The News Media -- Are You Being Served?
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Fri, 21 Jun 96 19:54:29 -0700
Subject: The News Media -- Are You Being Served?
Excerpted-from: transcript of the CounterSpin broadcast of 6/21-6/29/96
The good news is that Ted Koppel and Nightline (6/19/96) devoted a whole
show to the issue of U.S. corporations exploiting laborers, including
children, in Third World countries. The bad news is that Koppel seemed more
interested in how celebrity endorsers of sweatshop-manufactured products
like Kathee Lee Gifford and Michael Jordon have "paid the price in bad
publicity." He also sought to blame the problem on U.S. consumers and their
[Soundbite: Koppel saying that consumers are driving down workers' wages.]
The good news was that Dave Marish's opening Nightline video report focused
graphically on the laborers, for example, slave laborers in Asia who produce
Nike soccer balls. His guide to the nightmare was Charlie Kernaghan of the
Labor Committee. ABC's corporate parent, Disney was briefly mentioned for
using subcontractors who pay Haitian workers the unlivable wage of 28 cents
The bad news was that, in typical Nightline fashion, the activist expert,
in this case Kernaghan, was not included in the panel discussion. An
apologist for the retailers WAS. Which is why when Koppel asked whether
increasing the meager wages of those workers would result in higher prices
for U.S. consumers, no one pointed out that, for example, that workers get
paid 11 cents for each Disney dress that consumers in K-Mart pay roughly
$11 for. In other words, wages could be quadrupled and profits would still
be exorbitant. If Charlie Kernaghan had been on the panel he might have
pointed out that what's driving the problem is not U.S workers in search of
bargains -- but corporations that are driving wages down here and abroad
and making a killing in profits.
Is Nightline making a commitment to follow this huge story of labor
exploitation on a week by week basis? Well, he seems to be thinking in less
[Soundbite: Koppel saying they'll visit this issue again in five years.]
Continuing the topic of international trade: During the very limited debate
on GATT, we raised concern here on CounterSpin about how critics of that
trade agreement, such as Ralph Nader, who argued that the agreement would
lessen US democracy and sovereignty, were not getting much of a hearing in
the mainstream press. Such critics had argued that US environmental and
labor laws could be gutted under GATT as restrictions on "free trade."
Well, the New York Times on June 20 reported on the first case brought
before the World Trade Organization, the unelected body that makes rulings
on trade disputes between nations under GATT. The WTO had ruled against
certain gasoline pollution restrictions on foreign fuel by the Environmental
Protection Agency. The Times reported that the Clinton Administration, is
"betting today that the dispute over gasoline could be dealt with on
sufficiently narrow grounds to minimize the domestic repercussions."
The Times did its share in this effort by putting the story of the WTO
compelling the US to change its pollution standards in the Business section
-- burying it on page D4. That ought to help make sure that this dispute
will be viewed on "narrow grounds" and "minimize the domestic
Mike Royko is one of the country's most widely syndicated columnists, who
on some op-ed pages is presented as a liberal voice. Obsessed in recent
years with lampooning alleged political correctness, his columns have often
been silly apologies for racism.
In a June 19 column, he presented a defense of baseball team owner Marge
Schott's comment that Hitler did some good things for Germany but then he
"went too far." The "fact is," wrote Royko, "Hitler did revive the economy
and sense of worth of a nation that had lost a war and was on its knees."
Royko's ignoring the fact that Hitler's regime began dismantling
Constitutional government, terrorizing German-Jews and others, and jailing
dissidents as soon as it took power. Did Hitler revive "the sense of worth"
of his many (real or imagined) internal enemies? I don't think so.
Royko blamed the fuss over Marge Schott's Hitler comment largely on "the
politically correct media." The columnist wrote: "I'm on Marge Schott's
side. I hope she goes to court and sues." The most revealing aspect of the
column was Royko's re-telling of a conversation he'd had, and never
reported, some years ago with another racist baseball team owner, Charlie
Finley. Finley told Royko he wanted to get out of baseball in part because
he was "tired of dealing with all those coons," a slur against blacks. As
Royko tells it, he didn't lecture Finley about racial slurs, but about the
trouble he might get into if journalists heard and reported what he said.
"Charlie, you just can't use that kind of language. Lots of newspeople come
in here and what if one of them overheard you? If there was a story, the
black players might go on strike." The racial slur itself wasn't the problem
for Mike Royko. If he took offense at racism, after all, he might be one of
those politically correct journalists. Heaven forbid.
Finally: An article in USA Today on Monday June 17th pitted disabled
students against so-called "normal" students over education funding. In
discussing the Dayton, Ohio school system, the article repeatedly suggested
that disabled students were taking resources away from general education
students. The article began this way: "Like other severely disabled children
across the USA, the students in Elaine Fouts' class receive a legally
guaranteed "appropriate" education that includes teachers, aides, physical
and speech therapists. The yearly per-pupil price tag: $25,000. The
remaining Dayton students, like millions of so-called general education
pupils across the nation, lack any legal guarantee of an "appropriate"
education--and get what's left over."
It continues, "Suggesting that children with disabilities are robbing
"normal" children of educational funding is so politically incorrect that
few educators will discuss it, even off the record." But Richard Whitmire,
the writer, had no problem quoting a school superintendant who has no such
qualms. Whitmire goes on to criticize rising numbers of disabled children
due to poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and "dramatic delivery-room advances
that save the lives of scores of children but often set into motion learning
problems that surface later." The implication seems to be that there would
be plenty of funding for education programs for "normal" children if
Congress hadn't forced educating disabled students onto school systems.
"Special Ed. Is the Price too High" is the title of this story. Nowhere in
it does the writer ask the obvious question -- is this, the wealthiest
country in the world -- really too poor to care for its children?
© 1996 Peter Langston