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?

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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