What Is a Labor Reporter?

Mike ElkMike Elk is a labor reporter at In These Times Magazine. “A labor report?” you ask. “I thought those weren’t allowed in the mainstream press!” Well, In These Times Magazine ain’t exactly mainstream. They only have a circulation of about 20,000. Now if they started covering everything from the standpoint of the business community (especially big business), then maybe people would taken more Seriously. But thank God for the few Mike Elks foraging on the edges of the media forest. Last week, the Washington Post, which is committed to never allow pro-labor reporting, did open its opinion pages to him.

He wrote, The Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Cannot Be Forgotten. It is a fantastic article that compares the coverage of the Fertilizer Plant explosion with that of the Boston Marathon bombing. As I discussed last week in Profits Before People, as much as the Boston bombing is a tragedy, the Texas explosion is worse.

Elk provides more details that are not widely know. (He’s clever that way: slipping actual facts onto the pages of Fox on 15th Street.) Here are a few of the highlights:

  • The plant held more than 1,350 times the legal limit of the highly explosive ammonium nitrate.
  • Various safety measures like fire alarms and legally required blast walls were not installed.
  • With current funding levels, OSHA would only be able to inspect such facilities every 129 years.

The main point is that a lot of people die in preventable workplace accidents and very few die from terrorist attacks. In fact, the number of American killed by terrorist attacks each year is about the same as the number crushed to death by their TVs.

But there is an even more fundamental issue going on and it gets to the heart of the culpability of the Washington Post and other mainstream media outlets. During the search for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Elk tweeted and Ken Ward Jr responded brilliantly:

This really is not a question of journalists just chasing the exciting story. There could be a great deal of excitement chasing after the plant owner and asking him why 1,350 times the legal limit of ammonium nitrate was in the plant. In fact, that sounds like something 60 Minutes did in the old days. There could be countless pundits on cable news screaming about how unacceptable this is. Instead, after it was determined that the West Fertilizer Co. plant explosion wasn’t a terrorist attack but just another greedy company that cares only of profits and nothing of its employees, the media tuned out. Anyway, most news outlets don’t have labor reporters. How would they even cover it?

Everybody Is a Terrorist

Juan ColeYou know how racism works, right? You hate blacks; you think they are violent. You see a news story about some black guy who killed his girlfriend. That’s more evidence that blacks are violent. You see another news story about some black guy who helps young people start small businesses. Well, that’s the exception; you never said that all blacks were bad (even though you in fact did). It’s all about an inclination. Racism is natural for us as a species. The real question is if you have strong feelings about any group of people, are you going to feed it with biased information or not? You can fight against these irrational feelings or your can use your rational mind to reinforce them. It is up to you.

The same thing goes on with societies at large. The best example of this is how Islam is portrayed. Every time there is a terrorist attack by a Muslim, the whole country emits a huge, “See?!” When a terrorist attack is performed by someone else, the reaction is vague confusion, “Oh, what a surprise!” And it gets filed under, “Sometimes terrorists are not Muslims, but usually they are.” And that’s as far as it goes.

Juan Cole wrote an amazing article over at his blog informed COMMENT, Terrorism and the Other Religions. He looked at political and religious violence over the last century and found that very little of it was done by Muslims. They make up almost one-quarter of the population but only about 2% of the killing. Now most of that killing was in the world wars. But he goes on to note the universality of terrorism. This part particularly struck me:

As for religious terrorism, that too is universal. Admittedly, some groups deploy terrorism as a tactic more at some times than others. Zionists in British Mandate Palestine were active terrorists in the 1940s, from a British point of view, and in the period 1965-1980, the FBI considered the Jewish Defense League among the most active US terrorist groups. (Members at one point plotted to assassinate Rep. Dareell Issa (R-CA) because of his Lebanese heritage.) Now that Jewish nationalists are largely getting their way, terrorism has declined among them. But it would likely reemerge if they stopped getting their way. In fact, one of the arguments Israeli politicians give for allowing Israeli squatters to keep the Palestinian land in the West Bank that they have usurped is that attempting to move them back out would produce violence. I.e., the settlers not only actually terrorize the Palestinians, but they form a terrorism threat for Israel proper (as the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin discovered).

I remember back to all the trouble in Northern Ireland when the IRA was most clearly a terrorist organization. They killed over 600 civilians in a country of only a million and a half. (That is equivalent to over 100,000 in the United States.) That was political and religious. And yet no one went on TV and attacked the Irish. There was no discussion of radical-Catholicism. And there’s a good reason for that: the Irish and the Catholics by that point were well integrated into our society. Muslims are still thought of as outsiders. I even hear people say the same things people said about the Irish and Catholics earlier in our history, “They stay among themselves; they don’t want to integrate!” It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now. There is a process and it takes generations.

Our media really need to take a lot of blame for this. All this emphasis on Muslim terrorism and endless apology for all others just feeds the cultural bigotry against one of our more recent groups of immigrants. You can go back to the beginning of our republic and see the same dynamic again and again. We should learn to put this stuff in perspective. Juan Cole’s article is a small corrective. I recommend reading the whole thing.

Afterword

Here is a great Bill Moyer interview with Glenn Greenwald on some of these issues:

. . . – – – . . . for Samuel Morse

Samuel MorseUlysses S. Grant was born on this day in 1822. The creator of Woody Woodpecker, Walter Lantz was born in 1899. Jack Klugman was born in 1922. And Coretta Scott King was born in 1927.

Casey Kasem is 81 today. Sheena Easton is 54. The poor man’s Brad Pitt, James LeGros is 51. Wanker Dana Milbank is 45. And Newark Mayor Cory Booker is 44.

The day, however, belongs to Samuel Morse who was born on this day back in 1791. In addition to all that business about the telegraph, he was rather a good painter. He was also a total asshole. Let me count the ways. First, he was radically anti-Catholic, because, you know, he was a protestant and knew the one true way. Second, he was anti-immigrant, because, you know, he was already here. Third, he was pro-slavery, because, you know, being born in Massachusetts he had no reason to be for it except that the Bible told him so. Just listen to the great man on the subject:

My creed on the subject of slavery is short. Slavery per se is not sin. It is a social condition ordained from the beginning of the world for the wisest purposes, benevolent and disciplinary, by Divine Wisdom. The mere holding of slaves, therefore, is a condition having per se nothing of moral character in it, any more than the being a parent, or employer, or ruler.

That’s the problem with getting your morality from a book—especially one from thousands of years earlier that is filed with the vilest of social conventions cloaked in the idea that it was God’s will. Anyway, like most evil men, he had a long and happy life. He certainly didn’t make as much money off his patents as he could have, but he lived and died quite rich. So if you hear anyone complain that he didn’t get his due, remember: he lived like Mitt Romney but might have lived like Warren Buffett if his patents had been better controlled. Excuse me if I don’t care.

Anyway, happy birthday you bigot! Morally, you should have telegraphed to the word: . . . – – – . . .