The Journal’s Jihad

The Albuquerque Journal’s bizarre jihad against the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is alive and well.  Following Independence Day, the state’s paper of record conveniently breached the firewall between its news section and its editorial section, yet again, as it circled back to “cover” the nonprofit sector in New Mexico.

By now, those familiar with the Journal will recognize its tactics:

  1. Story placement: Publishing a “story” about a new nonprofit in yesterday’s edition – the story was placed on the front page, above the fold.
  2. Juicy headline: You can almost hear Ron Burgundy reading this one –“Conservatives Look to Nonprofits, Move a Response to Liberal Efforts.”  Really.  Is that the title of a guest opinion piece?  No, it’s the title of a “news” story.
  3. The follow-up editorial in today’s edition: “Real Voter Education.”
  4. The inability, or refusal, to acknowledge thirty years of established Supreme Court legal precedent on the First Amendment.

This final tactic (the refusal or inability to actually discuss First Amendment law) is what is most damning to the Journal’s credibility.  In fact, it’s really an affront to Journal readers.  To treat readers like adults and actually analyze well-established law would be diametrically opposed to the Journal’s political agenda.  It’s that simple.

But, it gets even more bizarre.

As I discussed in an earlier post, top brass at the Journal have been heavily involved with a local nonprofit called the Foundation for Open Government.  As you can see here, the first and perhaps most important charge for FOG (as listed on their own site) is to help the public “understand and exercise their First Amendment rights.”  I wonder how the Journal editor squares the FOG mission with his paper’s year long Jihad against the most basic of American rights.

Really.  On the one hand, there’s the “promotion” of the First Amendment through FOG, while at the same time a concerted effort by the state’s paper of record to avoid a thoughtful discussion of First Amendment law.

It’s the kind of cognitive dissonance that leaves one speechless.

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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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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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There They Go Again

disappointing_newspaperIn a post earlier this week, I was critical of the Albuquerque Journal – particularly their editors – for willfully blurring the line between the reporting of news and the issuance of opinions on their editorial pages.

This is a persistent problem at the Journal, a problem that has been well documented.

As if on cue, the Albuquerque Journal has done it again.

Monday’s Journal editorial page lavished effusive praise on Mayor Martin Chavez.  The praise was directed at the expansion of a summer educational program called “City Academies.”

The lead…

It’s a marriage made in parent/taxpayer heaven: Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez plans to expand the program that gives area teens something educational to do over the summer for free; city departments get some no-cost help during the busy vacation season.

And then this for the closing…

Circa 2009, reports could sound a lot more like this:

Teen version — Saw firsthand how police officers keep us safe. Practiced with city firefighters to control high-pressure fire hoses and rappel to rescue people. Learned what happens to the plastic and cardboard that gets picked up on trash day from our curb and watched solar power in action. Discovered how to maintain a hiking trail so it works with the ecosystem. Fed the animals in our zoo and aquarium.

City employee version — Taught tomorrow’s city leaders what makes a good city great.

“City Academies Make Summer Work Cool,” Albuquerque Journal June 1, 2009. Click here for the full editorial (you may need a subscription).

There are a couple of glaring problems with this editorial.

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City Charter Task Force: What the Journal Won’t Tell You

coaI had the honor of serving on Albuquerque’s City Charter Revision Task Force, along with 13 other dedicated individuals. Our group ranged across the political spectrum with diverse interests and was most professionally chaired by former State District Court Judge Wendy York.

Based on the Albuquerque Journal’s story and editorial this week, you’d think all we did over the past eight months, consisting of 17 full Task Force meetings and numerous subcommittee meetings, was argue over the issue of nonprofits – the topic with which the Journal is so clearly obsessed.

Amazingly, the Journal failed to mention – in both its news story and its editorial – that the Task Force actually killed the proposed nonprofit amendment to the City Charter sponsored by Chuck Gara for lack of support and because of gaping holes in its application and constitutionality.

That’s right. Gara’s amendment was withdrawn. Only after the amendment’s withdrawal did the Task Force cast a symbolic vote to request the City Council look at the nonprofit issue, just as the Council will consider the tens, if not hundreds of governance issues, when it takes up the Charter next month.  But if the Journal is your only news source, you could hardly be blamed for believing that the Task Force’s sole accomplishment over these past eight months was sending this nonprofit issue up to the Council for “action” — even though the amendment was killed.

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The Media Game has Changed

If it’s Friday, it must be time to connect the dots after a particularly tumultuous week.

A couple of local institutions took major hits – not the least of which was the governor’s office.  For starters, the Washington Post suggested that Gov. Bill Richardson’s days on the national stage may be over.

Whether anyone should ever count Richardson permanently out of consideration for higher office is debatable – our esteemed governor has persevered after many setbacks in a remarkable career. Richardson is smart, engaging and incredibly well-connected. And let’s not forget, there’s trouble in North Korea and an American hostage in Iran right now that probably only he can pry loose.

A Right Jab

The Albuquerque Journal’s Win Quigley took some potshots at Richardson that didn’t go over well with former Albuquerque mayor and media watchdog Jim Baca, who said he’s noticed an inordinate number of hits on Richardson lately in the Journal. Saying the city’s remaining daily paper is turning into a (gasp) blog, Baca suggested the Albuquerque Journal change it the name of its “UpFront” series of columns to “The Grudge Report.”

El Jefe

The mayor’s office took some hefty blows this week, too, with a story in Tuesday’s Journal detailing alleged wrongdoing in connection with an airport contractor at Double Eagle Airport. According to the story, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into Bode Aero Service’s allegations that Mayor Martin Chavez retaliated against them after it refused to provide free or discounted services for Chavez during his aborted run for Senate last year.

Add to that the Journal’s extensive coverage of the legal battle that’s brewing with the City Council over a $6.5 million swimming hole the mayor wants at Tingley Beach, and it’s not likely the mayor is enjoying reading the newspaper much lately.

Daily Grind

The contiguous thread here is the Journal, still far and away the best-read of all print newspapers in Albuquerque, N.M.

Despite the malaise affecting newspapers everywhere, the Journal is still chugging along. But it took some hits this week, too. Yep, there’s only one big newspaper in Albuquerque, but now there are lots of little blogs that can take potshots of their own.

In addition to Baca’s commentary, there was  this from blogger and middle school teacher Scot Key, calling attention to a story that the Journal ran this week detailing some of the reasons why an earlier story it published a few weeks ago was pointless and wrong.  The original Journal story, which printed the name of every elementary school teacher in APS next to arguably meaningless test scores from their students, understandably alienated a large number of hardworking teachers who felt they were held up to public ridicule for no good reason.

Ink by the Barrel?

Despite once being part of the mainstream media machine, I sure as heck am enjoying the lively give and take between the media behemoths and the smart, scrappy bloggers that goes on these days.

No matter the issue, no matter the political stripe – the tempest kicked up by Key’s blog and Baca’s blog and the criticisms and commentaries raised by the many, many other New Mexico-based blogs just underscores the point – the media game has changed. It’s no longer a one-way communication street, where people timidly submit their information to the daily paper and hope everything comes out alright.

And picking a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel isn’t quite as futile as it used to be.