UPS Strike: TV News Says "Union, Yes"
The Teamsters' strike against the United Parcel Service was easily the decade's most-covered strike. But how thorough were the stories on the strike - and on the union which called it? Several inconvenient angles of the story were downplayed:
The DNC Fundraising Connection. Print reporters for The Washington Times, Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic uncovered the charges that the Teamsters agreed to donate nearly $1 million in PAC contributions to DNC affiliates, in exchange for an unspecified "commitment" to help the Teamsters - perhaps to help find donors for Ron Carey's re-election as Teamster President. A federal grand jury began investigating the DNC connection just days before the strike began.
The note outlining a DNC "commitment" to the union was written by Democratic direct-mail consultant Martin Davis, who wrote a memo telling Teamster DRIVE PAC political director Bill Hamilton to contact - Richard Sullivan, the former DNC finance director who served as the Thompson hearings' first witness. The networks aired nothing on this angle.
Carey Election Funny Money. Since the December 1996 Teamster election, Carey has returned $220,000 in questionable donations. In The New Republic, Jeffrey Goldberg noted the Teamsters paid more than $97,000 to left-wing telemarketer Michael Ansara, who gave the money to his wife, who then donated it to a front group for Carey's re-election. Ansara also took $75,000 from the left-wing group Citizen Action, which prosecutors believe was a reimbursement for Mrs. Ansara's donation, in effect, a Citizen Action kickback. (The group took $475,000 from the Teamsters for independent expenditures for congressional Democrats.) Would the networks probe Citizen Action like they inves-tigated conservative groups like GOPAC? Not so far.
Teamster Violence and Threats. When a group at odds with the media's liberalism (for example, pro-life advocates) is accused or violence or harassment, it's big news to the networks - who've done over 500 stories since mid-1993 on violence and harassment by abortion opponents. But violence or threats committed by Teamsters? It was rarely mentioned. CNN aired one Brian Jenkins story on brutality in Massachusetts on August 12, and CBS had a sentence on a Louisville police officer being run over on August 15.
On August 12, a Washington Times editorial put together several of these incidents, starting with the Florida Sun-Sentinel report on UPS driver and union member Rod Carter, a former football star at the University of Miami who decided to cross the picket line. Carter said a pickup truck pulled up to him at a stop light. One man threw a bottle at him. Another yelled "I'm gonna kill you, [expletive] nigger."
Carter drove on, but five hours later, at another stop light, he was surrounded by six men, one with a pick ax. A fight ensued in which Carter was stabbed five times with the ax. He survived, and police arrested three strikers on charges of attempted murder. Where were the networks on this juicy tale? Only ABC mentioned the Miami incident, in a single vague sentence on August 11.
In a study for
the newsletter MediaNomics, Tim Lamer of the MRC's Free Market Project reviewed
every story about the strike on the Big Three evening news shows from August 3-12. In the
43 evening news stories in the ten-day study period, reporters rarely ventured beyond the
human interest angles. For example, almost half of the stories (19) focused on business
people impaired by the strike. Lamer found other main issues of the strike were
misreported or ignored by almost all TV reports:
Part-time workers. The networks made much of the plight of part-time workers at UPS. Twelve of the 43 stories focused on the union complaint that UPS relied too much on part-time instead of full-time employees. Several reports profiled part-time workers who want to work full time. But no story during the study period pointed out, as did the August 7 Investor's Business Daily, that 42 percent of UPS part-timers are college students.
CBS reporter Ray Brady twice used the UPS strike to rail against the economy in general for creating too many part-time jobs. He did not note what MSNBC Opinion Editor Phillip Harper found: "According to the Labor Department, a full 80 percent of [part-time workers] aren't interested in full-time work."
Pension benefits. Only two network stories during the study period focused on the company's desire to take over the workers' pension fund and the union's resistance to this proposal. No ABC evening story even mentioned the word "pension" until Jackie Judd's August 10 story. Brady's story didn't air until August 12. NBC didn't air a story about the pension issue during the study period. For the first full week of the strike, viewers didn't hear the argument that by funding the Teamsters' pension operation, UPS is forced to subsidize the pensions of non-UPS workers at less profitable competitors.
Gun Control Study. A MediaWatch study by the MRC's Geoffrey Dickens proves that the networks often use their First Amendment privileges to promote opponents of the Second Amendment right to own guns. MediaWatch analysts reviewed every gun control policy story on the four evening shows (including CNN's The World Today) and the Big Three morning shows from July 1, 1995 through June 30, 1997.
Stories favoring gun control outnumbered those against gun control by 157 to 10, or a ratio of almost 16 to 1 (77 were neutral). Stories were analyzed for pro- and anti-gun control themes, and those with a disparity of greater than 1.5 to 1 were classified as for or against. Gun control advocates also won the talking-head count, 165 to 110 (40 were neutral).
Out of 103 evening news segments, pro-gun control stories outnumbered anti-gun control stories by 70 to 6, along with 27 neutral reports. Pro-gun control talking heads were televised 99 times on evening shows, to just 67 anti-gun control spokesmen and 24 neutral bites.
In 141 morning-show gun policy segments, stories loaded in favor of gun control outnumbered stories opposing gun control 87 to 4 (Fifty were neutral). The talking-head count in news stories followed the pro-gun control trend: 66 gun controllers to 43 opponents and 16 neutral spokesmen. The morning shows were also far more likely to invite gun control spokesmen for interview segments, outnumbering gun rights advocates 37 to 12, with four neutral spokesmen.
The Blackout Works. A Pew Research Center poll of 1,213 adults released Friday shows the network blackout of the Thompson hearings had an impact on public opinion:
"As the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee began its first round of hears on improper foreign campaign contributions, public interest in the topic fell to its lowest point in eight months. Only one in ten Americans followed the hearings closely, more than one third (35%) paid almost no attention at all." Live coverage might have helped: A total of 72 percent either "very closely" or "fairly closely" followed the Iran-Contra hearings, the Pew pollsters found in September 1987. Pew found stories with heavyTV play found an audience: 24 percent followed the Versace murder story "very closely," and another 33 percent "fairly closely." But the Thompson hearings were hard to "follow" when they weren't even making the network news. - Tim Graham