ABQ JOURNAL’S NEW ROLE: SHADOW GOVERNMENT DAMAGE CONTROL
When Jay McCleskey declines to comment on serious political scandal swirling around him, the Albuquerque Journal will mention in its story something along the lines of “McCleskey declined to comment.” If you’ve been following New Mexico politics lately, you’ve seen that line pretty often.
Fortunately for McCleskey, the Journal put out another story this week that was quite flattering to Gov. Susana Martinez’s “top adviser,” and he was happy to give a quote. This quote, incidentally, features a bit of truly unfunny joke making that is probably the product of brainstorming and multiple drafts.
“They don’t want teachers to hear both sides because if (teachers) hear both sides, they will be giving the union bosses an ‘F’ for accuracy,” McCleskey told the Journal.
Get it? An ‘F’ is like the worst grade you can give a student. That’s what they’d give their union bosses, if they were grading them on how those union bosses present the governor’s plan to ignore class sizes and fix schools by adding more evaluations onto the already ocean-deep bureaucracy of evaluators.
Guys like McCleskey and Karl Rove are considered geniuses because of lines like “If teachers hear both sides, they will be giving the union bosses an ‘F’ for accuracy.” That should be depressing to anyone who has every been curious about anything.
The story’s pretty (unintentionally) funny, too, but more because of its placements on the page and what that says about the Journal as a newspaper.
“Union Has Inside Track On APS Info” is the headline. The story’s point is that the teacher’s union for Albuquerque Public Schools has access to teachers’ personal information, like phone numbers and addresses and even social security numbers.
See, McCleskey and the governor’s office has been in some hot water because the Public Education Department responded to a request for nonunion teachers’ email addresses by going school-by-school through its data system to pull the addresses, then combing over that huge list to pull individual teachers who weren’t part of a union.
That is way more work than any state department is usually willing to do to fill a records request. Ask any reporter.
The Journal has a point to make about all this, writing at the top of today’s “Union” story that “Whether you get access to personal information for about 3,500 nonunion teachers at Albuquerque Public Schools depends on who’s asking. If it’s a member of the general public, or Gov. Susana Martinez’s campaign strategist who would like to pitch the case for the governor’s reforms, it won’t happen. If it’s a union leader who wants the information for organizing issues or to send a political message criticizing the governor’s reform agenda – an updated database of information will be provided within weeks of the first day of school each semester.”
None of that is a quote – it’s a comparison drawn at the top of the piece by the writer, so the reader knows the governor’s “campaign strategist who would like to pitch the case for the governor’s reforms” is kind of a victim here.
“Union Has Inside Track On APS Info” got “above the fold” in this morning’s front page, meaning editors believe the story is big and important and should be seen by people who stop at the sidewalk paper box and are deciding whether or not to buy a copy of the Journal.
“Martinez Trims Mansion Spending” got above the fold the day previous. It was the top story, in fact.
Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, the Journal had a story about State Fair Commissioner Charlotte Rode meeting with State Auditor Hector Balderas about the shenanigans that landed Martinez campaign donors a state contract potentially worth more than $1 billion.
“Rode said her complaint accuses the Governor’s Office of manipulating the deal through private contact between administration officials and Downs representatives,” the story says. There is ample evidence which appears to demonstrate this manipulation, including emails straight from the Downs to private accounts of Martinez’s highest-level staff. (In one, the Downs’ lawyer calls Rode “dragon lady.”)
That story ran at the bottom of the front page, well below the fold. This tells us the powers at the Journal believe contractually agreed-upon union access to contact information is a bigger deal than the governor’s office rigging a state contract.
Let’s imagine one side of this conversation:
“No comment on the scandals being investigated by the AG and the FBI and the state auditor, Mr. McCleksey? … That’s all right. Sorry we have to even cover this, but you know how those liberals are. Don’t worry, though. We’re working on a piece about teachers’ unions that makes them look crooked by comparing what they do to you. … No, don’t worry. We’ll put some stuff at the very top of the story that makes you seem sympathetic. … Oh no, we’ll just write that part for you.”
It was nice of McCleskey, I guess, to give them that lame quote about grading “union bosses.” But it wasn’t necessary, and that’s probably why he said anything at all. He’s also got to be thankful the newspaper keeps using editorial decisions like story placement to fight for his side.