The Public Editor Reveals the NYT’s Contempt for Workers

A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a front-page article about president-elect Donald Trump’s public browbeating of Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, which represents the workers at the Carrier plant where Trump claimed to have saved jobs.

The first paragraph of the piece referred to Jones as a “union boss,” as did the headline in the online version of the piece (“Trump as Cyberbully in Chief? Twitter Attack on Union Boss Draws Fire”).

I thought it was ridiculous that the Times would use the term “union boss,” a staple of anti-union rhetoric, to refer to a democratically elected union local president, and I said so to the author of the article, Michael D. Shear, via Twitter:



(If you’re on Twitter, please follow D&S, @Dollars_Sense, and follow me, @ChrisSturr.)

When I didn’t hear back from the author (although lots of people seemed to agree with me on Twitter), I wrote to the Times Public Editor, Liz Spayd, to complain. I was happy when I heard back that they would publish my letter in the Dec. 16 “Friday Mailbag” column—at least, until I saw how they included it. It appeared at the end of the column,  with a snarky preface and a snarky, red-baiting non-response:

public-editor--union-bossThe Public Editor truly showed what contempt at least some people at the Times have for the labor movement and for workers.  It made me miss the excellent former Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, who is now at the Washington Post.
What cheered me up was that there were several scathing responses to the public editor’s snark (and in support of me) in the comments section. Here’s a selection:

“The bit about ‘union boss’ rather than a more respectful alternative is a symptom of a larger truth. The Times (like most other papers) has a daily and often very voluminous business section. If it’s lucky, labor has to make do with maybe a token column or two around Labor Day, and even that may be written from a business point of view. Maybe if labor, organized and not, were given regular coverage and workers’ interests recognized as a matter of course, politicians would have paid more attention over the years instead of pushing increasingly anti-labor policies.”

“…’union boss’ is as acceptable as ‘capitalist pig’. I’m waiting to see that usage in The NY Times.”

“I have worked for places with unions and for places without unions. As imperfect as my union is, I am grateful to be working in a union workplace every day and embarrassed that this newspaper is so openly siding with the union-bashing world. … This was [a] very disturbing and inadequate report from the Public Editor this week. So glad my fellow readers are demanding more and better.”

“‘Flummoxed’ synonyms according to Merriam Dictionary can mean distracted, confused.

I did not read either of those words into the letter written in response to [the] article referring to union leaders as ‘union bosses’.

I would say the author took umbrage but your public editor preferred her snarky comment.”

“Obviously, the Times Public Editor appears to think that ‘union boss’ isn’t a pejorative; otherwise, she probably wouldn’t have ended today’s column with a barely concealed bit of sarcasm.

Fair is fair. Can we see the Times employ the following descriptors so we can all better identify each other: ‘conservative rednecks,’ ‘liberal faculty,’ ‘flyover whites,’ ‘angry blacks,’ ‘Republican blank checks,’ ‘confused Democrats,’ ‘evangelical Taliban,’ ‘climate deniers,’ ‘global warming alarmists,’ ‘environmental crybabies,’ ‘union-led teachers,’ ‘left-wing think tank,’ ‘conservative think tank,’ ‘alt-right agitators (aka racists),’ and ‘shrinking newsrooms.'”

“Ms Spayd [the Public Editor] reveal[s] what a right-wing hack she truly is with this reference. Chris Sturr writes in to protest the use of the term ‘union boss,’ which he rightly points out is used by people who are hostile to unions.

But instead of addressing The Times’ use of that loaded term, Liz Spayd just blows him off with red-baiting: ‘Happy weekend, workers of the world.’

Seriously, Liz? You treat someone standing up for union members with a sleazy reference to communism?

Shame on you!”

“I … think that the flip close of the column, responding to Chris Sturr’s very legitimate complaint with a breezy ‘Happy weekend, workers of the world’ just stinks. NY Times: get you a different public editor, this one don’t hunt.”

