Friday, February 18, 2011

Media Buries Wisconsin Collective Bargaining Issue

Wisconsin Republican state legislators and Governor Scott Walker moved to strip collective bargaining rights from state workers, thousands protested, and Democratic legislators fled the state to prevent the required quorum for a vote.  Meanwhile, network television news framed the issue in such a way that the casual viewer would think that greedy unions were refusing to make wage and benefit concessions in spite of gaping budget deficits.

The networks passed over the collective bargaining issue, which is the actual crux of the conflict.

While the Governor is calling for wage and benefit concessions, and asking public workers to contribute more to their pension plans, the primary issue at stake is the collective bargaining agreement. The network news played up the wage and benefit concessions, but failed to explain the slashing of collective bargaining rights.

For example, the CBS Evening News displayed a graphic featuring four bullet points outlining the issues and anchor Katie Couric's voice-over explained the bullet points relating to the wage, benefit and pension plan issues. The fourth bullet point read "Collective bargaining agreement," but Couric's voice-over did not explain what that bullet point meant.

A viewer who wasn't already informed on the topic would have no idea that the collective bargaining issue was the heart of the matter, and, if the viewer hadn't been watching the screen for the few seconds the bullet point appeared, wouldn't even know the issue existed.

The net effect would be to make the viewer believe that the state workers were simply being intransigent during a time when everyone else was making sacrifices to keep the state going. Obviously, the intent is to make viewers believe the state workers shouldn't be entitled to generous wages and benefits everyone else wasn't getting.

The CBS Evening News had found a clever way to report the news and mislead its viewers at the same time.

For many years, going after unions has been the fashionable thing to do. Wide swaths of the electorate fall for the "I don't get those kinds of benefits, why should they?" ruse without considering that perhaps they themselves should be getting the same kinds of protections and benefits, and organizing toward that end.

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