Networks Steer Ford Stories to 'Hard Times,' Ignoring Other Firms on Track
NBCâs report was even headlined âHard Times,â which movie fans will catch as an un-subtle reference to a 1975 film about struggles during the Great Depression. But things arenât that bad for the entire auto industry; just for the Big Three â Ford, GM (NYSE: GM) and Daimler-Chrysler (NYSE: DCX). A February 13 BusinessWeek article told âThe Good News About Americaâs Auto Industry.â
According to that piece, âLook past the trouble in Detroit, and the auto industry is anywhere but in decline. In a growing number of Southern hamlets such as Canton, Toyota (TM ), Honda (HMC ), Mercedes and other foreign car manufacturers are providing nonunionized jobs â 33,000 since 2000 â that pay almost as much as United Auto Workers earn farther north.â
But the networks focused almost entirely on Ford. NBC anchor Brian Williams introduced his story by saying Ford âhas made a change that will change the way business is done by doing away with tens of thousands of unionized workers.â Ford is âdoing awayâ with those workers by offering them buyouts worth up to $140,000 each.
The company has been battling high union wages and benefits along with foreign-owned competition like Honda and Toyota. But neither of these explanations figured prominently on the September 14 evening news shows. BusinessWeek explained that foreign-car companiesâ employees here in the United States earn a bit less and have slightly less in benefits. But that adds up. One area of major difference is retirement. Nissan, for example, uses a 401(k) instead of a defined benefit plan like Detroitâs autoworkers.
Both CBS and ABC admitted Ford needs what CBSâs Anthony Mason called âradical surgery to survive.â And all three networks talked about how the companyâs sales had gone down. On ABCâs âWorld News with Charles Gibson,â reporter Dean Reynolds had a partial explanation: âHeavily invested in gas-guzzling SUVs, at a time of high pump prices, its sales have plummeted.â
But both foreign competition and the huge cost of salaries and benefits for Fordâs union labor received attention only at NBC.
NBCâs Reynolds described Ford as âpummeled by high gas prices and fierce foreign competition, particularly from Toyota.â He made only a passing reference to the benefits crisis Detroitâs manufacturers have been coping with: âIt gives them breathing space and hopefully a more predictable issue dealing with the funding of pensions and health care.â
Recently, the story of American automotive success has come from companies like Toyota and Honda. Toyota moved into the No. 3 spot in American auto sales and âcontinued to take market share from other automakers last month, posting an industry-best 17 percent increase in sales,â according to the Associated Press.