- Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States
- February 4 Non-Partisan Training: HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013: HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion
- The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
- Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind
- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Seth Williams on Guns, Jasmine Rivera on School Closures @PFC Meetup Wednesday
- PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact
- What to Make of the Fiscal Cliff Deal?
Wolf in Scribes Clothing: The SEPTA Strike and the Subterfuge of Philadelphia's Media Monopoly
Political Scientist Michael Parenti catalogued seven generalizations about the way the news media create anti-union messaging--from painting workers as greedy, to omitting the salary of management or depicting public officials (like Mayor Nutter) as neutral. Using this lens to dissect the coverage of the SEPTA strike, it becomes clear that local media like the Inquirer and Daily News have a dangerous anti-union bias, once again making the case that to build our own movement we need our own media.
Building on Nutter, FOX News, and the SEPTA Strike, it is vital that we look at the atrocious coverage of The Inquirer and in particular the work of staff writers Melissa Dribben, Jim Moran and Kia Gregory in the article Another Infuriating Day for Commuters. Basically the journalists utilized every metaphor and trick possible to make workers seem greedy and divide transit workers from other Philadelphians, explicitly taking the side of SEPTA management at a critical juncture in the contract struggle.
How was this done? Principally through using the voice of everyday Philadelphians to put forward an anti-union, pro-management message. In Michael Parenti's book, Inventing Reality: The Politics of Mass Media, he looks at seven basic generalizations of mass media's mistreatment of labor struggles. Those mistreatments are:
1) Portrayal of labors struggles as senseless, avoidable contests created by unions' unwillingness to negotiate in good faith,
2) Focus on Company wage "offers" omitting or underplaying reference to takebacks, and employee grievances, making the workers appear irrational, greedy and self-destructive
3) No coverage given to management salaries, bonuses or compensation and how they are inconsistent with concessions demanded by workers
4) Emphasis on the impact rather than the causes of strikes, laying the blame for the strike totally on the union and detailing the damage the strike does to the economy and public weal
5) Failure to consider the harm caused to the workers' interests if they were to give up the strike
6) Unwillingness or inability to cover stories of union solidarity and mutual support
7) Portrayal of the government (including the courts and police) as a neutral arbiter upholding the public interests when it is rather protecting corporate properties and bodyguarding strike-breakers.
Based on these seven generalizations let's take a look at the coverage of the strike in the story: Another Infuriating Day for Commuters. It is clear from the title that the authors are focused on the inconvenience the strike presents to commuters with no focus on the reason the strike began or the fact that 5,500 workers have been laboring for 8-9 months without a contract or job security.
However, in the fifth paragraph the fun begins as the authors use a commuter to voice the message:
The union is a monopoly... and people hate monopolies. One hundred years ago, corporations were the wolves. Now unions are the wolves.
While this is a nonsensical point because it misapprehends the point of collective bargaining, the message is clear, everyday workers are greedy, irrational and un-American. Moreover workers, some which make 28K a year, are selfish, while there is not so much as a peep on the salaries of management—who get 100% of their healthcare paid for and receive up to $195,000 per year in salary—which is almost 7x more than some SEPTA bus drivers. But why should journalists allow an inconvenient fact to get in the way of their story.
The article goes on to focus on the difficulty of commuting during the strike, tacitly painting TWU workers as the culprits. However the article ends once again voicing the concerns of another commuter that says that this is a bad economy and the union has to accept the reality of the economic crisis like everyone else and basically end the strike and accept whatever contract the noble management offers.
What this article and most of the reporting of the SEPTA strike illustrates is the anti-union bent of our local mass-media. In this article, the journalists decide not to quote one member of TWU local 234, nor offer one positive portrait of these hard working transit workers (for workers' perspectives on the strike go here), while quoting several anti-union commuters. In looking at the overall reporting of the Inquirer, Daily News, and our local TV affiliates, each of Parenti's gross anti-union generalizations have been core themes of the reporting
Make workers look greedy and irrational
Do not examine management salaries,
Avoid focusing on the cause of the strike
Attempt to make public officials like Mayor Nutter and Governor Rendell look neutral
Clearly the mass media has a vested stake in the outcome of this strike. How long are we gonna allow our media to be so explicitly anti-union. It is time we created our own media!