Should NPR Receive Taxpayer-Paid Subsidies?

Hah!  Only kidding.  Of course NPR should not.  Still, today’s edition of NPR’s On the Media provides a simple example of why I think not.  As they say on one non-government-subsidized media channel, you decide.

In a segment titled “Labor’s Image Problem,” Brooke Gladstone played an RNC ad which criticized both President Obama and “union bosses” for interfering with Wisconsin’s attempt to right its own financial ship.  Here I was, not even aware that the issue in Wisconsin was Labor’s image.  I thought it had to do with balancing budgets, crybaby Democrat legislators, and shifting the balance of bargaining power back toward the state government.  If you think that bit of enlightenment means NPR is earning its subsidy, think again.  Brooke discussed none of those issues with U Cal Santa Barbara History Professor Nelson Lichtenstein.

That embed thing didn’t work, so listen here.

As I wrote to OTM,

This was a semi-interesting segment, in that it only went half-way into the subject.  You covered the use of the term “union bosses” without noticing the obvious–that it not only connoted what you commented on, but it also served the more important function of specifying that the ad’s criticism was aimed at union leadership, not the general membership.

Since you purport to be a program about media coverage rather than about the underlying news itself, wouldn’t a more appropriate target for your commentary be the “local and even national coverage [that] has been sympathetic to the public employees”?  Should news coverage be sympathetic to anyone?  Shouldn’t it be reporting facts rather than conveying sympathies?

I continued, writing to the proverbial brick wall,

Quoting Pew studies from 1981 and today for comparison would tell us more if we were sure that the methodology for both studies was equivalently valid.  Reports from news agencies that don’t depend on government for subsidies tell us that the recent Pew poll was skewed heavily towards union families and Democrats, even though neither group is as prevalent in the general population as are their non-union, non-Democrat counterparts.  When the sample is adjusted to remove the pro-union bias, it no longer favors the union bosses; it favors the Governor, who was elected in November to do what he is trying to do.

Mr. Lichtenstein claimed there hasn’t been a strike in Wisconsin, yet many teachers left their jobs to disrupt state business while they claimed to be sick.  That sick-out amounted to a strike.

As for the crowds being “telegenic,” neither Brooke nor Lichtenstein has apparently actually looked carefully at the horde of bused-in union surrogates who have been screaming union slogans, calling Governor Walker a cross between Hitler, Stalin, and Mubarik, and trashing the state capitol building for the last week.  Incidentally, Lichtenstein’s romanticized description of the protesters could equally have been used to describe the Tea Partiers of 2009 and 2010, except he forgot to say “almost exclusively White.”

Then, Lichtenstein went on to obliquely compare the Republican critics to Gadhafi because they used the term “union bosses” and therefore must believe that “the uprising[!?] is purely a product of a conspiracy of [their] enemies.”  Oh, the incivility!  Does he really think rank and file union members got together and chartered the buses to bring those demonstrators in from out of town and out of state?  My opinion says that “union bosses” paid for them.  But will the unions pay for the clean up?  $7 million and counting, I believe.  Of course, that’s at union wage rates.  Not encouraged by “union bosses”?  Tell me that as I watch AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka insert himself into the fray.  Lichtenstein also apparently never heard of Dave Beck or Jimmy Hoffa; perhaps not even the Teamsters Union.

As a university professor, Lichtenstein is probably a member of the American Association of University Professors, which has come out against the Wisconsin legislation.  Is he actually a participant in this issue, not just an observer?  When Brooke asked him, “Would you say you’re objective on the issue of unions?” he avoided answering the question, which was obviously OK with Brooke.

My final opinion:  Mr. Lichtenstein is not credible, and the segment is pro-union spin.

Incidentally, last week Lawrence O’Donnell took the “union bosses” phrase DEEP to left field as he claimed it made the ad racist.  You know, Obama’s black, it said he has bosses, therefore he’s a slave, which is of course a racial slur.  QED.  (Lawrence has a closet full of tinfoil hats he’d be thrilled to share with you.)  But that was on MSNBC, which is not to be confused with NPR except in the way they both lean.  Left, not forward.  Still, had Gladstone and Lichtenstein addressed O’Donnell’s unique take on the situation, at least that would have been commentary “on the media.”