Boston Globe: Unfair to Labor?

When I posted Marty Walsh and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Unions the other day I left the impression that the media had cast labor as a baleful presence dragging down the Boston mayoral candidacy of Marty Walsh against John Connolly. Since then I’ve had the chance to review a month’s worth of stories having to do with the candidates, labor, and fund-raising in the Boston Globe. So is the city’s indispensable media institution unfair to labor?

Yes. Sort of.

The major angle on the Walsh-labor story is that because of close ties and especially labor money, Walsh would be in the hip pocket of unions as mayor. This would be bad for the city, or hurt his campaign. So my undergraduate research assistant, the wicked smaht Stephen Norris, and I looked at twenty Globe news stories, opeds, editorials, and letters to the editor from September 26-October 26 that substantively included a focus on that connection.

Because I had also suggested the existence of a double standard – union contributions are regarded as grubbily self-interested while other moneyed interests get a pass – we examined five news stories having to do with fund-raising in the same period. (One story overlaps). We thought four of those were balanced with only one, a story detailing Republican money support for Connolly, as more pro-Connolly and anti-Walsh. But as the story points out and we agree, GOP support in Boston is a mixed blessing anyway.

The “sort of” hedge is that Boston Globe news stories seem balanced in their treatment of the Walsh-labor connection. We looked over eight news stories in all and felt that two were somewhat positive toward the relationship, two a bit negative, and four balanced. Big up to Andrew Ryan, Stephanie Ebbert, Wesley Lowery, and Dan Adams.

The “yes” conclusion comes from reading ten columns from Scot Lehigh, Joan Vennochi, Lawrence Harmon, Adrian Walker, and Tom Keane. Of those ten columns we count two as positive, one as balanced, and seven as negative toward Walsh and unions. The negative columns were quite negative, citing labor as a huge drawback for Walsh, an albatross around his neck. The two positive columns were milder; Harmon noting that as a union leader Walsh had pushed for more opportunities for minority workers, and Walker pointing out that Felix Arroyo, also a strong labor figure, had endorsed Walsh after Arroyo was eliminated in the preliminary election.

Of course, news stories should be balanced (they are) and columns should reflect the views of the authors (they do). But still, where is someone with a positive point of view toward labor?

There was one; a letter writer from Brighton who argued for the helpful impact unions make on the lives of workers. That’s it: one letter to the editor, 172 words.

As political scientists Paul Pierson and Andrew Hacker have argued, labor is the one institution in American politics that concerns itself with economic justice for people with modest incomes. Surely then when Globe columnist Joan Vennochi did her ‘two Bostons one rich, one poor’ piece there had to be some props for labor. Nah. She entirely omitted any mention of labor’s role in securing justice for working people and instead spent half of the column complaining that unions aligned with Walsh were being nasty to John Connolly. Tut, tut. We’d like some equality, alright, but please don’t break the tea cups in the process.

The Globe has an entire section devoted to Business, and columnists who seem to like the managerial view just fine. Good. But how about a pro-labor dissenter in Boston’s “liberal” paper of record?



About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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