The Gray Lady Falls Off the Balance Beam

Granted, it pertains to my right-wing governor, so it’s personal. But this NYT profile of Rick Snyder is a remarkable example of the perverse journalistic fetish for “balance” gone so badly awry it amounts to disinformation.

Let’s start with this summarized claim.

Republicans and business leaders here widely praise Mr. Snyder, crediting him with balancing the state’s once-troubled budget, dumping a state business tax and presiding over an employment rebound in a state that not long ago had the highest jobless rate in the nation. [my emphasis]

You’d think a newspaper might want to point out that MI’s unemployment actually turned around in August 2009–well before Snyder’s election in 2010 and not coincidentally the month after GM came out of bankruptcy. Unemployment dropped 3.3% before Snyder took over, dropped a further 2.6% after he did. But more significantly, unemployment in MI has started to creep up again–it’s up .7% since its recent low in April, to 9%.

Setting that record straight is critical to the rest of the article, since it repeatedly gushes about Rick Snyder refusing to deny Obama credit for MI’s turnaround.

Just before the Republican primary in Michigan in February, Mr. Snyder was asked in an interview whether Mr. Obama ought to be given credit for the state’s economic improvements. “I don’t worry about blame or credit,” he said. “It’s more about solving the problem.”

Nowhere in the article does “reporter” Monica Davey consider the possibility that Obama–and, in fact, Jennifer Granholm–have more to do with the turnaround than Snyder. Yet even many Republicans in this state would grant that the successful bailout of Chrysler and GM had a lot to do with the turnaround (though Republicans almost universally ignore the energy jobs Obama focused on MI).

So maybe Snyder refuses to deny Obama credit because such a claim would not be credible? It’s not a possibility the NYT article–which is supposed to be a celebration of a lack of ideology–even considers.

Which brings me to the other area where NYT’s idea of what constitutes balance is completely whacked: its treatment of the right to organize.

As part of its case that this far right Republican is non-ideological, the NYT points to Snyder’s preference not to have a right-to-work law pushed through the legislature (though concedes that Snyder has stopped short of issuing a veto threat).

Mr. Snyder, a Republican business executive who took office last year after a wave of G.O.P. statehouse victories, has told his Republican-dominated Legislature that a right-to-work measure is not on his agenda. The issue, he says, is too divisive.


And while he has said he prefers that no right-to-work legislation arrives on his desk, he has not said he would veto it.

The NYT doesn’t consider how in two adjoining states–WI and OH–threatening the right to organize mobilized labor against governors in really profound ways. Snyder’s preference not to face the dilemma of vetoing or approving a right to work law probably has as much to do with the political calculation that it would be very difficult to win another statewide election in MI if he antagonized labor. NYT doesn’t consider that; rather, it just labels Snyder’s preference as proof of his lack of ideology.

With that in mind, consider how NYT deals with November’s referenda, which it doesn’t get to until the 23rd paragraph.

Labor leaders have pushed for a ballot question in November to seal collective bargaining rights in the State Constitution, threatening divisions over the very issue that Mr. Snyder had hoped to avoid. Another group is challenging efforts for a new bridge to Canada, a controversial proposal that Mr. Snyder advanced on his own after legislators did not. And another group wants to undo a law granting broad powers to shore up financially troubled cities, a measure that underpins a consent deal the Snyder administration reached for state oversight of struggling Detroit.

Now, first of all, this is the only reference in the article to Snyder’s Emergency Manager law, one of the most radical things he has done in office. That’s particularly stunning given that the NYT celebrates Snyder’s veto of some of the Republican efforts at voter disenfrachisement. With the EM law effectively invalidating elections for Mayor, city council, and school board around the state, Snyder’s law has partially disenfranchised half of MI’s African Americans. And yet the NYT would spin Snyder as a hero of protecting voters’ rights?

In addition, the article dishonestly suggests that Snyder’s approach to all laws on the right to organize–whether it be a right to work law or constitutional protection for the right to organize–is inaction. That’s utterly false. Snyder’s administration invented all sorts of ridiculous excuses (such as you can’t explain right to organize in 100 words) why the right to organize referendum shouldn’t be on the ballot on November. Snyder has already done what he can to veto the right to organize, as if his EM law doesn’t already constitute such a veto!

Rick Snyder gave businesses in this state tax cuts; to pay for them, he’s cutting public employment. Those very ideological choices may be one of the reasons why unemployment has started to creep up.

In any case, Snyder’s policies have not varied that much from the Republican governors the NYT struggles to differentiate him from. He has just accomplished those policies–gutting unions, disenfranchising people of color, and giving the rich more–via different means.

Update: After I was done with this post, I regretted not reminding people of the fact that no Emergency Manager–either with or without Snyder’s enhanced powers–has succeeded in turning devastated cities around. Eclectablog, which has written so much on the EM law, hits some of that here.

