ABC Lobbies for Liberal Legislation on Time Off; Touts ‘08 Dem

On Friday’s "Good Morning America," for the fourth time this year, the ABC program skewered America for not being generous with paid leave and openly lobbied viewers to support a Democratic, big government initiative. After lumping the U.S. in with countries such as Liberia and Lesotho, as being one of only five countries that don’t provide paid maternity leave, GMA contributor Tory Johnson appeared with Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd to promote his legislation.

"First and most important is to make your voice heard, Johnson exclaimed. Openly advocating this government expansion, she added, "On the GMA website, we have links to all the senators’ and congressmen’s offices. Call them. E-mail them. Let them know where you stand." Would GMA promote legislation for family friendly television that a Republican presidential candidate was sponsoring? Also, there was almost no mention of the expensive cost of providing eight weeks of paid maternity leave and how that would effect the U.S. taxpayer. Instead, co-host Robin Roberts mentioned that unpaid leave is already available and wondered, "What's stopping the government from making the law truly family friendly?" Johnson alternatively described paid leave as "government’s relief" and "great benefits" without much consideration of where these "benefits" are coming from.

Roberts did ask a solitary question about cost to Senator Dodd, but most of the coverage had an Orwellian tone to it. The ABC graphic proclaimed, "Take Control of Your Life: Can Government do More?" So, take control of your life by handing over power and responsibility to the government?

Early in the segment, Roberts began by bashing the United States in comparison to the rest of the world. She wondered, "Did you know that among 173 countries surveyed, there are only five countries without a national maternity leave? Lesotho, Swaziland, New Guinea, Liberia and the U.S." Then, she announced that Johnson had been sent to D.C. to "get answers about why Washington is not doing more to help working families." In her next sentence, Roberts mentioned the example of a working mother who is taking 12 weeks of leave. So, America does have a "national maternity leave" program, just not paid leave.

As noted earlier, this is the fourth time in 2007 that GMA has bashed America in relation to paid time off. In June, GMA correspondent David Wright alleged that "the U.S. doesn't make it easy" for working parents and the same references to Liberia and Swaziland were trotted out. Elizabeth Vargas advocated for paid maternity leave in February. Two months later, in April, the program touted Denmark’s generous welfare system.

Finally, Friday’s segment, yet again, provided no context on the difference between the United States and Swaziland. In discussing the June report on leave, I observed some of the distinctions that reporter Wright left out:

The linkage of America to these countries is, perhaps, intended to provoke gasps in the audience. But Mr. Wright left out important differences in quality of life, such as the fact that Swaziland has 40 percent unemployment, almost 70 percent of the country lives in poverty and has a per capita GDP of only $5,200. (Comparatively, the U.S. is at $44,000.)

So, America, unlike Swaziland, must be doing something right.

A transcript of the September 28 segment, which aired at 7:40am, follows:

Tory Johnson: "Hi, it's Tory Johnson on Capitol Hill with a super group of women taking control of workplace politics. And we all want to say ‘Good Morning America!"

Sawyer: "We hear you loud and clear. The final stop on this week's ‘take control of your life’ tour, headed to Capitol Hill to ask tough questions about the issue of family leave. Did you know that among 173 countries surveyed there are only five countries without a national maternity leave? Lesotho, Swaziland, New Guinea, Liberia and the U.S. So we sent workplace contributor Tory Johnson to the capitol to get answers about why Washington is not doing more to help working families. Single working mom Tracy Reed gave birth just three weeks ago. And thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act, she entitled to 12 week of maternity leave from her government job. The problem, those 12 weeks are unpaid. And as Tracy told our Tory Johnson, she's struggling just to get by."

ABC Graphic: "Take Control of Your Life: Can Government do More?"

Tracy Reed (working mom on maternity leave): "It's hard to be at home on unpaid leave. My loving family and friends, they've been keeping us afloat."

Roberts: "Debra Ness is one of many trying to expand the benefits for working women like Tracy Ness."

Debra Ness (President, National Partnership For Women & Family): "We really need as a nation to face this challenge because our workplace policies are out of sync with the realities of working families' lives."

Roberts: "There are paid leave proposals in Congress right now. So, what's stopping the government from making the law truly family friendly? Tory Johnson went to Washington to get some answers from Labor Department official Victoria Lipnic."

Johnson: "Is it troubling that so many people can't take advantage of the great benefits?"

