ABQ Journal & Larry Barker: Not Exactly the Whole Story

NOB HILL--In the News Business, context is pretty important. Without it, "Firefighters Save Mayor's House" becomes "City Workers Water Mayor's Lawn." It is not exactly a lie...just pretty far from an accurate report. It could be called an entertaining diversion, much like the sleight-of-hand a magician uses.

Everybody likes a little diversion once in a while. And with the ABQ Journal we get more than our share. Add to that the presence of J. Edgar (Larry) Barker on Channel 13 and we have a veritable circus of missteps, mistakes, and ignominious moments by public officials.

Nothing could beat the Journal's extensive series on the John Dantis nepotism affair, what with day after day coverage of a minor mistake. Now just when we were starting to forget the Dantis Affair, (a scandal in which a public official got his son a low-level job interviewing druggies at an intake center...a job you wouldn't wish on any family member except one in the most desperate of drug-related circumstances) well the Journal found another dog to beat.

Same Dog, New Stick
Governor Bill Richardson is no stranger to the Journal's editorial page. Yet I can't remember him making Larry Barker's hit list before. You know the reason: an I-40 interchange named in Richardson's honor. And wait...there is also the Richardson wing at UNMH. And the name "Bill" is written on a Railrunner engine. As is "Johnny," a name I share with Johnny Cope, a commissioner of NMDOT, representing the southeast quadrant of the state. He is also a major Richardson supporter.

Ouch! Those miscues were worth at least two TV Larry Barker episodes and an editorial in the Albuquerque Journal.

Don't get me wrong--I am all for banning the naming of buildings after politicians, especially since it was OUR money that put up those structures in the first place. I think one of the noblest ideas would be a politician who respectfully declined such an honor. But Richardson did not. He is not alone, however. And his case is far from the worst.

Sosimo Padilla

The most remarkable name on a highway sign had to be that of Sosimo Padilla. For years it graced I-25 near the town of Belen announcing Sosimo Padilla Boulevard. It turned out, as I understand it, Sosimo was the local highway chief. Eventually the sign was removed and replaced by one denoting Camino del Llano as the name of the street. I had assumed Sosimo Padilla must have been a local hero...and perhaps he was.

Pete V. Domenici
The most egregious example, however, is our former senator Pete Domenici spreading his name around New Mexico like it was his own money he was spending. Actually it was our money he spent by way of those 'earmarks' he inserted into legislation that made it all possible. I wrote a piece on this a few years ago, but it has gone into the void named DCF Archives.

Ironically, the best piece written about the Domenici legacy of being so highly honored on the nameplates of buildings was written by Journal columnist Leslie Linthicum in November of 2009. Called "Reining in the Edifice Complex," Linthicum's story details Pete's namesakes around New Mexico:

• Los Alamos Lab's National Security Sciences Building Domenici Auditorium
• NMSU's Domenici Institute for Public Policy
• Pete V. Domenici United States Federal Courthouse in ABQ
• Pete V. Domenici Indian Affairs Building in ABQ
• Domenici education building at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in ABQ
• UNM's Domenici Center for Health Sciences Education
• UNM's Pete and Nancy Domenici Hall
• New Mexico Tech's Pete V. Domenici Science Operations Center
• Pete V. Domenici International HIghway in Santa Teresa
• Pete V. Domenici Training Complex for law enforcement in Artesia
• Pete Domenici rodeo Grounds in Las Cruces
• Pete V. Domenici Building of the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe
• Domenici Research center for Mental Illness in far-off Minneapolis, Minnesota

Wow. I don't remember Larry getting his shorts in a bunch about those. Maybe I missed it.

The Journal Draws a Distinction
It was probably Linthicum's piece that forced The Albuquerque Journal to mention Pete Domenici at all in their editorial castigating Richardson for naming things. But they drew a distinction between him and Governor Richardson. About Domenici they said, "He earned his memorials the hard way, representing New Mexicans for 38 years in the U.S. Senate, the longest tenure in state history."

Right. And what did Richardson ever do? Only 14 years in Congress representing northern New Mexico, 3 years as Secretary of Energy, 2 years as Ambassador to the United Nations, 8 years as Governor of the Land of Enchantment, not to mention various forays into the heart of darkness securing the release of several Americans from foreign imprisonment.

The Court House
Even the Journal seemed struck by their own cheap shot...struggling to find a way to excuse having the Federal Court House named after Domenici at the same time he was being investigated by the feds. As I said in my original post, "Everyone is equal under the law...unless your name is above the Court House Door!" It was an honor Pete V. Domenici should have respectfully declined.