Meanwhile, back here at Ground Zero, the citizens of Michigan are dealing with a law that not only disenfranchises them, it arms an unelected dictator with only the tools of cutting and destruction to fix problems that require construction and building. It gives these dictators tools to put the costs of balancing the books on groups that were largely not responsible for them. While they break contracts, shift public monies to the private sector through privatization, and sell off public assets, the Governor and his accomplices in the legislature take away needed resources from the municipalities and schools that need them most and hands the tax money over to corporations. Their philosophy is that this will raise the tide in Michigan and all of the boats with it. What they fail to acknowledge, and what the NYT piece makes no mention of, is that the Republicans in our state, with the cooperation of Governor Snyder, have used the tools of destruction given to Emergency Managers to smash holes in the boats of our most desperate cities and schools.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

19 replies
  1. JTM says:

    Because of your reporting on MI’s EM law, I stopped in Benton Harbor on the way home from Milan, MI, last month. Wow. I have no “before” data, of course, but I’ve never seen a more depressed place. I was chatting with two cops at a convenience store (before getting back on 94 and getting the heck out of there) and they said something interesting: because of the cut backs, only two of them are on duty most of the time, and they’re not supposed to use much gas, so they always park one cruiser and ride together in the other. This way they can actually cover more ground and still know that they have back-up. They also said that they predict a continued down-ward spiral for the area (as in: more crime, less money, fewer services, more crime, etc) until – and this is as close to a direct quote as I can remember – there’s nothing left to steal and it starts spilling over to the south. Then all heck will break loose and something will finally be done. The only question was whether the residents of Benton Harbor will riot before or after one or more of them is shot by someone from St Joseph.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @JTM: Bingo!

    I think Detroit is in better shape, because there are artists coming in and because they’ve got the land to turn back to farming. But it’s still a war zone in many places, and what they’re doing is only going to make it worse for a lot of the people stuck there.

  3. par4 says:

    There has been NO drop in unemployment. The government just quit counting millions of unemployed and deemed them out of the work force.

  4. MadDog says:

    Telling the truth in the MSM is a well-known liberal bias. And the NYT has nightmares when the Repugs accuse it of truthfulness liberal bias.

    Representing your howling-at-the-moon batshite crazy Repug uncle as the paragon of a thoughtful, responsible and even-handed politician allows the Gray Lady to continue to pretend she is still virtuous because blowjobs aren’t really sex, are they?

  5. OrionATL says:

    thanks, ew.

    as i read thru this puff piece this a.m. i was thinking of you and wondering just where the truth really lay. now i know.

    from a journalistic standpoint, it seems a major instance of reportorial incompetence for a reporter to write a story with major missing facts, facts whose inclusion would totally change the conclusions a reader would draw. this reporter apparently did not know michigan’s recent economic history and was happy to write up, with his editor’s complicity, a “happy, happy story” – a feel-good story from beginning to end with an identified protagonist who struggles and wins out in the end.

    this is not journalism, it’s literature – fiction to be exact.

    i don’t suppose the times’ new ceo will change things. after all, his task is to “grow the brand”.

  6. Phil Perspective says:

    @emptywheel: I Tweeted at Monica Davey .. asking if she’s just stupid .. or well .. being a toady for her corporate masters .. I’ve done a lot of that at NYT “reporters” this past week … apparently .. all the smarts left Times Square once K-thug went on vacation .. yeah .. yeah .. I know he probably hasn’t been in that building 6 times since it opened .. but the stupid quotient zooms upward when ever he’s not around it seems

  7. JTM says:

    Since ew didn’t object to my slight deviation from the topic, I’ll say a little more about what those two cops in Benton Harbor told me. (I’m doing this partly because it’s nice to be able to tell a story where the cops are clearly smart and caring. Full disclosure: I was [briefly] a traffic cop in Baltimore in the 1980s.) The prediction was that, when the bleep hits the fan, it will be a white from St Joseph shooting a black from Benton Harbor. Therefore, the discussion will not be how the cut-backs in Benton Harbor are the root problem, nor how installing an EM makes people feel even less responsible for what’s going on around them and, therefore, more likely to commit crimes against their neighbors; the discussion will be about race and carry laws and “stand-your-ground,” etc. People will see it as “Trevon Martin goes to Michigan” when that is not the issue. The real issue was out-sourcing manufacturing because profit pwns (real) patriotism these days.

    The idea that a real patriot is one who builds stuff in his or her home country, even if that means less profit – coming from a cop in one of the worse places I’ve ever seen – was both sad and uplifting. There are some really good people out there in places you might not expect. That is reason for hope, all the Tea Party rallies not-withstanding.

  8. OrionATL says:


    first-rate reporting; please report to 229 west 43rd street, nyc. there is a lot of vacancy there – and i’m not referring to employment slots, but to vacancy between the ears of reporters and editors.

  9. emptywheel says:

    One other thing I should have included in the post. No city has been turned around by an Emergency Manager, not before or after Snyder’s radical addition to the law. That’s because they’re not designed to craft new directions for cities gutted by globalization. They’re designed solely to strip cities. So Davey’s description of it as “to shore up financially troubled cities,” is more bogosity.

