When the Albuquerque Tribune folded in 2008, some said it was simply part of a growing trend in American journalism; the decline of the daily newspaper.
In the age of Internet blogs and multiple 24-hour television news channels, we were told, it is only a matter of time until all the dailies hit the wall, the cost of publishing them exceeding the advertising and subscription revenues they generate.
I took some small comfort from the fact that a few Tribune staffers got picked up by the morning Journal. Their influence, I hoped, would make the morning rag a whole lot better than its track record.
There was even a faint hope that as the only daily in town, the Journal would be motivated to step up and become a more responsible source of information than it had been in the past.
The morning paper that arrives on my front walk shrivels daily. Advertising revenue is falling, and with it the number of pages for news or editorial content. Now it seems only a matter of time until the Journal follows the Tribune into that vast Press Room in the Sky.
The morning paper recently laid off a slew of staff reporters. Two of its best and most insightful local columnists, Gene Grant (who wrote the feature article in this week's Alibi, "Red, White and Black") and Jim Belshaw, no longer grace its pages. In their place the paper has added Jim Scarantino, a former Alibi columnist, who administers weekly doses of essentially the same slant as that of the dozen or so syndicated conservative columnists the paper already serves up.
Now there’s a conservative local columnist side by side with the syndicated conservative old guys (Krauthammer, Will, Broder, Thomas); the conservative young guy (Goldberg, whose photo belies the ponderous datedness of his thinking); the conservative woman (Parker); and the conservative Hispanic (Navarette). All this right-wing drivel is presented with artwork by the local conservative cartoonist (Trever) and the syndicated conservative cartoonist (Ramirez).
Several times a week a syndicated national writer or cartoonist from the other end of the political spectrum is carried, providing just enough balance to distinguish the editorial page of the Journal from the Fox News website ... but barely.
The morning paper that arrives on my front walk shrivels daily.
Yet even this angling to the right wouldn’t be so bad if the paper’s coverage of local events could be trusted to be free of that same cant. In recent weeks, though, I’ve seen several dreadful examples of how the paper has chosen to twist news coverage to reflect its "philosophical" positions.
Two are especially glaring: the crusade against the Second Chance Treatment Center and the paper's bogus campaign to marginalize City Councilor Isaac Benton.
For two months our morning paper ran a dozen variations on the same story about Second Chance, a treatment center for people with drug and alcohol problems. Each story managed to work into the coverage the information that Second Chance is “controversial” and that it is based on an approach developed by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.
Until the Journal began waging its now-successful campaign against Second Chance (it left the building it leased from the city and closed operations until it can find another location), there was no “controversy” about the program. It had operated for two years, and dozens of graduates and their families attested to its having helped them kick addictions.
Once the morning daily began agitating against the center, its days were numbered. Nothing stirs our city administration to action faster than the possibility that a “controversy” might be afoot. Second Chance was essentially tried and condemned in the press and the sentence was carried out by the mayor and his appointees ... in classic kangaroo court fashion.
Similarly, the Journal decided that City Council President Isaac Benton’s appearance as a speaker at a demonstration calling for Israel to stop bombing Gaza had to be condemned. It blasted him editorially, making a big deal out of his rally comments, which it reported in a most peculiar news story on the event. I say “peculiar” to politely describe a hatchet job.
How else to explain why a rally of almost 300 people from a wide cross-section of faiths, ethnicities and ages would merit no photo and only six inches of narrative (four of which were devoted to comments made by the 12 counter-protestors holding signs nearby)?
Benton used, in his brief statement, the phrase “genocide” to describe Israeli bombing attacks on Palestinian civilians who have no air defenses and who suffered 1,300 deaths during the two-week conflict. (Israel lost three civilians and 10 soldiers during that war.)
The paper editorialized that his words were the issue to be condemned. To this day the paper still has not condemned Israel’s actions. But it certainly took umbrage at the use of a word many there were thinking but Benton said aloud.
Maybe Benton should have said “ethnic cleansing” or “disproportionate response” or “like shooting fish in a barrel” instead of “genocide.” I don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter when the overall thrust of Israeli (and U.S.) policy toward Palestine has been to create a Middle Eastern version of apartheid (in Jimmy Carter’s accurate but roundly condemned phrase).
What’s worse, apartheid or genocide? Now there’s a question we can only hope the Journal editorial writers never attempt to answer.