Card Check: Textbook Case in Media Bias

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December 3, 2008 @ 19:26 UTC

Written by

Barack Obama
Economy & Trade, Labor & Immigration, Media & Internet

The Las Vegas Sun (they have newspapers in Vegas???) reports that the incoming Obama administration may be backing quietly away from its promise to sign “card check” legislation that would revoke workers’ rights to have a secret ballot before the formation of a union and allow the union to be formed based solely on the signing of cards by a majority of workers.

Aside from the political side of the story — which is likely overblown in that the Obama administration’s backing away appears more a matter of changed timing than a shift in its supportive position — the text of the story itself gives an unusually clear window into how bias in the media works. 

Note first the text of the story in using inflammatory and sweeping language to describe President Reagan’s tenure:

The new law could be the most consequential social and economic policy shift since President Reagan reshaped the country by slashing taxes and regulation and crushing unions.

Would the Las Vegas Sun characterize an Obama administration economic policy as “raising taxes and regulation and crushing business”?  I seriously doubt it.

But more seriously biased is how the story treats the substantive issue itself.  The case in favor of the union position is presented in glowing and charitable terms:

The law would allow workers to form a union by signing cards instead of voting in a secret-ballot election, stiffen penalties for employers who commit unfair labor practices during organizing drives and impose binding arbitration in bargaining cases in which the sides cannot agree. Unions argue that those changes will level a playing field that has tilted toward business at the expense of labor for decades.

Well who could possibly oppose that?  We should certainly stop those abusive employers and seek arbitration, right?  And it is especially important to “level a playing field that has tilted towards business”?

Unfortunately, of course, they don’t answer the question of who could oppose it or why.  They cast opponents in purely procedural terms, without ever presenting the actual basis for their opposition:

The chamber deployed a network of operatives in a number of key Senate races this year and campaigned aggressively — on the air and on the ground — against the card-check legislation. It will be maintaining those operations, hoping to win over some senators and peel back others, in addition to running TV ads. Last week it released the first in a series of reports refuting what it calls union rhetoric.

In truth, the basis for opposing card check is that it is potentially even more abusive to workers than the mostly mythical claims of employer abusiveness now.  The cards that are signed are offered to workers directly by union organizers.  Workers feel compelled to sign in order to comply with the in-your-face demand of the organizer, especially when they know that they may find themselves out of a job if the union organizes without their profession of support on the card.  If they resist signing the card, they may also face threats of violence or property damage for their “betrayal”.

Traditionally, the best check on this potential for abuse is the secret ballot, where workers who may not want to pay union dues (much of which can be diverted to political causes as determined by the union leaders, not the individual members) and to have their jobs dependant upon the continued goodwill of potentially corrupt union leaders can evade the ability of union organizers to use social pressure, threats, or intimidation.  Because the secret ballot has so often allowed workers to break free from union organizers’ coercion is precisely why the union organizers want to revoke it.  Contrary to their narrative, Reagan didn’t “crush unions” in most cases of the two-decade decline in union membership, the workers themselves declined to join.  Union leaders want to strengthen their hand against the workers more than against the companies or the government.

Of course, to read the Las Vegas Sun, you would be made aware of exactly none of that.

©2008 PoliGazette. All Rights Reserved.


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