  10. JTM says:

    My impression is that the one goal of an EM is to provide cover while the few people who still have positive net worth can get out. It has zero to do with saving the city and/or the majority of the people who still live there. The other goal of an EM is to prevent the problems in that city from adversely affecting the positive net-worth folks from the surrounding areas. While I have no idea whether the first goal is ever met, I can’t see the second succeeding. I mean, it’s not like the people of St Joseph can “just build the darned fence,” is it?

  11. I LIve In Saint Joseph says:

    1) It will not be a “white” from Saint Joseph that shoots an African American from Benton Harbor – it will be a Law Enforcement Officer (probably Berrien County Sheriff Department or Michigan State Police) defending Saint Joseph from the African Americans who will be the shooter.

    2) Saint Joseph already has a “fence” in place – it will simply raise the many draw bridges that connect the “Twin Cities” to prevent cross border crossings. If you look at a map, Saint Joseph is an island – it is surrounded by water (Lake Michigan, Saint Joseph River, Paw Paw River, Hickory Creek).

    3) Whirlpool Corporation, with the connivance of the Democratic Jennifer Granholm administration and the continuing connivance of the Republican Rick Snyder administration, “stole” public land (with the assistance of the “Brownfield Reclamation Act”) and turned it into a golf course and recreation area that caters to the area’s wealthy, especially FIPs (Fine Illinois People).

    4) Whirlpool Corporation is in the midst of a continuing long run act of “Apartheid” (just like South Africa did and isreal does today to Palestinian land) in which it simply carves off the more attractive and lucrative land areas (Lake Michigan waterfront and Saint Joseph River and Paw Paw River frontages) that are then turned over to private concerns for development, with the able assistance of Michigan Tax Payer money that is funneled to the area for that express purpose.

    5) Benton Harbor was the “hot” spot in the 1950’s to middle 1960’s. How hot? My parents could not afford housing in Benton Harbor when they moved to the area in 1957 but could afford housing in more rural Saint Joseph (we had fruit orchards just blocks from the house when i was in elementary school). But that changed when white flight took place and the many many manufacturing plants in the area started to close and send the jobs to NON-Union states and out of the country (Mexico, etc). Whirlpool shut down eight (8) factories that threw over 15,000 people out of work in 1960’s – 1970’s.

    Benton Harbor needs a complete overhaul – just like a million other places in the Rust Belt and other depressed areas of the usa and the world. The 1% has simply killed off the Golden Goose and it is not going to get any better anytime soon.

  12. Bill Michtom says:

    Slightly OT: Pulitzer winner John Burns carries on the Times vendetta against Julian Assange. In response, I wrote to their public editor.

    John F. Burns article “Assange Faces Long Stay in Ecuador’s London Embassy” is not a news piece, but hostile commentary. However, it is not even labeled as news analysis.

    Once again, the Times gives a writer an opportunity to smear Mr. Assange because he did not play by the rules the United States government wants from journalists, and that the Times has been entirely too willing to follow: burying warrantless wiretapping for over a year so that voters wouldn’t know what their government was doing when they went to the polls in November of 2004; agreeing to clear stories with the government before publication as policy.

    Nor does this opinion piece include the details that have led most unbiased observers to suspect the Swedish authorities to be acting as surrogates for the US:

    Assange is not accused of forcible rape but of not using a condom and not withdrawing before ejaculating, which in Sweden is termed sexual assault. Nor has the Swedish prosecutor who wants to question Assange been willing to question him in London, something which she could have done personally or via CCTV or livestreaming.

    Finally, the writing is rife with one-sidedness, creating an impression of a completely irresponsible person while omitting the evidence that the US has applied pressure to prevent people from supporting Wikileaks doing the same sort of journalism that the Times does–though more and more occasionally.

  13. Richard Shindledecker says:

    The NYT is no longer ‘Journalism’ by any recognizable standard. With the exception of Krugman there’s no there there in the sense of integrity – hasn’t been for 20 years. Sad – When I moved to NYC 40 years ago it was great even though Punch was a sexist pig. He had balls now his kid just licks them (not his).

  14. OrionATL says:

    @Bill Michtom:

    thanks for taking a public stand vis-a-vis the nytimes’ supercilious, pointless, relentless attacking of julian assange.

    had the nytimes had julian assange, rather than judy miller, reporting on spooky-weapons-of-mass-destruction hidden somewhere over the rainbow in iraq, we might have saved ourselves hundreds upon hundreds of billions of war-wasted dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives, +4000 of which lives were american.

    but at least from the german genocide on, the times has usually preferred a cozy fireside chat with power over the less rewarding professional task of reporting the awful truths of day – has preferred being courted and loved rather than being feared for exposing the truth.

    plus ca change…

  15. OrionATL says:

    @Richard Shindledecker:

    “… With the exception of Krugman there’s no there there in the sense of integrity…”

    well said.

    i have had precisely this thought regarding nytimes, krugman, and intellectual integrity.

    plus another thought:

    could it be that damned difficult for a large news bureaucracy to just tell it like it is? could it, really?

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