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Public disagrees with media over free trade.

Even in the face of constant media and elite support, the people have grave reservations about U.S. trade policy.

No issue in front of the American public gets more one-sided coverage from the nation's mainstream media than trade.

The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and a cadre of editors at newspapers across the country tell us to support free trade. It is hardly debatable.

On one side, they assure us, are former presidents and secretaries of state, all the nation's major newspapers, distinguished business leaders, and virtually all of America's major economists. On the other side are Patrick Buchanan, Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, organized labor bosses, and a few extremist groups and individuals who are interested only in pushing their personal agendas.

Outspoken congressional opponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and China Permanent Normalized Trade Relations were labeled as reactionaries, stooges of organized labor, and anti-intellectual Luddites standing in the way of progress. Yet even in the face of unrelenting media and elite support for unrestricted free trade, the public still has major reservations about U.S. trade policy.

The narrow approval by Congress of NAFTA in November 1993 illustrates the unevenness of the debate. The Washington Post, once thought to be a relatively liberal paper, literally gave six times the space in editorials and op-ed pieces to pro-NAFTA arguments. The New York Times quoted three NAFTA supporters for every one opponent in its news coverage. When Democratic Whip David Bonior of Michigan wrote a piece about NAFTA, The Washington Post refused to run the part of it that was critical of its coverage of the issue.

Common Cause, the self-styled good-government group, unveiled a study a few days before the vote in the House that detailed organized labor's contributions to anti-NAFTA members of Congress. Common Cause president Fred Wertheimer refused to issue a similar report on contributions to NAFTA supporters.

"The elites of media, business, academia, and politics," writes journalist William Greider, "have already made up their minds on these questions."

Eighteenth-century British economist Adam Smith, a recognized free trader but not with the certainty and intolerance of his present-day disciples, wrote in The Nature and the Causes of the Wealth of Nations:

The member of parliament who supports every proposal for strengthening this monopoly of [manufacturers] is sure to acquire not only the reputation of understanding trade, but great popularity and influence with an order of men whose members and wealth render them of great importance. If he opposes them, on the contrary, and still more if he has authority enough to be able to thwart them, neither the most acknowledged probity, nor the highest rank, nor the greatest public services, can protect him from the most infamous abuse and detraction, from personal insults, nor sometimes from real danger, arising from the insolent outrage of furious and disappointed monopolists.

Smith could have been describing the media in the late twentieth century. With its conservative bias, especially on economic issues, the Washington press corps overwhelmingly supported NAFTA, fast track legislation that would have extended NAFTA to Latin America, and Permanent Trade Relations with China.

Fair and Impartial Reporting, a media watchdog group, surveyed the Washington press corps on a wide range of economic issues. The 441 respondents, reporters and editors alike, were "to the right of the public" on almost every major economic issue.

The journalists were asked about protecting Medicare and Social Security; expanding NAFTA, stricter environmental laws, requiring employers to provide health insurance to their employees, concern over concentrated corporate power, taxing the wealthy, impact of NAFTA, fast track negotiating authority, and government guaranteed medical care.

Only on the environment were the journalists "to the left" of the public. Just 25% of journalists strongly agreed that, "Too much power is concentrated in the hands of a few large companies." Yet 62% of the public strongly agreed.

Sixty-five percent of Washington journalists view NAFTA's impact as positive for the United States, while only 8% think it has had a negative impact. Only 32% of the public believe NAFTA's impact has been positive, while 42% think its impact negative. The Washington media supported fast track, 71%-10%. The public opposed it, 35%-56%.

The unregulated global economy is a threat to all of us: the 14-year-old girl who works for Nike in Indonesia; the child in Avon Lake, Ohio, who eats raspberries grown in Guatemala by poorly paid farmers who use pesticides that are banned in the United States; the unskilled, minimum-wage worker in Los Angeles who loses her job to an unskilled, $5-a-day worker in Yucatan; the machinist in New York who takes a wage cut because of his company's threat to move to China; a Chinese worker in a prison labor camp.

But newspaper editors, business executives, and professors continue to behave as if no one will notice. Americans overwhelmingly support minimum wage and worker safety laws in our country; Yet in the global economy, our leaders negotiate trade agreements that ignore workers' rights.

Many in Congress have fought for years for clean air, food safety, and safe drinking water laws. Yet when our nation's trade representatives sit down at the negotiating table, they forget what we as a nation stand for.

U.S. Representative Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is a national leader in the effort to promote global fair trade and protect U.S. jobs. He is a member of the House committees on Energy and Commerce and International Relations. Representative Brown, who is not seeking re-election,

From a June 10 editorial in The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Va., by editorial page editor Robert Wimer:

Consumers sealed fate of furniture plant

For nearly 90 years, the Lane Company and Altavista have been synonymous. Lane cedar chests manufactured by the once sprawling furniture maker were shipped all over the world. Many newlyweds began their lives together with a cedar Hope Chest from the Lane Company.

At the height of its enterprise in the mid-1960s, a $3 million expansion boosted production space to nearly 9.5 million square feet providing jobs and a way of life for 2,000 workers in the thriving town. Those jobs making wooden furniture paid for homes, raised children, and covered the expense of college educations. The jobs were as solid as the furniture those workers produced.

No longer -- not the jobs or the furniture.

American consumers have decided that quality is no longer as important as price. They are opting by the droves for cheaper furniture made by workers overseas. Those consumers have, in effect, priced American workers out of jobs in the furniture market.

They are many of the same consumers who killed America's shoe industry in the 1980s, putting price above quality. By purchasing cheaper shoes made overseas, consumers eliminated the jobs of thousands of workers like those at Craddock-Terry Shoe Corp. plants in Central Virginia.

Purchases of clothing made by cheap foreign labor is eliminating America's once-thriving textile industry. You can talk to unemployed textile workers in Brookneal and Martinsville about that. In Altavista, the discouraging news came last week that Furniture Brands International, the successor to the firm that bought the plant from the Lane family in 1988, is closing it for good. By the end of the year, the last 500 jobs at the Lane Company will disappear to plants overseas.
COPYRIGHT 2001 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Brown, Sherrod
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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