May 1 2011

ABC’s ‘Made in America’ a Shoddy Product

Holding consumers, not corporations, responsible for missing jobs

Photo Credit: ABC World News

Photo Credit: ABC World News

ABC World News’ five-part “Made in America” series (2/28-3/4/11) purported not so much to explore as to answer the question of how to create jobs for unemployed Americans, by exhorting those same Americans to buy more U.S.-manufactured products.

Not just any jobs, but “America’s manufacturing workforce, our true grit,” contended anchor Diane Sawyer (2/17/11). And at near negligible cost: “If every one of us spent an extra $3.33, just $3.33 on U.S.-made goods every year,” Sawyer (estimated annual income: $12 to $15 million) told viewers, “that would create almost 10,000 new jobs in this country.”

The implication that consumer choice drives manufacturing permeated the series, an elaborate, reality-show style exercise in which a Dallas family saw its home stripped of all non-U.S. made goods and refurnished with things made in America. Much was made of the idea that consumers don’t demand products be domestically sourced (2/26/11): “When was the last time someone asked for made in America?” correspondent David Muir grilled car rental and Container Store employees, while Sawyer revealed breathlessly to Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts (3/2/11): “It’s so exciting because we discovered nobody’s asking. We just weren’t asking anymore if it was made in America.”

Media researcher Andrew Tyndall (Tyndall Report, 3/7/11) highlighted the spuriousness of the series’ hypnotically repeated core fact (if “we all just spent” 18 cents a day or $3.33 a year more…): Noting that the 10,000 or 200,000 new jobs to which Sawyer and correspondents referred wouldn’t make much of a dent in the U.S.’s 13.7 million unemployed, Tyndall calculated how much it would cost, using ABC’s figures, to create 5 million jobs—and found that it would require every household to boost spending by $6,570 a year.

Viewers waited in vain for the segment in which ABC reporters asked CEOs why they moved their manufacturing plants overseas—which is strange, since they only would’ve needed to take an elevator: ABC parent Disney is notorious for a reliance on cheap, exploitable labor in countries including China and Haiti. (See, e.g., National Labor Committee, 12/10/08, 1/96.) In ABC’s story, it’s only the Usry family of Dallas (2/28/11) that “faces the truth about foreign goods”—or is asked to.

And what about ABC’s record of covering the relevant issues here? Having taken a pass on the 1999 globalization protests in Seattle, ABC’s Nightline covered the 2000 debate over Permanent Normal Trade Relations for China by talking to three proponents, telling complaining viewers they “never intended to have a debate” on the deal, for which Disney lobbied strongly (Extra! Update, 8/00).

Network eminence grise George Will harangued General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner (This Week, 1/8/06), complaining that people who buy GM cars are “paying a lot of money for a welfare state that you’re running.” ABC was also on the bandwagon inflating autoworkers’ pay: A December 3, 2008, report claimed, “Ford, Chrysler and GM pay union workers more than $73 an hour in wages and benefits. Japanese plants here shell out just over $44” —a wildly misleading, and long debunked, factoid (Media Matters, 12/6/08).

And while ABC now evinces concern for the unemployed, woe betide any of them who seek government assistance. Going after welfare recipients with the same zeal she now brings to finding a domestic lamp, Sawyer herself (Primetime Live, 12/16/95) harassed a group of teenage mothers on behalf of “taxpayers”: “Answer their question,” she demanded. “Why should they pay for your mistake?” (See Extra!, 5-6/95.)

As Tyndall noted, “Made in America” was more a “moral fable” than an act of journalism. The series’ drive-by treatment of global economic realities is largely confined to the March 4 segment in which Muir stated: “Nearly a dozen economists told us the obvious point, that we’re part of a global economy now, that we have to be to survive.”

“But they also added this,” he continued (as the graphic changed from “Global Economy” to “American Jobs”), “that buying at least something made in America will create jobs here. They say one does not hurt the other.” Of course, ABC’s vigorous promotion of “Made in America” was not that their trumpeted solution wouldn’t “hurt.” It was supposed to signal the triumphant return of ABC’s March 4 “Person of the Week”: the American Worker.

Thing is, U.S. workers are not the person of most weeks at ABC. The network did not distinguish itself in the study (Extra!, 5-6/02) finding that labor representatives account for less than 0.2 percent of sources on the network newscasts, though it did stand out in Extra!’s examination of coverage of the poor (9-10/07), having aired just 11 stories addressing poverty in the 38-month study period—about one every 15 weeks.

That record of silencing workers and their advocates is the sustained injury. Specious, gimmicky reporting like “Made in America” is just the latest insult.