If you read Media Watch regularly, you know we don't like the Seattle Times none too much. "But" you ask yourself, "is there nothing of value in our fair town's Bon Marche advertising circular?" In fact, there is. You need only turn to the Business section.
Though comically myopic, the daily stock market reports, for example, give a pretty good indication of what the bosses are thinking. They're often especially bald at the end of financial quarters.
Take the last week of June, 1997. On Monday the 30th, investors were in a panic at the impending quarter-end reports: "Stocks fall on signs of economic growth." By Tuesday the 1st, their pain had subsided (just a little): "Interest-rate fears ease, stocks rise...Investors are looking ahead to Thursday's Labor Dept. report on the unemployment rate and new job creation in June. More signs of tightness in the labor market could prompt the Central Bank to raise interest rates later this year to cool the economy and keep inflation in check, analysts say."
However, by Friday the 4th, everything was ducky again in happyland: "The U.S. economy added jobs at a slower-than-expected pace in June and the unemployment rate unexpectedly rose to 5.0 percent from 4.8 percent during May. The report sent stocks soaring, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing at a record of 7,895.81 today."
Similarly, on September 18, 1997, we were pleased to learn that, "Stocks climbed today amid optimism that corporate America will keep finding ways to boost profits. Whirlpool led the rally after announcing it would slash its work force and sell its appliance-financing unit...'The market likes those kinds of announcements,' said Jack Shaugnessy, president of Boston Security Counsellors." Or this, on January 9 of this year: "Labor markets were so strong last year that for months economists were expecting growth-dampening interest-rate increases from the Federal Reserve, which feared low unemployment would push wages higher, encouraging consumer price inflation."
Now, it has often been lamented that there is no coverage of labor issues in the corporate media. This is simply not true. As alluded to above, managers never rest in their drive to cut labor "costs" thereby increasing profits.
It's undeniable that the message sent daily to a half-million non-stock-owning readers, that the dividend rates of publicly held companies are intrinsically more newsworthy than their own jobs, is cumulative and debilitating. There is, however, labor coverage available for those who know where to look: usually in the form of gloating over the latest round of layoffs and the general feebleness of workers. Here's a very small sampling, just to give you the flavor: "AOL boosts monthly fee, cuts 500 jobs" (2/9/98); "The Asian currency crisis could cause the U.S. trade deficit to skyrocket by $100 billion or more over the next two years with a resulting loss of more than one million jobs, a labor-backed think-tank estimates" (1/24/98); "Kodak to cut 10,000 jobs in restructuring" (11/11/97); "People assume that the labor market has heated up, which it has, and that wages are on the upswing, but they are not" (9/14/97); "[a new study] also says the odds are 97 to 1 that a welfare worker can find a job paying a 'living wage'" (12/8/97); "The media are missing much of the real-life effect of the post-cold war economy on average American workers...The real story is that the average American family has been left out. Wall Street is partying, but main street is struggling" (8/24/97).
But you'll also find plenty of reportage -- often quite good -- on labor actions. Indeed, it can be quite exciting. It seems, purely from reading the ominous business page reports, that rumors of labor's demise are quite premature. Though last summer's UPS strike did spill out into the front pages a little, it was largely played out in the business section. And it was huge news in corporate America. The story dominated the Times' Business section throughout the length of the strike. But the UPS strike was far from the only labor action in recent times. The bosses' scribes are keeping close tabs on the Wenatchee apple growers (7/10/97, 10/10/97 (with picture, no less), 11/20/97); the restless Caterpillar workers (3/23/98, 2/2,13,23/98); and oh-so-many others.