“Thanks for the article and its reminder that for many at the Times, unions and their workers are marginal or, even worse, a joke. Even if it is just obtuseness it highlights how you and your presidential candidate lost the election. Unfortunately, you and your candidate will not be paying the price, just the people on the margins.”

“‘Union boss?’ Really? In the NYT? The degree to which even the allegedly liberal media adopts right wing propagandistic phrasing scares me. How about a less pejorative and accurate description such as ‘democratically elected union president’?”

“The reader you quoted seemed far less flummoxed than angry. Either way, why no explanation from you about the use of the term?”

“We weren’t ‘flummoxed’ by the term ‘union boss.’ We were and are angry at the Times’s consistent anti-labor stance, as shown yet again by making this last item in the Public Editor column a sort of joke. The other items mentioned in the column may be more crucial at the moment but that’s no reason to denigrate ‘workers of the world.’ If more folks like you realized they too were workers, perhaps we would not have to fight so hard.”

“I do not see many happy weekends for the workers of the world, or the U.S.”

“You did absolutely zero to address why the NYT refers to union leaders as ‘bosses,’ a loaded propaganda term.”

“I notice that the ONLY leaders of organizations that are routinely referred to as ‘boss’ are labor union leaders, who are generally elected officials, and in an older usage, leaders of big-city political machines (sometimes elected, sometimes rising to power without a formal vote). In neither case is the term used respectfully. Meanwhile, work supervisors and heads of big companies, routinely called ‘boss’ by those who work under them, who none of us got to vote for, are only referred to in print by mroe respectful terms. It’s as if getting elected to office makes you a ‘boss,’ but not getting elected to a leadership position exempts you from the term.”

From Betsy Aron: “Evidently ‘union bosses’ are a NYT inside joke. Blood has been shed to free unions from their ‘bosses,’ and distinctions are warranted when discussing union leaders. Especially now your readers are counting on the Times for unbiased and nuanced reporting.”

Friday Links

Quick links–some new, some long overdue:

(1) On the so-called “CRomnibus” and the provision that would “add numerous additional exemptions to the section’s ban on Federal government bailouts of large derivatives dealers”:

(2) On the Bad Grand Jury Decisions:

Speaking of “offending” the cops, here’s The New York Times‘ fail on this topic: New Twist in Lynch’s Confirmation After New York Grand Jury Decision, about how the confirmation hearings for nominee to replace Eric Holder will supposedly be complicated by the fact that she’s heading up the civil rights investigation of Eric Garner’s choking death. The Times tells us: “One Democratic official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is involved in advancing the nomination, said Ms. Lynch would have to carefully navigate community demands for action, in New York and Missouri, and the sensibilities of the law enforcement officers she would represent if confirmed to lead the Justice Department.” Come again? I guess maybe there’s some sense in which the Attorney General, the chief law enforcement official of the United States, “represents” law enforcement officers (though it makes more sense to think of her as their (future) boss); in the context of allegations of illegal police conduct (murder), this is a pretty outrageous framing. (I’ll pass over the usual outrage of the Times‘ use of anonymous sources (usually leakers trying to use the Times reporter to shape the story).

(3) Antonio Weiss nomination: 

The Yves Smith piece, and various recent Bill Black pieces criticizing Dealbook and Andrew Ross Sorkin’s shameless coziness with his Wall Street funders and sources inspired me to check in to see whether the Times‘ Public Editor has had anything critical to say about Sorkin. I found that the current Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, seems to be easy on Sorkin (she brought up criticisms people have had of his coziness with sources here, but instead of actually investigating and assessing the charges, she just gets a quote from Sorkin: “The criticism of him as an insider is, Mr. Sorkin says, ‘an old meme,’ and simply untrue.” Her predecessor, Arthur Brisbane, seems to have been harder on Sorkin, e.g., here.

Ok, that’s it for now.

–Chris Sturr