Intoned the Journal, "Still, this rush to name things after a living person was questionable because of a federal scandal involving the firings of U.S. attorneys that wasn't resolved until after Domenici left office." Questionable? At the very least. The scandal involved trying to influence the timing of an investigation to coincide with an election. That and allegedly trying to have the U.S. Attorney fired when he refused to do it. I guess I would call that "questionable."

Baseball Statistics
And Larry Barker? How did he handle the Domenici aspect? Why he cleverly restricted his investigation to buildings named by governors. It reminds me of baseball statistics where one keeps track of singles made in the sixth inning with two outs and both teams wearing stripes. In other words, Barker framed the story to accommodate his rant, rather than bringing out any contextual information.

Selective Memory
I am sick of politics. I was not going to write about Larry Barker's stories. But come on, when the Journal twists the facts and forgets to mention others, what is a subscriber to do? I am personally in love with this town and this state. Not only that, Channel 13 is one of my own news sources...and has been for almost 40 years. The ABQ Journal has been my delivered newspaper since the Tribune went out of business. I regard it as part of being a citizen to stay informed as best I can.

But when your news sources twist memories, omit the inconvenient truths, and demonize an unpopular governor while ignoring much worse behavior from a popular politician from the opposing party, it is my duty to point it out. This is not the first time the Journal has used its position of trust to mislead (if not misinform). It happens all the time. But it is clear to me that our collective memory can be mighty short. Maybe that's what they are counting on.

Views: 157

Comment by MarkSteele on November 23, 2010 at 10:44pm
Thank you for your post, Johnny, and the effort you made to put it all together.
Comment by ABQrising on November 24, 2010 at 8:12am
In other news, Albuquerque's namesake was man of privilege... and the seat of federal government was named after our first monarch President. And, my parents forced their parent's parent's parent's surname on me! People naming people, places and things after people. When will it stop.
Comment by Joan Fenicle on November 24, 2010 at 10:36am
Excellent post Johnny. While I am not a Bill Richardson fan, we tend to forget the good he has done in the rush to judgement. Thanks for reminding me. There are few real heros and villans in this world. Most of us are a mixture of good and evil and we hope most days the good wins out.
Comment by Tracy Dingmann on November 24, 2010 at 2:19pm
Hey Johnny - Loved your post. Loved it so much I wrote a blog about it. Wanna read it? Here is is: http://www.clearlynewmexico.com/journalwatch/?p=2845.
But really, it's about you. I love all your writing, but I would love to see more like that. And judging from the comments, lots of others would too - we are all becoming an angry and fractious bunch, aren't we? Happy Thanksgiving, friend!
Comment by Johnny_Mango on November 24, 2010 at 4:28pm
Wow, you guys. Thank you all so much for your generous comments. And Tracy, thanks especially for all that happens over at ClearlyNewMexico/ABQJournalWatch! I love the idea of setting up a citizen's committee to settle on what needs naming and whose name should go there. I mean it. If nobody picks up that idea, let's just do it ourselves. Thanks again.
Comment by Victor Gomez on November 24, 2010 at 5:31pm
In the world of private industry and rip-offs an investigative reporter may soon become impotent against real organized criminals that are out there. Litigation may turn one from that sort of career to that of a political hatchet. When only one side of the politics is repeatedly the only subject that gets the coverage you can mark another career as having been turned to this new occupation of political hatchet. Politicians are easier targets than organized thieves and scoundrels. So they survive and politicians are attacked.
Comment by Margaret Randall on November 28, 2010 at 8:29am
Great piece.
Problem is, the corporate press has had as big a hand as any in making sure our memories are so short. Reporting non-news, reporting non-news again and again so we memorize it without even wanting to, and not reporting the real news we ignore at our peril.
Ever since advertisers have owned media, what gets reported is what the advertisers want reported, and nothing they don't.
As for living people's names being put on all manner of stuff, as far as I know it happens in every state and every country. Laws against it can be misleading as well. In Cuba (no Banana Republic, although many here still think of it as such), there is a law against public images of living leaders and living leaders' names affixed to monuments, etc. Still, although there are no postage stamps with Fidel's face or bridges or intersections named after him, many believe the power he wields is still too much.
I wish we did have a newspaper here in Albuquerque that saw its primary job as that of giving us the news.

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