There are deeply divided opinions and shifting allegiances over whether unions are helping or hurting people who have been caught in the recent economic squeeze. And workers themselves, being pitted against one another, are finding it hard to feel sympathy or offer solidarity, with their own jobs lost and their benefits and pensions cut back or cut off.
— A. G. Sulzberger and Monica Davey, The New York Times, Feb. 21
Welcome to the “no shit” school of news analysis. Two reporters are sent to write about conflict among workers in Wisconsin. An editor slaps a headline on the piece — “Union bonds in Wisconsin begin to fray” — although the piece does not attempt to show that unions are “fraying” in their fight against Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to gut collective bargaining laws. (They are growing stronger.) Instead, the piece merely states that some workers are mad at other workers. Well, no shit!
It is not news, especially not front-page news, that private-sector workers in Wisconsin are angry because they’ve suffered at the hands of CEOs who simply move companies elsewhere if workers refuse to accept dramatic wage and benefits cuts.
It is not news that workers who are hurting often direct their resentment at people they can see — fellow workers who aren’t hurting as much. Obviously, it is easier to lash out at those people than to accept the reality of invisible robber barons who are reducing the lot of all workers to something akin to serfdom.
It is not news and certainly not news analysis when a reporter merely quotes distressed non-union workers — “I don’t get to bargain in my job,” and “There are a lot of people out of work right now that would take a job without a union,” and so on — or workers on the other side of the issue who think union-busting hurts all workers, union and non-union.
Analysis entails evaluating arguments in relation to all the available information. The Times, it seems, equates analysis with “he said/she said” journalism, apparently out of fear that some readers — or, more likely, people in powerful positions — will accuse the newspaper of bias if its reporters use background information to provide a context for the events of a particular week.
Did public-sector wages and benefits cause a budget crisis in Wisconsin, or was the crisis manufactured for political purposes by Gov. Scott Walker and his billionaire backers? This question is never addressed in the story, which means the reader has no way of determining to what extent out-of-work Wisconson residents might have a valid grievance against public-sector unions.
Footnote: The Times finally ran a piece about the close connections between Walker and Koch Industries, but this was two days after it ran a profile of Walker that didn’t even mention the Koch Brothers’ role in Walker’s fierce attack on organized labor. And nothing from either of those stories was referenced in the “union bonds fray” story. The intentional disconnect, I guess, reflects Bill Keller’s notion of fair and balanced news.