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MLive and the Obama visit to Holland

August 15, 2011

For the last 12 years GRIID has been monitoring the local news media and providing some news analysis of both issues and individual stories. An MLive article on the speech President Obama gave on Thursday at the Holland-based Johnson Controls is a perfect example of journalism as stenography.

As a matter of clarification, journalism as stenography is when reporters either just quote or summarize the claims made by someone without verifying the claims. Verification is particularly important when reporting on power, such as when the US President is the subject of story. In fact, being a watchdog of power and verifying claims made are both basic principles of journalism.

In looking at the August 11 MLive story, we see that nearly the first half of the article is devoted to pointing out that President Obama was upset with Congress and partisan politics. This first quote that reporter Ursula Zerilli cites from the President was, There is nothing wrong with this country; there is something wrong with our politics.”

While there could be lots of debate about what is wrong with politics in the US, there are some fundamental problems with the US that would contradict the President’s claim that there is nothing wrong with this country. There are millions of people who are unemployed and underemployed in the US; right now in the US there are roughly 634,000 homeless people; the US has the highest number of people in prison – 2.3 million; the average salary of a CEO is 344 times that of the average worker in the US; and the US spends more on the military and war than all other social programs combined.

The MLive reporter then cites the President making claims that the US credit rating could have been downgraded, where he again blames Congress. However, there have been plenty of astute observations that would also include the White House in the category of blame on the “debt ceiling” issue.

After additional comments that blamed Congress and partisan politics, the MLive reporter then said that the President wants to see “Made in America” stamps on products worldwide and young people driving American-made vehicles.

The MLive reporter could easily have asked if this was the case why would the President support trade policies that will result in more US based jobs being sent to other countries. The irony of this is that Johnson Controls, the very place that the President was making such a comment, has sent over 1,000 jobs out of the US since the passage of NAFTA.

As to the issue of the President wanting to see young people driving American-made vehicles, a competent reporter could ask why the White House used the bailout of the Big Three automakers as an opportunity to allow more auto-manufacturing jobs to be sent to countries like Mexico and China?

Next the MLive reporter says, “Obama and automakers agreed earlier this month to pegging overall fuel economy standards at 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.” Unfortunately, this claim is only part of the story. What the President omitted and what the MLive reporter did not verify was that this new fuel standard will only be implemented in cars made starting in 2017 and not include any existing cars now in use or those sold before 2017.

The article then concludes with comments from the President about Johnson Controls and what the new electric car battery plant will mean for Michigan’s economy. The reporter does state that the factory received $168.5 million in state tax incentives and $299 million in federal grant funds to develop the electric car battery production.

Again, the reporter provides no history of Johnson Control’s outsourcing of jobs from West Michigan, nor the fact that the company has recently filed a lawsuit seeking to divorce itself from the French company Saft.

When the President of the US or anyone else that holds political or economic power is the focus of a news story, it is absolutely essential that local reporters practice good journalism. Failure to provide the public with critical analysis of those in power will most certainly result in a less informed and less engaged citizenry.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. winterinthehinterland permalink
    August 15, 2011 2:32 pm

    Thanks for reporting on this story! Johnson Controls was the largest recipient of economic stimulus money – ostensibly to create jobs in Michigan. I would like to know how many jobs were actually created with the stimulus money and grants and how many of those jobs actually went to Michigan residents.

  2. August 15, 2011 2:36 pm

    You raise important questions, questions which are not easy to find out. I have serious concerns that the new jobs “created” at Johnson Controls will be sent abroad in the not too distant future.

  3. winterinthehinterland permalink
    August 17, 2011 2:13 am

    There should be some public accountability. JC returned a $1 million grant to Allegan County because it had a local hiring requirement they did not want to abide by.

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