‘Free Trade’ Doesn’t Need a Debate in the Washington Post

WashPost-TPPWe know that papers like the Washington Post editorialize in favor of secretive corporate-friendly trade arrangements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But straight news coverage can put its thumb on the scales in favor of the pro-TPP side too.

That’s the kind of media bias one can see at work in today’s Post story (4/22/14) about the TPP. Under the Web headline “Obama Seeks to Use Japan Trip to Unlock Broader Asia-Pacific Trade Deal,” reporters Juliet Eilperin and Chico Harlan describe the proposed deal as an “ambitious effort to create a free-trade zone that would stretch from North and South America to New Zealand and Asia.”

The sources quoted in the piece are mostly government, elite think tanks and corporate officials:

  • “National security adviser Susan E. Rice”
  • “Mireya Solis, a Japan expert at the Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asia Policy Studies”
  • “Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics”
  • “Steve Biegun, vice president of international government affairs at Ford Motor Co.”
  • “Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker”
  • “A senior Japanese government official”
  • “Douglas Paal, who directs the Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace”

Just one bonafide TPP critic is heard from–Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.).

The piece is consistent with the elite, pro-TPP slant in news coverage documented by Steve Rendall in Extra! (4/14) in a study of the Post and the New York Times:

In the two papers combined, sources favoring TPP (31) outnumbered those opposing (14) by more than 2-to-1. Three sources were expressly noncommittal. The Post presented an almost 3-to-1 ratio of supporters to opponents (16–6) with one noncommittal source, while the Times featured a nearly 2-to-1 imbalance (15–8) with two noncommittal sources.

Of the 48 total sources, 24 were US government–affiliated, with about half speaking for the Office of the US Trade Representative and nine representing congressional perspectives. Six sources came from private US business interests.

The tilt in trade coverage isn’t new, of course, and it probably has a lot to do with how many elite reporters view trade policy: If it says something about “free,” than it must be good.

But TPP is drawing intense criticism from activists all around the world, and it’s a politically controversial issue even in the US Congress, where many Democrats remain skeptical of the White House’s push for “fast-track” authority. In other words, there are plenty of potential critics for media to speak to.

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.