Unions Aren’t Booking Themselves on TV Shows

In “Clout Has Plunged for Automakers and Union, Too,” the New York Times‘ Micheline Maynard makes this curious observation:

[GM CEO Rick ]Wagoner and Ron Gettelfinger, head of the UAW, appeared on local TV in Detroit this week, but no Detroit representatives landed spots on the Sunday morning talk shows out of Washington. Senator Levin was their primary spokesman on NBC‘s Meet the Press and Face the Nation on CBS.

Whileit might be odd for a CEO like Wagoner to have trouble getting on the TV talkshow circuit, the lack of a labor spokesperson on the Sunday shows is pretty much par for the course. It would have actually been really odd for a labor leader to be invited on a network chat show. From Extra!‘s survey of Sunday morning guests in 1995-96 and 1999:

Except for presidential candidate Ralph Nader, not a single one of the 364 guests invited during the 19 months studied was an environmentalist or consumer advocate. John Sweeney and Thomas Donahue, candidates for the presidency of the AFL-CIO, were the only guests who were labor leaders. Instead of worker representatives, the shows invited the CEO of United Airlines, the CEO of Continental Airlines, a Goldman Sachs analyst, retired basketball stars and political satirists.

Or as MSNBC host Chris Matthews once put it:

I watch Sunday television…. I never see a really good articulate labor leader on television. What happened to the George Meanys and the Walter Reuthers we grew up with? Where are the strong, articulate voices of the working person, the working family out there? That voice that you’re talking about, who worries about trade policy, who worries about tax policy, who worries about being trained for the job, where are those voices on Sunday?


They don’t have speakers. I’m telling you, I can’t think right now of a labor leader that could match wits with a Dick Cheney on television. They don’t want to get out there and debate like they used to…. Who are the great spokesmen against this administration’s trade policies or this administration’s tax policies? Who are they?

Of course, the idea that labor leaders–even those with Cheney-like wit–don’t want to be on TV is strange. It’s more likely that they’re not being asked.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.