and again displayed their unwillingness, or their inability, or both, to comprehend First Amendment law.  It’s truly puzzling, especially from a newspaper that purports to vigorously defend the First Amendment.

The lead…

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Three Times The Journal

bowlingOnce is a mishap, twice is a coincidence, but three times makes for a pattern.  And that’s three times in the past three weeks.

I’m of course referring to the Albuquerque Journal and their incessant melding of the paper’s political agenda with its news reporting.

The Journal was at it again this week, publishing a story about the federal stimulus package on the front page of its Tuesday edition.  Large parts of the story appeared to have been borrowed from a previously published Associated Press story.

As I read Tuesday’s story, I couldn’t help but flashback to my favorite old-fashioned bowling alley.  You know, the kind where you can actually see people setting up the pins after a frame and you can actually see the ball come back out to you on a conveyor belt after you hurl it down the lane.  The whole game is laid out before you.

For me, the Tuesday story was analogous to the guys setting up the pins, placing them perfectly in preparation for waiting bowlers to knock them down.  But, I digress.

The big story in the Tuesday edition of the Albuquerque Journal questioned the existence of “shovel-ready” projects from the federal economic stimulus package.

Here’s the lead…

New Mexico’s slice of the $787 billion federal stimulus-money pie might not be as groundbreaking as expected.

The “public face” of the stimulus effort has been a worker in a hard hat, employed on a federally backed infrastructure project, The Associated Press reported nationally. But reviews of spending in New Mexico and around the country show that the phrase “shovel-ready” to describe the focus of stimulus projects probably has been overused.

In fact, in New Mexico and around the country, social spending, not construction, is in line to be the biggest winner in the ambitious federal effort to spark a sluggish economy.

“NM Stimulus Projects: Not So Shovel-Ready,” Albuquerque Journal June 9, 2009.  Click here for the full story (you may need a subscription).

There is nothing wrong with critically examining the stimulus package spending.  In fact, critical examination of the spending is crucial.  But such an examination should also include facts about how much has actually been spent thus far, the timeline of spending (as it applies to the actual onset of the current recession), the most effective way to plug state budget gaps and information about how spending on things like Medicaid, unemployment insurance and education might stem the tide of a recession.

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It’s Real

People who use social media to organize often refer to the crucial moment when someone steps out of the blogosphere and converts their online communication into real-life action.

Sadly, accused murderer James Von Brunn did just that Wednesday when he shot and killed African American security guard Stephen P.  Johns at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

In a place meant to honor the millions who died in the Holocaust, Von Brunn set out to make his lifelong vow of hatred for Jews horribly real. After shooting Johns, Von Brunn was shot and wounded by other guards before he could make good on his plans to kill others at the museum.

From his extensive writings on the Internet and from notes later found in his car, Von Brunn’s rampage appears to be linked to President Barack Obama’s appearance last week at the notorious Buchenwald death camp in Germany. In a speech there, Obama and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel denounced so-called Holocaust deniers (like Von Brunn) who say it never happened.

The ugly truth is that the number of threats against Obama have skyrocketed since Americans elected him in November. One noted criminologist even chalked Wednesday’s murder up to what he called “the Obama effect,” which attempts (rather clumsily) to describe the uptick in racial trash-talking since Obama became the country’s first black president.

It’s quite evident that the Internet provides a ready forum and handy organizing tool for the rising number of racist, anti-Semitic haters out there.

I’m not saying people don’t have the right to say what they want on the Internet. I would never say that.

But I do want to express my disgust at those who pooh-pooh the connection between the hateful things people write online and actual events like the murder of Johns – and the possible murder of many others – at the Holocaust Museum.

The groups who track hate online on sites like the one Von Brunn maintained have long warned that events like this were coming.

Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center told the Los Angeles Times that the nonprofit group had tracked a sharp increase in what it considered right-wing hate groups over the last eight years — from 602 to 926.

A “confluence of factors,” Potok told the Times,  appeared to be fueling the growth — including anger about nonwhite immigration, concern over the deteriorating economy, fears of new restrictions on firearms, and the election of the first African American as president.

“We may well be seeing a perfect storm of factors that favor this movement,” Potok said.

Contrast that with those on the right, many of whom simply laughed a few months ago at a Department of Homeland Security report that warned economic and social conditions “presented unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment.”

Now there’s no excuse – we know it’s real.  So can we please stop pretending that the hate people spew online means nothing?