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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Breaking News: ABQ Journal investigation Catches Diane Denish ... Fighting for New Mexico's Children

*** Breaking News *** The Albuquerque Journal has caught Diane Denish red-handed fighting for New Mexico’s children. Firmly plant your tongue in cheek and read the story below -- where an investigative report by the Journal exposes Diane Denish’s devious “political mission”: more funding for early childhood education!

If Denish and her cronies get their way, more New Mexico children would benefit from Pre-K education (the horror, the horror). Yes, this column did actually run on the front page of today’s paper (see pdf).

NoChildhood The statement above was distributed today by Oren Shur, campaign manager for the campaign, in response to what can only be deemed an absurd and obtuse UpFront column by Thomas J. Cole of the Journal that's presented as some sort of powerful expose. The big gotcha of the story? Denish wrote a letter to a national United Way executive discussing and advocating on behalf of the New Mexico Early Childhood Partnership she had helped organize to push for pre-k education. The Partnership had been working with the Santa Fe chapter of the United Way to raise donations. The new president of United Way's Central New Mexico chapter raised some questions about the partnership and Denish wrote the national organization explaining the Partnership and urging support. That's it.

Cole, however, apparently thinks there's some dark plot afoot, noting that, "The Early Childhood Partnership also is an example of Denish's close links to the nonprofit world." Close links to the nonprofit world? Who knew! How shameful!

This story has to represent the most egregious example of desperately grasping at political straws seen on the local media scene in months -- and that's saying something. Cole obviously is bending over backwards to try to show Denish in a negative light, even if he has to take something as innocuous as her advocacy for increased support for early childhood education and attempt to twist it into something dark and dangerous. The Martinez talking point pushers must be digging down deep into their campaign stash to flog a story this empty and obviously tainted by spin. 

Albuquerque Journal: The New Faux News?

Journal: Slant and Blur
As I've noted a number of times (including here), I think the Journal's political coverage this year has been more over the top and slanted to the right than I've ever seen it. They've always had a strong tendency to push right-wing takes on stories -- and story choices -- but this year they've outdone themselves. For one thing, their headline writers often take huge liberties in adding elements that aren't even in the stories below them. These kinds of headlines are clearly designed to suggest something bad about Democrats and Dem candidates to folks who only glance at the stories.

For instance, in today's Cole story the top headline, "When Politics and Nonprofits Mix," suggests there's some dastardly result being produced by some kind of unholy alliance between politicians and nonprofis. Even worse, the headline of this story on its continuation page blares out, "Denish Tried to Pressure Charity Boss." (This secondary headline doesn't show up in the online version.) You'd think Denish was putting the screws, literally, to some kind of Hoffa-like boss of a ... charity? What? 

Another thing to watch is how often the Journal minimizes or ignores stories that are seen as detrimental to the pet candidates of the publisher and editor. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. They also often ignore stories that would cast a positive light on candidates the Journal honchos don't like. In my opinion, this tendency has been on display numerous times this election year, especially in their coverage of the governor's race and the NM-01 congressional contest.

In addition, the Journal seems to have gotten into the nasty habit of blurring the line between news and commentary to the nth degree. Their UpFront columns are often presented on the front page, sometimes even at the top of the front page, as if they were news stories. Unless a reader looks closely at the fine print at the end of the columns -- where the pieces are called "news and opinion columns" -- they look just like any other highlighted news story. That doesn't matter on columns that clearly fall into the opinion or local color category, but when UpFront columns deal with news and investigative reports in a slanted manner without making it clear the writer is giving his or her opinion and nothing more, alarm bells should and do go off.

Journal: Lax Journalism Standards
The local blog ABQ Journal Watch -- written by several well-respected local journalists -- has identified and discussed many instances of the Journal's lax journalistic standards. Just yesterday, a piece by Tracy Dingmann pointed out a recent example of the Journal publishing an article with a headline that bore no resemblance to the article's content. And further, how the same inaccurate phrase was later used in an editorial critical of a Democratic lawmaker up for reelection. Nice tie in.

Dingmann, who worked for 18 years as a reporter at the Journal, has also been critical of Thomas J. Cole's Upfront pieces, recently describing his work as a "particular brand of 'investigative journalism' mixed with opinionated nastiness masquerading as news." More from that piece on Cole:

For years he was one of the paper’s three investigative reporters. He answered directly to editor Kent Walz and publisher Thom Lang and spent precious little time mingling with beat reporters in the newsroom. He was, effectively, the paper’s hired gun.