While the front page assails us with Native American housing scandals and the like, the business page gives the real scoop on who benefits from government pork (including military spending, which is, after all, nothing but public subsidization of waste production): "Bangkok says it can't afford to buy fighters from Boeing...U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the administration would either sell the jets to another country or buy them for U.S. use" (3/13/98); "FCC to auction airwave space for new technology...Largest-ever auction of airwave space" (2/17/98); "...investors aren't alarmed by the F-22 production problems, analysts said. Any manufacturing cost increases in the current F-22 development phase are absorbed by the Air Force" (2/12/98); "Boeing has been awarded a four-year, $48 million contract by the Air Force to develop a solar orbit transfer vehicle..." (2/25/98); "The cold war is over, but the American public still wants a strong defense and is willing to pay billions for the next generation of high-tech weaponry, says U.S. Navy Secretary...That's always reassuring to Boeing and Lockheed Martin" (12/18/97); "The Pentagon is investigating whether it is paying too much for off-the-shelf airplane parts it buys from Boeing under a new procurement policy" (11/13/97); "Government gives Boeing $3 Billion phone contract" (9/18/97); "Boeing gets $70.7 million INS copter order" (8/13/97); "Microsoft gets foot in door with Air Force contract...the company is gaining a toehold in the U.S. government market" (7/8/97); "Boeing wins $216 million contract to improve bomber" (7/2/97). But the piece de resistance came on July 20, 1997. Two articles, under the heading, "A superpower in aviation, and now in foreign policy", detailed Boeing's influence in determining U.S. foreign policy.
We'll give a few morsels here, but it really won't do justice to these two long, slavering "analyses". It's worth your time to look them up yourself. The more entertaining is in the Times' Web archive. Here's a small sampling of what you'll find:
"Last year, Boeing held a meeting of its board of directors in Beijing in an unusual gesture of support for China and a subtle acknowledgement of the company's central role in U.S. foreign policy...Boeing is seen as a shining example of Clinton's vision of the corporate world...In that position, Boeing also gets the ability to make its opinions known and felt...After the [McDonnell Douglas] merger, Boeing will stand alone in the market as the 'American Supplier'. No matter what is said, it will be seen as a commercial extension of the U.S. government...a move was made in the U.S. Senate to restrict most-favored-nation (MFN) status for China...One of the first senators to oppose the move was Murray."
The other article recounted, in loving detail, all the high-tech weapons systems contracts that will come under Boeing's purview as a result of its purchase of Rockwell's "defense and space divisions". In toto, readers were, on this fine Sunday morning, treated to 60 gut-busting paragraphs giving us all the low down on Boeing's cuddly relationship with your friend and mine, the United States Government. They were treated, that is, only if they happened to read the Business section.
The Business section is also where to look for world news. "The International Monetary Fund is helping to bail out [South Korea], but it's also imposing some stiff economic conditions. So Koreans have put a twist on the IMF moniker. The IMF now stands for 'I Am Fired'. If you are a business owner, it means 'I Am Failed'" (1/30/98); "In return [for the $60 Billion IMF bailout] Korea said it will lift all capital-account restrictions and accelerate financial-industry reforms. South Korea also will allow banks to dismiss large numbers of employees, removing a key obstacle to acquisitions by foreign rivals" (12/26/97); "Politics may be delaying $2 Billion order, Condit says" (10/9/97); and then: "...keeping politics out of China's Boeing deal...'Clinton is embarrassed that his policy looks like commerce first'" (10/28/97).
Consumer news, too: "Chrysler is recalling several makes of minivans and automobiles because of potential seat-belt and steering problems" (10/7/97); "U.S. consumers, weighed down by heavy credit-card debt, filed for bankruptcy in record numbers during the second quarter despite a buoyant economy" (8/16/97); "Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, for the second time in two months, is questioning Boeing's quality control...[a former 767 machinist] contends Boeing let quality control slip during a produciton and delivery slump in the late 1980's" (11/26/97); "Ford has launched a safety recall of 1.1 million vehicles in the U.S. and Canada" (11/1/97). Important information that you'd think the proles might be interested in. The question arises: do the corporate media intentionally "hide" what many would consider newsworthy items in the Business section, knowing that most people won't bother to read it (but that bosses and investors, who need to know how policy will effect their, um, interests, will)?
While Media Watch loves a good conspiracy theory as much as anybody, this question is irrelevant. Corporate media are not democratic institutions. They don't belong to us, they belong to advertisers. Like it or not, we aren't going to reform them. The important point is, we can glean valuable information from the corporate media, so long as we know where and how to look. Rather than banging our collective head against a brick wall, let's take what we can get from them, and then spend the bulk of our energy creating and/or supporting our own media.