Victoria Lipnic (Assistant Secretary, U.S. Dept. of Labor): "Well, certainly if you are a family who cannot, yeah, that's, you're in difficult circumstances."

Johnson: "As far back as 2000, the Department of Labor's own report showed that nearly 78 percent of those would wanted leave and had to pass it up said it was because they simply could not afford it."

Johnson: "What is the solution for a mother who has a new baby and her only option is to take unpaid leave or to take no time?"

Lipnic: "Again, you know, very difficult situation. It takes a lot of effort on the part of people like myself and all the policymakers."

Johnson: "So no timetable. There's no time frame?"

Lipnic: "I couldn't give you a time frame on it. It takes a long time to, you know, get people who are genuinely interested in trying to solve these issues."

Johnson: "Doesn't that sound like a lot of rhetoric to someone who is that mother or father at home who needs help?"

Lipnic: "Sure, it could. But it's also the reality that we are trying."

Roberts: "A reality that is forcing many working families like Tracy Reed into debt."

Reed: "It's a short amount of time, but it's a long time to be without money."

Roberts: "And for more, joining us live from right there, the Russell Senate Caucus Room, Tory Johnson and a wonderful group of working moms looking for answers. Plus, we have a very special guest next to her. That is Senator Chris Dodd. He is the sponsor of the Family Leave Insurance Act and, of course, a candidate for Democratic nomination for president. Good morning to you all. And Senator Dodd, I know you have been very passionate about this in recent years for many years now. And we saw Tory asking, going into the Labor Department and asking some tough questions. But they, they don't make the laws. They enforce the laws. So why isn't Congress moving a little faster on this issue?"

Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT): "Well, it's a difficult answer to give. We've been very slow on it. I authored the original Family and Medical Leave Act. That took me seven years. I went through three presidents and two vetoes before I could finally enact it in 1993. So, we’ve been slow to move on these issues. 168 countries in the world, only four countries don't provide family medical leave. Three of them are very poor struggling countries and the United States. So we've now had family medical leave, but as you pointed out, it's unpaid leave. And for almost 78 percent, 80 percent of families out there who couldn't take this because they couldn't afford to do it. So, paid leave is what I have introduced, a paid leave program. And we think that could make a huge difference for families in this country. We ought to catch up with the rest of the world on this issue."

Roberts: "As you said, you introduced this plan back in June, I believe. Eight weeks of paid leave. Of course, many people want to know, all right, how much is it going to cost and who's going to foot the bill here?"

Dodd: "It's a shared cost here between employers, employees, and the federal government. And it’s just a minor cost actually when you spread it out that way. It's not borne by any one group, employers or employees. And people say, well, that can be expensive. Well, my answer to that is it's very expensive not to do this. You heard already from families who pay an awful cost here when they have a family crisis. You shouldn't have to choose between the family you love and the job that you need. So many families with both parents working today, the pressures are incredible on them. So, this bill is long overdue. And I’m pleased to announce that Ted Stevens, a Republican here in the Senate is my co-sponsor. We have bipartisan support to begin this and I hope we can attract more support in the coming days."

Roberts: "You can’t see this, Senator Dodd, but a lot of moms behind you, nodding along in agreement to what you are saying. Tory, now, it is obvious the frustration from Senator Dodd and others there trying to get things done. But if you’re a family and you can't wait what can you do now?"

Johnson: "There are a few things that you can do. First and most important is to make your voice heard. Let the presidential candidates know the issues that matter to you. On the GMA website, we have links to all the senators and congressmen’s offices. Call them. E-mail them. Let them know where you stand. You can also talk to your state and find out what’s happening there. California was the first state to pass a leave act and others could be following suit. And most importantly, talk to your employer. Sometimes we can't wait for the government's relief to come. And so you want to talk to your boss right now. Many times if your boss knows that your need is just temporary, they're willing to work with you. So, be creative about creating a win-win and avoiding a lose-lose. So, if you say, ‘Work with me. Maybe you can give me alternative work, prorated pay. Give me an advance on vacation time that I haven't yet accrued, just for this temporary time, you'll help me and you won't lose me either.’"

Roberts: "Now you have Senator Dodd along nodding along with you."

Dodd: "Absolutely. I love that."

Johnson: "And these women, too. They're going to make their voices heard."

Roberts: "All right. That is the pledge all week long. Senator Dodd, thank you so much. Tory and all the women there, have a great weekend. We certainly do appreciate it."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the associate editor for the Media Research Center's site.