Sunday, January 08, 2006

Editorial:Who broke the law?

AMY GOODMAN: In these last few minutes, Juan, I wanted to talk with you about the results of the New York City transit strike and the significance of the issue of pension that goes well beyond New York City in this largest transit system in the country and the workers in it.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, for a lot of workers now around the country, this is becoming a major issue. Just reported in The New York Times today on the front page that I.B.M., which runs one of the largest private pension systems in the country, it will stop participation by its employees or will not continue to contribute into its pension fund. It won't eliminate the pension fund, but it's basically phasing its pension fund out in favor of a defined contribution or a 401(k) plan for its employees. And across the country, we're seeing local governments, as well as private companies, saying, 'We cannot deal with the escalating costs of these pension funds.' I've been doing a little bit of investigation over the past few weeks as a result of the transit strike and, by the way, the transit workers were able to stem the attempts to erode their pension system.

Investigative reporting? Can't Juan Gonzalez 'get with the program' and just fluff like everyone else? Doesn't he grasp that no one's interested in labor?

Well, the mainstream media isn't. You saw that in the constant attacks on the strikers. You saw that in the repeated cries of 'They are breaking the law!' Outside of your independent media, did you hear anyone point out that the MTA broke the law?

They did. During the strike, if you watched Democracy Now!, Juan Gonzalez explained it in "NYC Transit Strike Enters Third Day: Negotiations Resume, Threats to Workers Heat Up, Public Support Remains High"

Yes, the Taylor Law does forbid public employees from striking, but it also forbids an employer, any government agency, from attempting to force pension changes onto a union contract. Pension changes are made by the state legislature only, not through the collective bargaining process. Although unions often do agree to go with an employer to petition for pension changes, they are not legally part of any collective bargaining process. And that's what Toussaint kept saying when he said that the proposed -- the demands of the MTA were illegal demands.

So it's surprising that the strikers were portrayed as law breakers during the strike while the mainstream media took a pass on exploring the law breaking of the MTA. What's especially pathetic is that last week, with the strike over, The New York Times still can't raise that issue( "Pension Demand Was an Error, Chairman of M.T.A. Concedes" by Sewell Chan and Steve Greenhouse). They can report that Peter Kalikow calls the pension demand "an error," they just don't have the stomach to call it what it was: breaking the law.

Throughout the strike, the reporting in the paper of record was slightly better than the heated editorials bashing the workers. This wasn't "even handed." Even leaving out the fact that a law broken on both sides (and broken first by the MTA) was reduced to "STRIKERS BREAK LAW!"
type nonsense, there was no attempt at balance.

This was yellow journalism. In another time, William Randolph Hearst might have practiced it in blunter terms, but that that's what we saw. Even after the strike, the paper of record reduced the breaking of the law to "an error." During the strike, the editorials attempted to shame the strikers while never noting the paper's own recent pension problems.

Juan Gonzalez, also a columnist for The New York Daily News, is one of the few journalists at a paper who will cover the labor movement. Let's hope he never "gets with the program." (And we can't imagine that he ever would.) But, in noting the way that the mainstream media covered this issue, let's note an issue we've touched on in roundtables but never editorialized on: the lack of a labor beat at your print institutions.

Flip to a paper and you'll find the news (or "news") section, the sports section, the arts section and the business section, day after day. The business section focuses on the stock market, trophy wives who've made the decision to stop working (which is promoted as a trend and possibly is . . . for those couples raking in the millions) and gentle slaps on the wrists of various greedy CEOs. To focus on The New York Times, they're happy to provide other sections once a week, such as their Science section. They just don't seem to think that labor merits even once a week coverage.

In terms of television, Danny Schechter, among others, has long pointed out that PBS features various shows that track investments and address the stock market, they just never feel the need to provide a Worker's Report. When so-called public television can't be bothered with the labor beat, it's really not surprising that the wanna be tastemakers at The New York Times can't be bothered.

But it's still sad. It's also bad journalism because when someone reads a paper or watches a news program, they may be under the mistaken impression that they are being informed. How can you be informed when the mainstream media fails to cover something?

The attacks on pensions and unions have been ongoing for years. News consumers dependent upon the mainstream media may be in the dark in that. If they are, it's because their outlets of choice aren't covering it.

PBS (and NPR) regularly brag of their "upscale" market. Possibly the sweat and struggle of so many millions of Americans might mar the illusion being built? The pension issue didn't result from workers, it resulted from employers who didn't want to contribute their share. The business model is seriously flawed and, by not confronting that, it's only become more flawed. The Bully Boy "base" seems determined to destroy everything the labor movement won over years and years of struggle. But the Bully Boy just got installed at the right moment.

With the issue of minimum wage being a non-issue on the national level, it's been left for states and municipalities to address it. With the issue of the labor beat, it's been left to the independent media to cover it. Pay attention to both developments, even if you think it doesn't impact your life, because it is news -- despite major media's indifference to addressing the issue of labor.

[This editorial was written by The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Jess, Ty, Ava and Jim; Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude; Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man; C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review; Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills); Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix; Mike of Mikey Likes It!; Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz; and Wally of The Daily Jot.]
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