Marcy Wheeler: The Grey Lady Falls Off the Balance Beam

Yves here. While Marcy starts with the most obvious misrepresentation in a New York Times hagiography of Michigan governor Rick Snyder, the most troubling parts come later in her post. She illustrates how the Times airbrushes out Synder’s anti-labor, anti-democracy stance.

By Marcy Wheeler. Cross posted from emptywheel

Granted, it pertains to my right-wing governor, so it’s personal. But this NYT profile of Rick Snyder is a remarkable example of the perverse journalistic fetish for “balance” gone so badly awry it amounts to disinformation.

Let’s start with this summarized claim.

Republicans and business leaders here widely praise Mr. Snyder, crediting him with balancing the state’s once-troubled budget, dumping a state business tax and presiding over an employment rebound in a state that not long ago had the highest jobless rate in the nation. [my emphasis]

You’d think a newspaper might want to point out that MI’s unemployment actually turned around in August 2009–well before Snyder’s election in 2010 and not coincidentally the month after GM came out of bankruptcy. Unemployment dropped 3.3% before Snyder took over, dropped a further 2.6% after he did. But more significantly, unemployment in MI has started to creep up again–it’s up .7% since its recent low in April, to 9%.

Setting that record straight is critical to the rest of the article, since it repeatedly gushes about Rick Snyder refusing to deny Obama credit for MI’s turnaround.

Just before the Republican primary in Michigan in February, Mr. Snyder was asked in an interview whether Mr. Obama ought to be given credit for the state’s economic improvements. “I don’t worry about blame or credit,” he said. “It’s more about solving the problem.”

Nowhere in the article does “reporter” Monica Davey consider the possibility that Obama–and, in fact, Jennifer Granholm–have more to do with the turnaround than Snyder. Yet even many Republicans in this state would grant that the successful bailout of Chrysler and GM had a lot to do with the turnaround (though Republicans almost universally ignore the energy jobs Obama focused on MI).

So maybe Snyder refuses to deny Obama credit because such a claim would not be credible? It’s not a possibility the NYT article–which is supposed to be a celebration of a lack of ideology–even considers.

Which brings me to the other area where NYT’s idea of what constitutes balance is completely whacked: its treatment of the right to organize.

As part of its case that this far right Republican is non-ideological, the NYT points to Snyder’s preference not to have a right-to-work law pushed through the legislature (though concedes that Snyder has stopped short of issuing a veto threat).

Mr. Snyder, a Republican business executive who took office last year after a wave of G.O.P. statehouse victories, has told his Republican-dominated Legislature that a right-to-work measure is not on his agenda. The issue, he says, is too divisive.


And while he has said he prefers that no right-to-work legislation arrives on his desk, he has not said he would veto it.

The NYT doesn’t consider how in two adjoining states–WI and OH–threatening the right to organize mobilized labor against governors in really profound ways. Snyder’s preference not to face the dilemma of vetoing or approving a right to work law probably has as much to do with the political calculation that it would be very difficult to win another statewide election in MI if he antagonized labor. NYT doesn’t consider that; rather, it just labels Snyder’s preference as proof of his lack of ideology.

With that in mind, consider how NYT deals with November’s referenda, which it doesn’t get to until the 23rd paragraph.

Labor leaders have pushed for a ballot question in November to seal collective bargaining rights in the State Constitution, threatening divisions over the very issue that Mr. Snyder had hoped to avoid. Another group is challenging efforts for a new bridge to Canada, a controversial proposal that Mr. Snyder advanced on his own after legislators did not. And another group wants to undo a law granting broad powers to shore up financially troubled cities, a measure that underpins a consent deal the Snyder administration reached for state oversight of struggling Detroit.

Now, first of all, this is the only reference in the article to Snyder’s Emergency Manager law, one of the most radical things he has done in office. That’s particularly stunning given that the NYT celebrates Snyder’s veto of some of the Republican efforts at voter disenfrachisement. With the EM law effectively invalidating elections for Mayor, city council, and school board around the state, Snyder’s law has partially disenfranchised half of MI’s African Americans. And yet the NYT would spin Snyder as a hero of protecting voters’ rights?

In addition, the article dishonestly suggests that Snyder’s approach to all laws on the right to organize–whether it be a right to work law or constitutional protection for the right to organize–is inaction. That’s utterly false. Snyder’s administration invented all sorts of ridiculous excuses (such as you can’t explain right to organize in 100 words) why the right to organize referendum shouldn’t be on the ballot on November. Snyder has already done what he can to veto the right to organize, as if his EM law doesn’t already constitute such a veto!

Rick Snyder gave businesses in this state tax cuts; to pay for them, he’s cutting public employment. Those very ideological choices may be one of the reasons why unemployment has started to creep up.

