“Why Is the Media So Anti-Union?”

Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, leafletting Louisville packing plant. (Photo: Mandy Dixon)

“Why is the media so anti-union?”

This old reporter-turned-history-teacher could retire if he had a dime for every time he’s heard a union brother or sister ask why the media is anti-union biased.

Usually, by the media, they mean Fox News and local newspapers and TV and radio stations.

Everybody knows Fox News is the Republican Party’s propaganda ministry. More than a few small town media owners are Fox fans. But a lot of their anti-union bias is rooted in old-fashioned Rotary Club-Chamber of Commerce-style boosterism, which Sinclair Lewis satirized in Babbitt, his famous 1922 novel.

Most local newspaper publishers and TV and radio station owners would fit right in with George Babbitt and the other members of the “Good Citizens’ League” branch in “Zenith,” Babbitt’s Midwestern “hometown.”

The Good Citizens battled unions, claiming “the…American way of settling labor-troubles was for workmen to trust and love their employers,” Lewis wrote. “All of them agreed that the working-classes must be kept in their place; and all of them perceived that American Democracy did not imply any equality of wealth, but did demand a wholesome sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals, and vocabulary.”

Generally, the smaller a paper or TV or radio station is, the greater its bias against unions. Their anti-unionism is sometimes as plain as their front doors, which are often plastered with decals or stickers proudly proclaiming chamber membership. The fact that the chamber is openly pro-business and anti-union apparently doesn’t trouble local media owners about conflicts of interest.

Bill Londrigan (Photo: Berry Craig)

Like the chamber, almost all small-town newspaper publishers and TV and radio station owners believe that what’s best for businesses – including their media businesses, of course – is best for the community. So local business leaders — and fellow Rotarians — get a lot of ink and on-camera time. They are depicted as “solid citizens” who are “pillars” in their communities.

On the other hand, union leaders almost never get such positive press. The president of the local chamber of commerce is in the paper or on TV or the radio all the time. The president of a local union almost never is, except when there is a strike.

Reporters commonly call strikes “labor disputes,” not “labor-management” disputes. “Labor disputes” implies, on purpose on not, that unions are solely to blame for work stoppages.

Strike stories seldom focus on why workers go on strike. They usually concentrate on how strikes inconvenience the public.

Therefore, newspaper readers, TV viewers and radio listeners are led to believe that the public is the innocent victim in “labor disputes.” Striking workers, no matter how aggrieved, come off as greedy malcontents who just cause trouble, not only for their employers, but for everybody.

Part of the media bias is rooted in a lack of understanding on the part of reporters. Not that many small town newshounds even have a basic idea of how unions and collective bargaining work.

Almost no small-town papers or TV or radio stations are union. Few reporters have ever been in any kind of union.

Of course, any company’s PR department is always glad to “help” the reporter with skillfully spun news releases.

Like PR staffers, most reporters are middle-class, college grads. Hence, many reporters naturally sympathize with management.

Never mind that small town reporters don’t make big bucks. Many of them see themselves as “professionals,” like company flaks, whose station in life is above that of working stiffs.

Even reporters who consider themselves “liberal” often stereotype union members as dimwitted, Archie Bunker-style bigots.

Anyway, good labor reporting is specialized reporting. Time was, big city daily newspapers recognized that fact and had full-time labor reporters.

Few do any more. (But large or small, almost all papers have business pages or sections.)

“Labor reporters knew how unions functioned and why they existed,” said Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO. “They tended to be more balanced in their labor reporting.”

Londrigan added that it’s no accident that labor reporters are all but gone. “It was coincident with the corporatization and concentration of media ownership.”

Berry Craig


  1. timoburke says

    I’m a fair-minded Liberal and I believe Unions became too powerful back when American cars began rolling off salesroom floors with bumpers falling off, etc. When business owners couldn’t fire someone for poor behavior or poor work, because the Union would bring them back with back-pay, well, that coincided with a turn for the worse in American Industry.

    In my youth I was an Electronics Tech at Lockheed out in Burbank, and the Unions were twisting the Company’s short-hairs for far too many concessions, all because there were contracts to fulfill and the Company couldn’t withstand a prolonged strike.

    While I was there, a worker who was caught selling joints during Break (out of the top of his socks) was fired then brought back in 3 days, with back-pay. Another young guy was horribly rude and crude to one of the older ‘Rosie the Riveters’ from WWII days who was still there. He was fired then brought back. Basically, the only thing you could really fire someone for and have it stick, was timeclock-verifiable absences or tardies.

    When I cycled over to the Skunk Works secret section to work on the Stealth Fighter (since de-classified), I saw why the per-aircraft cost is so inflated: guys would be at the top of ladders with their heads up in the wings, looking like they were working, but they were just hanging out and yapping. This was widespread, and the conscientious worker was the exception.

    The Ladies Room was always jammed with ladies who were avoiding work, and likely the Mens Room too. One time the Flight-Line Manager needed a particular job ASAP by a particular worker, and she’d been yapping in the Ladies Room for an hour (I saw her go in and was there when a lady was sent in to get her). She came out and sass-talked the Flight-Line Manager up and down as if she were on one of today’s ‘reality shows’, how he wasn’t allowed by Unions rules to fetch her. The contract time-pressure was intense but here the mgr had to suffer a flaming loss of face and had no control over a worker. When I began there, at one location I had a really great worker show me all sorts of great work techniques and special tool usage — she helped me so much, and she shared my strong work ethic. A year or so later, I ran into her at another hangar and she was a smack-talking ‘hate the company’ Union maniac, who reviled hard-workers as pawns and slaves, and she spent her time grousing and looking for things to report.

    The American Public isn’t stupid and when Detroit cars were put together so shoddily, the answer came back that bad workers were just as protected by the Unions as good ones. Now, I read “The Jungle” by Sinclair Lewis, so, God Bless the Unions — but they clearly became way too strong and abused their power over many years, and everyone could see the connection with the loss of American goods’ quality. This is why ‘everyone’ cheered so, when Reagan ‘broke the Union’ of the Airlines. Thereafter, when we’d hear how companies were closing plants and sending jobs overseas, we could understand, since the surgence of quality Japanese cars, for instance, was completely contrasted with the garbage coming out of Detroit. This is when the sympathy for the company was cemented, and the generic Union Worker was reviled as lazy and careless, which is where things are today.

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