102 Years After Triangle Fire, Media Still Wonder How Workers Keep Dying

On the 102nd anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, Janine Jackson’s article in the last issue of Extra! (3/13) is a sobering reminder that not that much has changed in the last century as far as worker  safety is concerned:

Child workers, Bangladesh (Photo: Global Labour Rights)What should be done to prevent incidents like the January 26 fire at the Smart Fashion Export factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in which at least seven garment workers (three of them teenage girls) were killed, their escape impeded by a blocked exit and the absence of the most rudimentary fire safety equipment?

The answer for many would be: whatever is necessary. But to hear elite media tell it, it’s complicated—so much so that it’s not even clear who the victims were: the women crushed to death escaping flames, or the system that exploits and endangers them. Or else why would the New York Times (1/27/13) report begin, “In the latest blow to Bangladesh’s garment industry…”?

That’s standard language of course, but not innocuous….  Coverage that’s framed this way seems unlikely to conclude that industry as currently conducted is itself the problem.

Another perennial is AP’s conclusion (1/27/13) that the nightmare at Smart is “raising questions about safety in Bangladesh’s garment industry.” One might say rather that it answered some; like, who is closer to the mark—activists who argue that transnational corporations’ relentless search for the lowest production costs inevitably results in cut corners, abuse and exploitation? Or owners who repeatedly assure that “clothes are manufactured in safe factories that are inspected through regular audits” (New York Times, 1/28/13)?

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.