In any case, Snyder’s policies have not varied that much from the Republican governors the NYT struggles to differentiate him from. He has just accomplished those policies–gutting unions, disenfranchising people of color, and giving the rich more–via different means.

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  1. Chris Rogers


    In follow-up to this particular example of journalism which is crass to say the least – I wonder if anything will change with the appointment of Mark Thompson as the new boss of the NYT.

    One would have thought with his BBC background that NYT reporting may become a little more factual, rather than fanciful to say the least, or outright disinformation if we call a spade a spade.

    Regretfully, the BBC and its newspaper peers in the UK are much akin to your own news channels in the US, basically its a hands off approach to those in power, namely the Right, and still the right protests of Liberal or outright leftwing bias in media reporting.

    Even a once proud liberal newspaper like The Guardian is now little more than a moth piece for the establishment, as evidenced by The Guardian’s support for having Wikileaks founder extradited to Sweden to face sexual charges, which are probably trumped up as in the case of the IMF’s former boss.

    Still, its nice to see that our legacy news organisations are happy with their neoliberal/neoconservative peers, no doubt be a propaganda tool of the establishment is useful, particular in terms of advertising revenue – as such, truth and reason are thrown out of the window.

    Thank God for the Internet and a few trusted news outlets, without them, we’d all be like Turkey’s voting for Thanksgiving – in the UK, we usually state ‘Christmas’, but the meaning remains the same.

  2. rotter

    “And yet the NYT would spin Snyder as a hero of protecting voters’ rights?”

    Im still shocked by the unethical, dishonest, cavalier attitude of opinion/propaganda rags like the NYT(izvestia) and WaPo (pravda) in reporting on laws calculated to dienfranchise the poor. I mean, the whole pretense of amerivcan democracy rests on that farce. Makes me wonder if they are preparing to just ditch the whole democracy “product” – as an aside, maybe it would be fair to drop the pravda/izvestia slur, because the two american newspapers havent been taken over at mauser-point by Stalin and Beria, they gleefully CHOOSE to print the shit they print, and ignore the truths they ignore -Im sure i should have exhausted my capacity for outrage at the state of “journalism” in the U.S. but, having grown up in the 70’s i remember when we still had journalists here, even though our media have(generally) always been a dishonest dog and pony show (and im not talking about the blue ribbon 4-H kind).

  3. CHromex

    I am also from Michigan and while I appreciate portions of the point trying to be made from this article it is laughable to think that most folks in Michigan would credit ANYONE with a turnaround for the simple fact that- despite trumped up govt stats- one has not occurred. Also, Obama and Granholm have been terrible and their bones thrown to Michigan do not even rise to the palliative level. Not that Snyder and the Potemkin recovery are not worse. But so what? It is more or less weird as hell that the media can talk about the fake unemployment rate as a sign of recovery while at the same time commenting on how Detroit continues to deteriorate into the country’s largest urban ghost town.
    It also cannot escape the TImes’ notice that Michigan’s legislature has become the nation’s laughingstock ( anti bullying legilsation, the fuss over “vagina” and most recently legal election fraud conducted by the House Speaker).
    One would think it would occur to the bright lights at the Times that if the unemployment stats do not include discouraged workers, the state that had the leading UE rate in the country a few years ago would today have the highest percentage of uncounted unemployed. IF this was true you would expect urban centers like Flint, Saginaw, Pontiac, Detroit and Lansing to continue to slide down the slope- as is evident from checking out storefronts etc.
    My accountant friend tells me that his rich clients who benefitted from Snyder’s tax giveaways are not starting new businesses or spending the money but sitting on it. Quelle Surpris. Many seniors are also curtailing spending thanks to Snyder’s pension tax. And he signed the law cutting UE benefits to a measly 20 weeks. Meanwhile, as federal, state and local revenues continue to shrink and government purchasing, university contraction, and government employment ( the main sources of what passes for growth here) continue to be cut back, watch the UE rate continue to rise.
    Since ( and including ) Blanchard, Michigan has had a set of dismal governors. who listen only to their PR flacks. Michigan needs much more than that. And it needs much more than Obama and Granholm gave it as well. The main point I agree with is that Snyder is terrible. But everyone else has been too.

  4. ambrit

    It’s got to the point where I am out of outrage. If one posits that the NYT is the publication of the Official Political Class in America, the results can hardly be surprising. Lo how the mighty have fallen.
    What we need now is a modern Addison and Steele. Don’t tell me those cable T.V. “humour” shows fill the same niche. They’re not up to the same standards.

