Incoherent Trade Reporting

It’s never hard to figure out what side the media are on when it comes to corporate-friendly “free trade” deals. They’re for them,because they’re “free,” and people whooppose themapparentlyprefer protectionism over freedom.

So Barack Obama’s apparent failure tonegotiate a trade deal with South Korea is bad news–thoughit’s hard to read the papers and figure out why.The Washington Post (11/12/10) explained that

although the list of outstanding issues was short and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbied heavily for the agreement, key labor and auto interests and their allies in Congress demanded a fuller opening of South Korea’s market.

That wouldseem to bea reference to the fact that South Korea limits certain U.S. imports. Perhaps they have good reasons for this, but if these things are to be called “free” trade deals, then it would seem that the U.S. critics–the ones usually deemed anti-free trade–are demanding more freedom to sell U.S.-made goods in Korea.

Near the end of the piece, we’re told:

Obama had hoped to use a completed South Korea deal to place the issue of free trade squarely on the U.S. agenda, over objections from protectionist voices that are loudest within his own party.

But then:

U.S. opponents of the South Korea pact, including lawmakers representing districts involved in the auto industry, complimented Obama for insisting on more concrete steps to ensure that South Korea would import more U.S. autos into a market dominated by local favorites Hyundai and Kia.

I’m confused. “Protectionists” who oppose “free” trade arepushing for South Korea to allow more U.S. imports–i.e., more trade “freedom”?

You get the sense that reporters know what names to call things–all trade deals are “free,” and some Democrats and unions are anti-“free” trade protectionists–but they can’t really explain how those labels correspond to reality.

The New York Times story (11/12/10)on this is similarly unhelpful; it refers to the party’s positions like this:

with Republicans, who are more favorable toward free trade, controlling the House, Mr. Obama will still have to deal with a Democratic Senate, as well as a Republican Tea Party caucus whose members might be hostile to working with him and who are skeptical of trade deals.

Republicans are free traders, Democrats (and Tea Partiers) are “skeptical of trade deals.” Again, thoselabels aren’t very useful, especially when reporting suggeststhatopposing certain parts of certain trade deals amounts toopposing tradeitself:

But trade is a tough sell at home. A survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found substantial skepticism about trade deals.

The poll found that 35 percent of adults said that free-trade agreements had been good for the United States, while 44 percent said they had been bad. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who agreed with the Tea Party movement had a particularly negative view.

“Trade” and “free trade deals” like NAFTA are not the same thing.

To make matters even more confusing, we’re told later that in Washington,”trade is an issue that cuts more along regional than party lines.”

If this doesn’t make sense, go read Dean Baker’s critique of the Washington Post. It won’t help you understand the paper’s reporting, but it will help you appreciate which side they’re on.

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.