What about the workers?

For a little variety, this isn’t tied to a Paul Krugman column. Dean Baker is another economist that I really like and he has a blog on the American Prospect web site called Beat the Press (you can find it on my blog roll too). On Christmas Day he highlighted an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) about the shut down of an airline. This is what he wrote (pretty much the whole blog),

The WSJ reported the bankruptcy and shutdown of MAXjet Airways. The piece discusses the financial situation of the airline and the efforts that are being made to accommodate ticket holding passengers.

All of this is well and good, but what happened to the airline’s employees who got a layoff notice in their Christmas stocking? Did they get severance pay? Will they be picked up by another airline? The WSJ doesn’t tell us. It doesn’t seem too touchy and feely to include two sentences about what happens to the employees of a defunct airline, especially when the collapse occurs in the middle of the holiday season.

While many may think of the WSJ in terms of its ultra right wing editorial board (they make the Kool-Aid that others drink), the paper is a good paper, but suffers from what all MSM journalism suffers from in this country, the focus on the elite/business classes bias. As Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) reported in 1999 on a new study of PBS. I am going to include select topic areas [emphasis added].

CORPORATE VOICE: More than one-third of all on-camera sources (36.3%) during the two weeks studied were representatives of corporate America or Wall Street. This almost doubled the percentage found in the 1992 study. (pp. 10-11)

POLITICS: Coverage of domestic political issues featured the views of government officials (50.2%), professionals (31.2% — overwhelmingly journalists) and corporate/Wall Street representatives (11%), with very few contributions from any other social group. Consumer, environmental or labor advocates, for example, were almost invisible. (pp. 13-14)

ECONOMICS: Public TV coverage of the economy is, more than any other topic, dominated by one social sector: the business class. Fully 75% of the sources in economic stories were from the corporate or investment world. By contrast, labor union representatives (1.5% of sources), consumer advocates (0.4%), non-professional workers (1.1%) and the general public (1.8%) were virtually invisible in economic stories. “Economic coverage,” writes Hoynes, “is so narrow that the views and activities of most citizens become irrelevant.” (pp. 11-12)

BUSINESS PROGRAMS: The bias in favor of corporate voices is partly due to the expansion of business news on public television, with many PBS stations now airing two daily business news programs, plus at least two regular weekly business programs. Hoynes writes: “In answer to the question ‘If PBS doesn’t do it, who will?’ this kind of business programming is readily available on CNNfn, CNBC, Bloomberg and other television channels, along with the business press and the Internet. It behooves public television stations to evaluate the reasons why they broadcast programs that are widely available elsewhere, appeal to such a limited audience, and are so narrow in their definition of sources and subjects.” (p. 25)

CITIZEN ACTIVISTS: Citizen activists (a broad category encompassing anyone of any stripe active in community, religious, health, environmental, ethnic/racial issues, etc.) accounted for only 4.5% of total sources. This was a decrease from 5.9% in 1992. Citizen activists “appear with such relative infrequency — for example, there is no regular labor voice in discussions of the economy and no regular consumer perspective in debates about anti-trust policy — that they cannot help but be marginal, if intriguing, participants in the public discourse.” (pp. 16-17)

THE PUBLIC: Only 5.7% of total sources are members of the general public — a decrease from 1992’s 12%. “Another method of opening up the discourse,” writes Hoynes, “is to allow real people to participate in debate and discussion.” One edition of “Morning Business Report” referred to the views of “average Americans,” but these were later revealed to be “investors,” polled in a survey about investment and economic questions. (pp. 17-18)

MERGERS & LAYOFFS: A case study of public TV coverage of corporate mergers and layoffs — a significant news story during the two-week period — showed that the main focus was on how investors were affected. Stories on mergers/acquisitions and anti-trust policy were dominated by corporate viewpoints, with only one appearance by a citizen activist and none by members of the public. Coverage of corporate layoffs and unemployment was similarly narrow: 86% of the sources were corporate or Wall Street representatives. Not a single representative of organized labor appeared in public TV’s discussion of corporate mergers or of layoffs. (pp. 20-22)

So when we read about trade, mergers, private equity firms making companies more efficient, sub prime mortgages, and so on, the coverage generally is coming from the investor class for the investor class. NOW and Bill Moyer’s Jounral on PBS are two really good exceptions in the broadcast world. I also like To the Contrary on PBS which is a roundtable format (moderator, 2 liberals, 2 conservatives) but all women and many topics that get no coverage in the broadcast world.

I don’t know if this is a result of Ronald Reagan’s voodoo economics (otherwise known as trickle down or supply side) focusing on the investor class.  If it is a result of the right wing outrage machine that starts the echoes about the victimization of corporation because of regulations.  But we need the media to serve the people, at least the media that is given license to the public airwaves, not just the investor class.  We need media to give voice to the needs of working Americans.



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