  5. David Lentini

    As I recall the whole idea of “objective journalism” became the rage in the late ’70s and early ’80s, as our once (generally) principled news organizations become more corporate and then part of the news-entertainment (“infotainment”) corporate propaganda machine. All of this stemmed from the resentment and rage of the right, especially the corporate right, after the great press revolt in Viet Nam and Watergate as well as other journalistic coups left the powerful embarrassed and weakened. Of course, on the one hand this development was presented as a “correction” to the “left bias” of the “intellectual elites” who supposedly controlled the great news organizations and did the reporting, and it was staged to come from the academic journalism schools. On the other hand, the coup was pushed by arguing that private businesses should be able to use their news organizations for profit, abandoning the decades-old understanding that the major networks would provide quality journalism as part of the justification for their FCC licenses; thus, the corporations went from appreciative beneficiaries of a public trust to owners of a grab of public property. (Watch the movie “Network” some time if you haven’t already.)

    The whole idea behind what journalists call “objective” of course guarantees more bias, not less, in their stories. The original idea of the reporter who “reports” a “story” in which an event is described by using the reporter’s best efforts of explaining causes and effects has been replaced by an obsessively mechanical, pseudo-scientific, he-said-she-said that enables the side with the best PR shills to overwhelm the truth. (As if any event can be reported as if counting bacteria in a petri dish!) Whereas a good reporter was expected to weigh the sources and reliability of their evidence when writing their story, now they have to make sure every party has an “equal” say. Totalitarian governments can have a field day with this view of journalism, and they do. Think how well this would have been received by Goebbles and the Nazis or Stalin and Pravda.

  6. LucyLulu

    Yet everybody I know who is a conservative still complain about the liberal bias of the media….

    So… if conservatives think papers like the NYT’s are liberal, and liberals think the papers print misinformation to further propaganda, then who is left to take seriously what they write?

    1. different clue

      Limousine Liberals take the NyTimes and WaPoo seriously.
      LibeRadicals may think the NyTimes and WaPoo are upper class propaganda outlets, but LibeRadicals are not the affluent patronisers of the goods and services which one sees advertised in the NyTimes. (I don’t know what gets advertised in the WaPoo because I don’t find any WaPoos in peoples’ streetside recycling bins. Lots of NyTimeses, though.)

  7. Lambert Strether

    If you look the detail on the Emergency Manager referendum — a Republican challenge based on a “font size” argument, as well as shenanigains at the State Board of Canvassers, which certifies petitions — it couldn’t be more clear that the Izvestia’s narrative of an apartisan, problem-solving Snyder administration is a gigantic pile of steaming hooey.

    And this sentence that Marcy points out is priceless:

    “And another group wants to undo a law granting broad powers to shore up financially troubled cities”

    1. Doesn’t name the group (Stand Up for Democracy)

    2. Doesn’t explain the “broad powers” (control over budgets is taken away from elected officials; perhaps that’s why “Stand Up for Democracy” chose the name they did);

    3. Doesn’t explain who has the “broad powers” (an “Emergency Manager,” but then again people might Google that and find out what the stenographer really means).

    4. Doesn’t explain that “shoring up” means gutting public services.

    Makes you wonder if Michigan is some sort of test case for a solution to be rolled out at the national level…

    1. YesMaybe

      Yeah, that one sentence was the ultimate shocker… but only if the reader knows what it’s referring to.

  8. ep3

    From Michigan.

    I know from preparing tax returns, the dumping of the Michigan business tax was cheered by a lot of small businesses. The MBT was great at recapturing and taxing so many businesses in michigan that are incorporated as 1120-S’s. These businesses do not pay federal taxes directly; the income flows thru the return to the partner’s personal tax returns. But as I said, the MBT still was able to gather some revenue from many of these businesses, even ones with book losses. And this was a major thorn to businesses as the 1120-S allows businesses to avoid liability as well as tax earnings at lower personal rates. Most of the 1120-S businesses I have worked with often mix personal and business expenses.
    And the MBT was not a hindrance to prosperity in Michigan. This was a state at one time had 10% of the population employed in auto manufacturing. As well as many other national companies (whirlpool, kelloggs, on and on). I haven’t gotten farther in the article but I am sure the unions will pop up. Yes, the unions “chased away” the jobs; employees became far cheaper in mexico. No one in the state acknowledges where the jobs went.
    And finally, the Emergency manager law was passed under a Democrat governor. An obama democrat, with republican legislature.
    The only reason Ricky is getting anything done is because he’s a republican working with a republican legislature. And the legislature is far more extreme than Ricky.

    1. ep3

      let it be noted the political divide in the state. In the lower peninsula, if you started with detroit and moved west, detroit would be the left of the political spectrum and grand rapids would be the extreme right. also, consider the upper peninsula all extreme right.

