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Monday, November 08, 2010

How Much DID the Albuquerque Journal Help Susana Martinez and What Should We Do About It?

There has been widespread grumbling about the Albuquerque Journal's political coverage leading up to the November 2nd election, as well as criticism about the process used to determine the paper's endorsements this year. The critiques have focused on problems like the paper's tendency to conflate news and opinion in its UpFront columns by Thomas J. Cole on the front page, its choice of headlines that sometimes had little to do with the content of the articles and its failure to clearly identify personnel affiliated with the right-wing Rio Grande Foundation when their writing is published in the paper's editorial section.

Other problems relate to the paper's prominent placement of articles favorable to Republican candidates, while burying articles with positive news about Democrats. Sometimes the problems center on what the paper doesn't cover, as much as what it does.

We've long known that the Journal's publishers lean hard right. However, this year that slant was apparent to many in the paper's news coverage -- especially regarding the race for governor -- as well as on the editorial pages where it belongs.

Tessier Probes Journal Bias
Denise Tessier discusses a number of these problems in her recent hard-hitting piece entitled, "The Push for the Nation’s First Hispanic Female Governor" on the Albuquerque Journal Watch blog. Tessier, who worked for the Journal as a reporter, photographer, columnist, editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor from 1974 to 2005, as both a staff member (20 years) and freelancer, lays out how the Journal's coverage of the 2010 New Mexico governor race was often clearly biased towards Republican Susana Martinez, the eventual winner:

Before it outright endorsed her in an editorial, the Journal had already exhibited signs it was deliberately advocating for eventual winner Susana Martinez – through Thom Cole UpFront columns, other front-page stories and pro-GOP national wire stories. Support was conveyed also via the Journal’s debate reportage, its choice of headlines, and in pertinent information left out of stories.

Before Martinez had even won the GOP primary there were indications the Journal was going to oppose Denish, no matter who the GOP nominee would be.

The article then goes into some of the many ways in which the Journal coverage skewed towards support of Martinez. For instance:

Traditionally, the Journal covered candidate platforms like this. But it didn’t cover Denish’s announcement – a significant plan, considering the Legislature had predicted a shortfall of that amount just months before. The Santa Fe New Mexican covered Denish’s plan as soon as it was released. But on the day the Journal normally would have run it, the story in the Journal instead was “Weh Sues State Over Redacted Denish Files.” Those who read the story would learn that GOP candidate Allen Weh’s beef was with the Department of Finance and Administration over some public documents from Denish’s office, rather than an issue with Denish. But the implication was that Denish had done something fishy.

The Journal held off on running Denish’s platform until July, when it packaged it together with comments from Martinez.

The Denish platform rarely was mentioned after that. Even when the Sunday Journal ran its full-length profiles of the two history-making female candidates, the only reference to Denish’s plan was three lines in the in the bullet-point list that ran at the end of her profile under the label “Budget.”

More Example of Right-Wing Slant
Tessier also points out specific examples of the Journal's slanted coverage on the gubernatorial candidate debates, its headlines and story placement and a couple of Thomas J. Cole's biased UpFront columns.

Tessier's article also demonstrates how different the Journal's coverage of certain stories was compared to that of the New Mexico Independent and how the stories would have been handled in the Albuquerque Tribune, which ceased publication in February 2008:

Especially in these recent weeks, I was reminded of the absence of the Albuquerque Tribune, and was struck by how different the election looked when reading the New Mexico Independent. It was the Independent that first disclosed that Martinez received $20,000 from a Texas oil man who had crassly joked about rape. After the Independent’s disclosure – and calls from the Denish campaign for Martinez to return the money – Martinez donated the funds to a rape crisis center. This ran two days later on the Journal’s Elections page – not unusual for a “catch up” story. But its impact would have been different if the story had run on the front page – as it essentially did in the Independent (and as it likely would have run in the Albuquerque Tribune.)

Another factor Tessier examines is the Journal's front-page profile of Denish's husband, Herb, while neglecting to provide any coverage about Martinez's spouse. It also discusses the Journal's rehash of negative stories on Governor Bill Richardson in the weeks before the election that served to support Martinez's repetitive talking points that sought to portray Governor Richardson and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish as virtually the same person:

I would submit that the Journal buttressed that impression by running a number of stories critical of Richardson as the campaign neared its end.

... perhaps the electorate would have thrown out Denish even without the Journal’s encouragement. But in the absence of an unbiased “leading newspaper” in New Mexico, that’s something we’ll never know.

I strongly encourage you to read the Tessier's entire column and pass it on to others who are concerned about the lack of a statewide source of genuine fair and balanced news -- not just the Fox News version that the Journal currently offers. While you're over there, be sure to check out previous posts that point out the Journal's shortfalls and biases, as well as some of its positive contributions by various reporters.

What Should We Do?
There's lots of discussion in political circles right now about the best way to protest the Journal's sharp and transparent shift to the right in both local and national news coverage. Many folks have already cancelled their subscriptions, others are discussing a possible organized effort to get people to unsubscribe and boycott Journal advertisers en masse and others, at the very least, believe we should be complaining loudly to the Journal every time its right-wing bias is detected in its news coverage, and demanding changes. What do you think?

