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: 173

Comment by Richard V on November 23, 2010 at 8:18am
you make some good points here, jon. i thought the "urinal" made it absolutely clear from the very beginning who they were rooting for in our recent governor's race. i know when i pick up a copy, the news i'm getting is slanted way to the right. which is why i don't bother buying the paper anymore. it's a joke, and albuquerque deserves better.
Comment by Todyboy on November 23, 2010 at 8:48am
Buildings are named after living people only in banana republics, and New Mexico.
Comment by Adelita on November 23, 2010 at 9:00am
Brilliant post Johnny!
Comment by Mike English on November 23, 2010 at 9:03am
And you didn't even mention Thomas Cole. Such restraint Jon. :)
Comment by once banned twice shy on November 23, 2010 at 9:13am
Buildings are named after living people only in banana republics, and New Mexico.

Upon what do you base this statement? Look, the one thing politicians LOVE to do is name buildings and road projects after themselves. I am sure other states have buildings named after living politicians.

Very good post, Johnny. Captures my feelings to a "T" with regard to the Journal and Barker. I became disgusted with Larry Barker's non-controversy controversy when KRQE hyped one of his stories about the zoo for a week--breathlessly announcing that only the animals knew what horrid things the city was up to at the zoo, blah, blah, blah. So I watched. The horrid thing the city did? Built a shed without the exact proper permitting.

Oh, and I cannot agree that John Dantis giving his addicted son a job at the drug counseling center was a minor mistake. First, he deprived someone who needed a job of having that job because he wanted to give his unqualified son a job. Then, his son IS AN ACTIVE ADDICT. Not exactly the best person you want working around people whose sobriety is hanging by a thread, if that. If Mr. Dantis wanted to see his son get a job, at the very least he could have had him not dealing with the public.
Comment by Oliver on November 23, 2010 at 9:29am
This is a great post. I love Johnny Mango -- I learn so much from his insights.

I live in upstate New York, and we have our own version of Uncle Pete's "edifice complex". Former State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno also loved to put his name on anything that stood still long enough to fasten a plaque on it. The best one I saw was a drinking fountain in a local state park, labeled the "Honorable Joseph Bruno Pavilion". I am not making this up.

Alas, poor Joe was convicted of corruption by a federal jury, and now people are wringing their hands about what to do with all these buildings he slapped his name on. Good times.
Comment by Oliver on November 23, 2010 at 9:30am
Oh, one other thing - Joe is still very much alive.
Comment by Glen Effertz on November 23, 2010 at 9:45am
And what can you do but laugh at the idea of naming and interchange after the governor? People do sometimes refer to buildings by their names, but is anyone ever going to call Coors & I-40 "The Richardson Interchange"? I agree that it's really not worth all of the fuss.
Comment by pepeye on November 23, 2010 at 10:02am
Both the Reagan Building and Reagan National Airport were named while Reagan was alive. Washington, D.C. was named after George Washington while he was still alive. So this is neither new nor unique to NM.
Comment by Dan Ehrig on November 23, 2010 at 10:14am
NMDefamationSuit.com had a really amusing headline about the Coors/I40 interchange:

‘Bill Richardson Interchange’ Sounds Like a Bedroom Tactic'

I'm not a fan of Richardson or his self-aggrandizement but I find it funny that Larry Barker didn't couldn't be bothered investigating any of Richardson's real scandals and boondoggles - for example, why hasn't the Spaceport plan been abandoned? Does Richard Branson really need corporate welfare from one of the poorest States in the Union? Larry seems to have gotten really ballsy all the sudden now that Richardson is on his way out and Denish won't be succeeding him. What was Larry so scared of for the last 8 years?

That said Larry does occasionally do good things in the right circumstances - a few years ago he did an "investigative story" on a friend of mine who was getting hosed by Wells Fargo when they lost records of several of her car payments (the investigation pretty much just consisted of her telling him what was going on.) The day after his report aired Wells Fargo immediately fixed her file.

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