  9. dbak

    Some of the writers talk of a golden age when reporters were supposely objective in their reporting. I’ve been reading newspapers for the last seventy years and if you think they are bad now you should have been around then. As a Michigan resident I can tell you that Snyder is a typical republican trying to create the illusion that he is a moderate.The only bill he has rejected from a supremely reactive legislature is an ID card required to vote. The person in a previous post that said the Granham passed the present emergency manager law is wrong. That was a much more limited bill than the present law that was passed and signed by Snyder.

  10. LillithMc

    Rachel Maddow has done a great job covering Michigan’s “emergency manager” law from Gov. Snyder that deposes elected officials. It allows the “managers” to sell anything they see of value (the Silverdome in Pontiac for $500,000 to become a casino with the emergency manager running it). In Benton Harbor they placed radio station equipment on e-bay for $500.
    All the red states have passed ALEC produced laws that sometimes ignore federal law and take away rights of women and sometimes the right to vote. The NYT sat out all of this as did the rest of the MSM.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      LillithMc, The Enablng Act/PATRIOT Act brings “Emergency” Shock Doctrine “solution” to “government spending” and “property rights” by force of “Private Profiteering” SS Officers for the .01%DNA Global Reich.

      Who needs the IMF “Economic Hitmen” when “Conservative” flunkies will do?

  11. rob

    Where would the republicans be without the “liberal media” that they are so adept at blaming for everything?If there were an actual news source out there… like link tv and democracy now…that got out to the masses…. they would be ashamed to show their faces in public.But ,thanks to the “big” liberal media like all those “socialist” rags and tv/radio outlets like npr/pbs…and cnn…the republicans can pretend they are not the lowest scum of the earth without a shred of decency and say they are the “values” choice.If it wasn’t for the media apologists for the republican “arguements”,they would go down in flames with the idiotic,tired old arguments they have made for decades now, that were proven to be demonstrably false over the course of this century…(and the last one too)
    too bad all they have is that little old country newswire.. FOX news and those bottom of the dial radio hosts and unseen cable tv personalities….. they just can’t get their message to the masses….poor little republicans.

    I too would have to say, media isn’t worse now.. It has always sucked. If truth was the aim.It used to be,most people were on the same page anyway, (and the ones who weren’t knew enough to shut up about it)so they didn’t need a divergence of views to see.To look at the crimes by our gov’t and the world that went unreported before media went “bad” in the 60’s/70’s,makes today look the same…
    we were rigging markets,toppleing democratically elected leaders,assinating people, killing the messenger when he reared his ugly head,exploiting resourses and paying off tyrants to keep them flowing,supporting terrorism,murder,genocide ….you name it… we have always been doing it…. and except for muckrakers and real journalists like george seldes and the like….the media was complicit.

    1. Chris Rogers


      There is no ‘Right-to-Work’, never mind enough work to go around under the present economic conditions afflicting the USA and much of the Northern hemisphere.

      Further, its appalling that people applaud attacks on ‘working class’ movements – be they Trades Unions, Co-Operatives or worker education foundations.

      What many have forgotten in the USA and further afield is that what remains of their ‘rights’ were fought for and gained via for want of a better word, Class Conflict.

      That the USA and many of its citizens deny its is a class-based society is beyond me, as is the fact that many call themselves ‘middle class’ when in reality they are working class.

      Maybe its to do with the myth of the so called ‘American Dream’ which has been espoused for generations by TPTB – from my vantage point, once the state undermines workers collective ability to organise, the descent into tyranny is swift.

    2. LeonovaBalletRusse

      CR, I know that “Right to Work” is anti-Union Neocon Newspeak, but there seems to be no way to get rid of it. But maybe opponents can extend the phrase so it’s meaning is clear to those who employ it. Does any worker want the “Right to Work for Less?”

      1. different clue

        The “Right-to-Work” phrase preceds the neocons by decades. A bunch of states in the South have been “Right To Work” for at least 50 years. If we successfully discredited NeoConism, we would still have to dig deeper to discredit “RightToWorkism”. “Right to Work Cheap” might be one way to prang the phrase. “Right to Freeload (on duespaying Union Members) might be another.

    3. Observer

      I think of it as the “Right to be Fired for No Reason” law. It’s all just rubbing more rent extraction into the wage slave wound. But I think people aren’t fooled by it. They know they’re getting screwed, they just don’t know how to fight back yet.

  12. different clue

    The MetroTimes of Detroit recently ran an article called
    Underwater: Could Bankruptcy Be The Answer? about how Official City Bankruptcy could be a viable alternative for city survival costing everybody their fair share of the loss. The Emergency Manager Law is designed in part to further the Upper Class’s refusal to hold lenders and bondholders equally harmable along with everyone else. Perhaps this concept could be part of what a legitimate political party runs on in this state. ( I wonder whether the State Democratic Party will be more legitimate than the
    FedNational Democratic Party).

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