You can check out a few of my previous posts about the Journal's unprecedented bias in this year's election coverage here, here and here.

November 8, 2010 at 02:44 PM in 2010 General Election, 2010 NM Governor's Race, Diane Denish, Journalism, Media, Right Wing, Susana Martinez | Permalink


The Journal is clearly ABQ's version of Fox News. Unfair and totally UNBALANCED. I suggest we all stop subscribing to it, stop paying attention to it and FIND a viable alternative to it. Maybe we can talk the Independent into opening an ABQ office and doing an ABQ paper as an alternative to the Journal. I won't even go to their website now because I know how slanted their reporting is. I think letters to the editor, targeted letters or boycotts of advertisers to the Journal would help, but what we REALLY need is a total change of ownership of the Journal. We need more balanced reporting, not a rethuglican party mouthpiece claiming to be NM's "leading newspaper." It's hardly leading - it's just LEANING - hard right! Time to push them back to at least the center!

Posted by: Mauro Montoya | Nov 8, 2010 3:15:01 PM

I cancelled my subscription the day after the election. I won't pay for garbage.

Posted by: Richard Adams | Nov 8, 2010 3:22:06 PM

Are there no wealthy individuals who could buy out this paper and give us fair news based on facts? It seems that only right wing wealthy people own papers. If we don't do something Democratic candidates will have no way to get their message out there. Even now there aren't many ways. Blogs are useful but their readership is nowhere near what papers and TV news get.

Posted by: Old Dem | Nov 8, 2010 4:06:31 PM

Maybe we could start with an online petition?

Posted by: Sean | Nov 8, 2010 4:30:25 PM

I have noticed the unbalance of news being relayed through the Albuquerque paper. I unsubscribed about a year ago. I mess reading the paper, but I dont mess reading the misguided writings in their paper. Although, I was plasently surprised when I seen Democracy Now, Amy Goodwin in as a syndicated reported. But that was short lived. I subscribe to the LowDown, and several others not to mention 1350 am talk radio. Their is not alot out there, we have to keep on our toes to find out information. I also shut my cable off, I know that sounds extreme it was hard at first. My family has gotten use to it. We were just tired of hearing the so called right wing side. There really needs information being relayed locally thats not for the rightys.

Posted by: Juanita | Nov 8, 2010 6:31:25 PM

I live in Alamogordo, and we receive the Albuquerque Journal only in vending machines and retail outlets (there is an extra 25 cent charge for this newspaper). We also receive the Las Cruces Sun-News through vending and retail, as well as Otero County's only newspaper, the Alamogordo Daily News. The Las Cruces Sun-News, Gov.-Elect Martinez' hometown newspaper, offered to its readers articles which were much more objective in its coverage of the gubernatorial contest. For better or worse, the Albuquerque Urinal has always provided the most comprehensive statewide news coverage, thus, we pay the extra quarter and read it. Fortunately, the Cruces newspaper has become a legitimate regional newspaper for our area. The media watch site referred to in this article should be read by citizens seeking, pardon the expression, a "fair and balanced" rendering of news articles. Like most media outlets/political bloggers, the skins of their editors and publishers are as thin and transparent as most of the campaign rhetoric we've all been subjected to this campaign season.

Posted by: Steve Brockett | Nov 9, 2010 7:08:15 AM

I still subscribe because there is no other source of certain local news and I don't think the solution is having no paper here. But I do think we have to keep writing and calling them to complain about the coverage. I also think the Dem campaign people should have been hounding the Journal and TV stations day and night about the one-sided coverage. We need some organized effort from people with clout to get on the publisher and make a huge stink. Where are they?

Posted by: barb | Nov 9, 2010 10:42:35 AM

The only practical short range alternative is to create a culture of online participation in as many forms as possible, with as much skill and discipline and commitment as possible. To me, Barbara Wold is a hero for her personal efforts to produce this blog. She is truly blazing a trail as a pioneer.

Local newspapers and the media in general have been subject to either takeovers by right wing special interests, or support for more bias by ownership that is already right leaning. That use of the paper to serve a political bias used to be kept in check a bit by a larger sense of service to society. That has been in decline across the US for some decades.

Most likely the Journal will go out of business sometime in the next few years. The ad department is playing solitaire and surfing the web now, due to a lack of advertising coming in.

A main element that people miss, it seems to me, is the role groups like the Rio Grande Foundation play. They have really outsized influence because they are consistent in putting a message across from a point of view they advocate for with a great deal of persistence.

The progressive concerns tend to be scattered and sort of disunited, without an overall explanation for how the world works and what the future ought to be like that can make sense to the suburban swing voter.

Rather than worrying about how to influence an obsolete communications medium, I wonder who is looking at the overall big picture for how the landscape of issues is being shaped by anyone other than the right wing, which has been doing it for some 40 years. So far I don't see anyone organized for that purpose.

Posted by: Stuart Heady | Nov 9, 2010 12:17:46 PM