Whenever Cole was in the newsroom, he spent his time in long meetings with editor Kent Walz and – more often than not, the paper’s legal team – in advance of one of his rare stories getting in the paper.

... Now Cole is one of the paper’s featured UpFront columnists.

Or is he? On the Journal’s website, Cole is still listed as an investigative reporter. And as such, readers need to know – he is still the paper’s hired gun, accountable to no one but the publisher and editor.

And do his UpFront pieces read like hit pieces? You better believe they do.

Many, many others have noted that Cole’s screeds are simply thinly-veiled extensions of the paper’s puzzling and harsh editorial positions on so many issues or particular people – whether he’s writing about medical marijuana, taxes, Gov. Richardson or whoever or whatever the paper’s editors don’t like.

Precisely. Today's UpFront column on the alleged horrors of Denish's efforts to advocate on behalf of early childhood education is a glaring example of just what Dingmann describes -- a hit piece pushed by Tom Lang that's designed to strike at Denish one more time before the November 2nd election. Whether there's a real story there or not. This is propaganda being passed off as news, period.

Join the Call for Higher Standards
Isn't it high time that Lang and his political hit squad be called on the carpet by more than bloggers? Shouldn't anyone and everyone who cares about protecting and nourishing our democracy be publicly criticizing the Journal for underhanded and self-serving stories that clearly cross the line into political smears presented as hard news? Shouldn't all New Mexicans be demanding that only the highest journalistic standards be followed at the largest-circulation paper in the state? Come on folks, now is the time. There is no way for genuine democracy to thrive in this state if the so-called paper of record becomes nothing more than an extension of the right-wing echo machine.

October 23, 2010 at 03:00 PM in 2010 NM Governor's Race, Children and Families, Education, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, Media | Permalink


I heard that the Journal was bailed out of pending doom by money bags Bob Perry. Kind of makes sense with the far right wing agenda being displayed.

Posted by: alli gator | Oct 23, 2010 7:18:55 PM

I canceled my subscription to this fish wrapper long ago.

Posted by: NMGladiator | Oct 23, 2010 9:36:47 PM

Thank you for opening my eyes.

Posted by: Moti peretz | Oct 24, 2010 5:04:30 AM

I knew the Journal was bad but even I am shocked at this. Maybe the comment above is correct about Bob Perry of Texas and the swift boaters giving the publisher money when the paper was in trouble.

The Texas Bush people are trying to buy the election in NM this year so maybe they did pay off the Journal to help them.

Posted by: Danners | Oct 24, 2010 3:15:10 PM

Cole is the Urinal's front page bagman.

Posted by: Proud Democrat | Oct 24, 2010 7:11:29 PM

In a blog explaining why he had cancelled his Urinal subscription, Jim Baca called Cole "The Matt Drudge of New Mexico." That may be giving Cole too much credit.

Posted by: Proud Democrat | Oct 24, 2010 7:20:15 PM

I don't think that Denish having supported and worked for Pre-K education has really been denied. My problem is that she isn't continuing the fight (based on recent childcare cuts at centers that HAVE Pre-K programs), and she hasn't really done anything for K-12.

Posted by: MissO | Oct 25, 2010 8:20:08 AM

MissO: I don't know what you want Denish to do at this point. She is NOT the governor and has not been the governor. She has come out strongly against the childcare cuts but she has no power yet to do anything about it. Denish can't do anything about that just as Martinez can't. One of them has to be elected governor first. Same with K-12 education.

What is known is that Martinez wants to cut the budget by half back to what it was under Gary Johnson. If you want that vote for her.

Posted by: Martinez No | Oct 25, 2010 9:05:17 AM

Martinez No: well she said she fought FOR Pre-K while she was Lt. Governor and apparently was able to do something about then wasn't she? She is taking credit for that. I would like to know where you received the information about Martinez cutting the education budget by half. If that is the case, it's obviously great concern to me and I would like to read about it.

Posted by: MissO | Oct 25, 2010 9:39:21 AM

MissO: Yes Denish pushed for and was given permission to pursue this and form a children's cabinet, but she had no real input into other policies as her position as lt. governor is limited by the NM constitution. However, the governor and legislature increased funding for teachers and education - it was in a big hole because Gary Johnson cut it to the bone. Martinez will do the same. She and her running mate John Sanchez say they will bring the budget back to what it was under Johnson and that is half of now.

Posted by: Martinez No | Oct 25, 2010 11:17:26 AM

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