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Free Market Project

2/24/2006 5:00:11 PM

Updated 02/24/06

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The New York Times shows businesses aren’t all bad; Lou Dobbs reminds viewers that it’s good to open a history book; and Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter spins statistics about poverty.

Sept. 21, 2005

     Katrina continues to dominate the best and worst news coverage – both in print and on TV. Though few stories of corporate generosity have appeared, The New York Times did a solid team effort that showed businesses doing their part to help. “Lou Dobbs Tonight” continued to skew its reporting against businesses and toward unions, ignoring history in the process. The Newsweek piece on American poverty depicted a nation where problems are far worse than they actually are.

The Good
     It’s good to see the news media reporting the incredible corporate philanthropy effort that has followed Katrina. It’s even better to see The New York Times devote such effort to the coverage. In a September 14 piece headlined “When Good Will Is Also Good Business,” several reporters showed the more than $300 million effort to aid the victims of the hurricane.

The Times emphasized the enormous outpouring of assistance: “The sheer volume of donations has been overwhelming.” Among those cited were Wal-Mart, $20 million in cash and donations; Amgen, $2.5 million; and Intel. “Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., whose gift of $1 million has been matched by more than $2 million from employees and the company's foundation, continues to pay the 200 employees who are volunteering at home or around the affected areas,” stated the article.

The Bad
     Combine bad business reporting with a poor understanding of history and what do you get? The September 12 broadcast of “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” Dobbs, who typically criticizes “big business interests,” complained that “the president suspended a Depression-era rule,” the Davis-Bacon Act. The act requires federal contractors to pay a “prevailing” wage to employees, but that is often interpreted to mean a “union” wage.
To get a response to Bush’s action, reporter Lisa Sylvester turned to an AFL-CIO spokesman and ignored the history of the act that showed it was motivated by segregationist labor unions. To Free Market Project readers, problems with Lou Dobbs are nothing new. This latest reporting is consistent with the findings of a recent FMP report: “Trade Secrets: Lou Dobbs Tonight Hides Good News Behind Negative View of Free Market.

The Ugly
     No sooner had Hurricane Katrina ended than the political storm began. The media have fallen over themselves seeking to blame President Bush and showing little understanding of the problems that led to the crisis. In particular, Newsweek’s Senior Editor Jonathan Alter presented inaccurate statistics to exaggerate socio-economic problems nationally and in the hurricane-affected areas of New Orleans.

In his cover story, “The Other America,” Alter offered some dubious and misleading conclusions about America’s poverty rate: “But after a decade of improvement in the 1990s, poverty in America is actually getting worse. A rising tide of economic growth is no longer lifting all boats. For the first time in half a century, the third year of a recovery (2004) also saw an increase in poverty.” The 2004 Census Bureau survey indicated that poverty in America is actually lower than the average rate achieved during the decade of the ’90s. Louisiana also is one of the few states where poverty decreased in the past four years.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly tracks the best and worst media coverage of business and economics. Readers are invited to submit suggestions or news tips to Director Dan Gainor at