Audit Notes: Murdoch and American Politicians, UAW, Labor’s Bulletin Board Win

Does Rupert Murdoch interfere with his news outlets? Does a bear, well, you know…

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting piece of reporting on that, even if it’s fifteen years old. And shows how bigtime Democratic politicians in the U.S. have played footsie with Murdoch:

In 1996, the teenage son of a prominent political figure in Washington, D.C., got suspended from his tony prep school.

Not wanting to see himself, his family or his boss embarrassed by his son’s actions, the father scrambled to keep the incident out of the news. One of the calls he made was to the chief executive of the parent company of a local television station that was planning on running a story. The owner of the TV station assured the politician that he’d have the story killed as a favor from one father to another.

Behind-the-scenes favors between the rich and powerful is nothing new. In this case though, the father in question was Vice President Al Gore, whose son Albert III had gotten suspended from St. Albans. The owner of the television station was media mogul Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp. Spokespeople for both News Corp. and Gore declined to comment on the story, which was confirmed by three former News Corp. executives with direct knowledge of the matter.

The piece also revisits News Corp.’s anti-Nielsen Ratings push, waged in the New York Post with no disclosure about the parent company’s role, and with the help of New York politicians:

That the New York Post, a paper that focuses heavily on scandals and gossip, took such an interest in a new television ratings tool was not lost on Nielsen. “Despicable” is the word used to describe News Corp.’s campaign to derail the meters by Susan Whiting, then the president and now vice chairman of Nielsen, in an article in the Wall Street Journal in September 2004. An earlier opinion piece in the paper said, “anytime you’ve got Hillary Clinton carrying water for Rupert Murdoch by moaning about disenfranchised minority TV viewers, there is no need for a laugh track”…

And Murdoch did not forget who helped him out. In 2006, he held a big fund-raiser for her.

— The Huffington Post has some good labor reporting, going on the ground in Ohio to talk to UAW employees it says are unhappy after years of givebacks, even while the union leadership puts on a happy face.

But at a nearby pub, where the plant’s rank-and-file workforce gathers after work, Todd Siglow offered a contrasting take on recent events: As a result of the union’s concessions, he has been forced to choose between relocating 400 miles away from his Michigan home, separating him from his two daughters - or stay home and risk a 50-percent pay cut.

“They’re so proud of their image: the new GM, the new UAW,” Siglow said. “They preach all this bullshit — brotherhood, solidarity, whatever. You know what? My family is ripped apart. Nobody is helping me with nothing”…

Perry, the third-generation UAW worker, is more worried about her own overdrawn bank account than about the future of the UAW. She saw her wages cut nearly in half under the concessions made to GM. She and 27 other workers at the Lordstown plant have sued the UAW and GM, accusing them of violating the terms of their collective bargaining agreement. She and the other plaintiffs assert they are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back-pay from the company. GM denies any liability in the matter and declined to comment on the litigation.

Now, GM is profitable again, with its reported net income surging by 89 percent between April and June compared to the same period a year earlier, reaching $2.5 billion. GM’s chief executive Dan Akerson is expected to take home $9 million this year in compensation, according to published reports. Yet Perry is struggling to make ends meet on about $16 an hour, making her quest for fair pay feel more urgent than ever.

“It’s disheartening and maddening,” Perry said, her voice cracking. “The people making the decisions are not missing a beat. They didn’t take a pay cut.”

— Meantime, The New York Times reports that the National Labor Relations Board has taken the controversial step of… forcing employers to inform workers of their rights:

Under the new regulations, businesses would have to display notices that explain the right to bargain collectively, to give out union literature and to work together to improve wages and conditions free of retaliation.

Noting that many workers are unaware of these rights, the board said the new regulations are aimed at making it easier for workers to exercise their rights under the National Labor Relations Act, which sets rules for unionization efforts.

Big Business:

“This is one more initiative among those we expect to be coming out over the next month that are essentially gifts to organized labor,” said Randel K. Johnson, senior vice president for labor policy at the United States Chamber of Commerce.

Noting that this was the first time the N.L.R.B. has required posting of such a notice since the labor relations act was passed in 1935, he questioned whether the labor board had the statutory authority to require such notices.

Spelling out labor rights on lunchroom bulletin boards is what the Big Labor can call a victory these days.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,