On the February 22 edition of "American Morning," CNN's Carol Costello framed the ongoing budget debate in Wisconsin as a struggle between embattled middle class workers and corporatist Republicans with ulterior motives, parroting SEIU President Mary Kay Henry to warn viewers that "corporate America is about to win big time."
"Henry says corporate America save themselves money in wages by lining the pockets of Republicans running for statewide offices," regurgitated Costello. "According to followthemoney.org, in the 2009-2010 election cycle, business interests donated $878 million to candidates running for governor and other statewide offices across the country, that includes hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio."
While those figures are not in dispute, Costello failed to hold Democrats and their Big Labor financiers to a similar standard: "And Democrats say there is another reason Republicans want to gut unions. Organized labor donates hundreds of millions of dollars to candidates like Barack Obama. So if you weaken the unions, you weaken a traditional moneyed supporter of the Democratic Party."
[Video embedded after the page break.]
On the one hand, Costello argued that corporate interests are exerting inappropriate influence on Republican Governor Scott Walker by flushing his coffers with campaign contributions. But on the other hand, Costello contended that union interests that funnel sizeable donations to Democrats are merely victims of a Republican machine hell-bent on exacting political retribution.
Setting aside her egregious double standard, Costello's claim that "corporate America" is exploiting hard-working union workers is factually inaccurate. The proposed budget under consideration in Wisconsin would only affect public workers, who by definition are employed by the government, not private-sector workers employed by companies, or "corporate America."
Throughout the segment, Costello invoked phrases like "labor's last stand" and "battle royale" to conceal the fact that Walker's plan is a modest and reasonable attempt to bridge a massive budget gap, not punish union workers for supporting Democratic politicians.
Contrary to the impression left by Costello, Walker is asking state and local workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salary to their pensions and 12 percent for their health benefits. In addition, Walker is proposing reforms that would pare down monopoly bargaining privileges for public-sector workers, not eliminate the unions altogether.
A transcript of the segment can be found below:
February 22, 2011
7:25 a.m. EST
KIRAN CHETRY: Still to come, labor in crisis in America. States moving to eliminate the rights of collective bargaining. Carol Costello joins us with more on whether or not this is the union's last stand.
T.J. HOLMES: Also, the scramble continues this morning to find more survivors after a powerful earthquake in New Zealand. We'll have the very latest for you on this AMERICAN MORNING. It's 25 minutes past the hour.
CHETRY: Protests continue in Wisconsin and in other parts of the country. So many states in crisis. And leaders are trying to trim millions in deficits. We could be witnessing, though, some say labor's last stand in America. Two states are now trying to pass budgets that even the president remarked seemed like an assault on unions. Carol Costello is live in Washington where unions have been going toe- to-toe with corporate America for decades, competing interests in some cases. Who might come out on top of this one?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN correspondent: I guess I'd use a cliche on that one, Kiran. Time will tell. This is shaping up to be a battle royale, not only in Wisconsin but in Ohio too. Union leaders even though it's from the private sector are urging solidarity. And they're doing that for a reason. They feel this is the final fight and they can't afford to wave the white flag.
COSTELLO: What's happening in Wisconsin, and now in Ohio is not new. It's the culmination of a decade's long fight between organized labor and management. And if you ask pro-union folks:
KAREN KAMINSKY, Wisconsin teacher: I want my children to support union labor so their children can have a future too.
COSTELLO: Corporate America is about to win big time. Mary Kay Henry is the President of the Service Employees International Union.
MARY KAY HENRY, SEIU president: There's been a coordinated campaign for the last 30 years to undermine the American middle class by weakening the power of workers to be able to collectively bargain to raise their wages.
COSTELLO: Henry says corporate America save themselves money in wages by lining the pockets of Republicans running for statewide offices. According to followthemoney.org, in the 2009-2010 election cycle, business interests donated $878 million to candidates running for governor and other statewide offices across the country, that includes hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio. Organized labor groups donated far less to state candidates, $225 million. But Republicans argue it's the voters, not the campaign dollars who have spoken.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At least there's a few teachers out there who have the guts to stand up against you union thugs!
COSTELLO: Many Republican lawmakers say one of the biggest threats to our economy is not a lack of corporate regulations, but unions out of control.
SHANNON JONES (R), Ohio State Senate: We've got a projected $8 plus billion budget deficit we have to deal with. And we're not like Washington. We just can't print more money and pawn it off on our children. We've got to balance these budgets.
COSTELLO: That's why Senator Jones is introducing Ohio's bill. A bill that would essentially gut collective bargaining rights for state workers. And Democrats say there is another reason Republicans want to gut unions. Organized labor donates hundreds of millions of dollars to candidates like Barack Obama. So if you weaken the unions, you weaken a traditional moneyed supporter of the Democratic Party. And as you said, Kiran, as you guys have been saying, things will come to a head in Wisconsin today with the governor now saying that, you know, if the people don't come back to the table, if the Democrats don't come back to the state House, then he's going to have to lay off all of those state workers, 1,500 teachers, maybe.
CHETRY: Yes, it is going to get ugly again today. And we'll continue to follow that. Thanks so much for joining us this morning, Carol. Appreciate it.
--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.