Tuesday, December 23, 2008

LA Times: Disclosure Failure

The LA Times published an anti-union, anti-Hilda Solis op-ed today by Bret Jacobson, the co-founder of the Center for Union Facts -- Rick Berman's anti-union front group. Unfortunately they failed to disclose any of Jacobson's ties to the Center and cited him only as a researcher and strategist.

Original article: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oew-jacobson22-2008dec22,0,146187.story

Matt Hamlin takes a run at them on his personal blog, Hold Fast, and thinks this is the sort of thing we'll see a lot more of as the business groups step up their op-ed campaigns against Employee Free Choice.

From Hold Fast, a blog by Matt Browner Hamlin

In today's Los Angeles Times a man named Bret Jacobson writes a virulently anti-union screed attacking Labor Secretary nominee, Congresswoman Hilda Solis. Here's how the LA Times describes Jacobson at the bottom of his op-ed:

Bret Jacobson is founder and president of Maverick Strategies LLC, a research and communications firm serving business and free-market think tanks.

We've seen a lot of anti-union, anti-Obama, anti-worker, and anti-Free Choice op-eds penned by business consultants and "free-market think tank" types of late, so this isn't a terribly shocking biography for drivel like this. Of course, this isn't all Jacobson is. Here's what the highly-informative BretJacobson.com has to say:

Prior to founding Maverick Strategies, Bret co-founded the Center for Union Facts, overseeing that organization's research activities, guiding its communications, launching its new-media capabilities, and helping plan its strategic national advertising and earned-media campaigns.

And just for those not paying attention at home, here's Sourcewatch:

The Center for Union Facts is a secretive front group for individuals and industries opposed to union activities. It is part of lobbyist Rick Berman's family of front groups including the Employment Policies Institute.

The domain name, www.unionfacts.com was registered to Berman & Co. in May 2005.

American Rights At Work is a bit more hard hitting in their assessment of the Center for Union Facts:

The Center is the latest public relations campaign and front group devised by "notorious D.C. lobbyist" and veteran spin doctor Richard "Rick" Berman with his firm, Berman and Company.

The Center for Union Facts is a front group focused on damaging the public image of unions, depressing workers' rights, pushing legislation that would make it more difficult for workers to join unions, and furthering an anti-union business climate.

Berman earned his status as one of The Hill's top lobbyists, along with Jack Abramoff, by working on behalf of unpopular clients like the tobacco, alcohol, and fast food industries. Berman's campaigns have attempted to relax drunk driving laws, argue obesity is not a public health issue, prevent increases in the federal or state minimum wage, and attack advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

The Center for Union Facts' legislative agenda is strikingly similar to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's.

The big business lobbying group both adamantly opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, and is in strong support of the Secret Ballot Protection Act. Berman formerly devised union avoidance strategies for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and he still has strong ties to the Chamber through Randel Johnson, Vice President for Labor at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Berman told The New York Times that he asked Chamber of Commerce officials at a state conference to recommend that businesses in their states donate to his anti-union campaign. Randel Johnson has repeatedly denied any Chamber funding of the Center, yet admitted "he had served as an adviser to the Center."

On its website, the Center claims it is "supported by foundations, businesses, union members, and the general public." Berman will only divulge that several companies and a foundation fund the Center, but will not release the names of his donors.

No individuals, foundations, or corporations have come forward to admit any sponsorship of the Center.

Why wouldn't they want to distance themselves from Berman's hyperbolic and unsupported rhetoric? Berman gets paid to say what responsible business leaders don't want attributed to them. The Washington Post reported that food industry officials, who would only be interviewed about Berman, "on the condition that they not be identified by name or by where they work, said that by keeping the sponsors anonymous, Berman's group can be more vociferous, provocative and irreverent in its criticisms.

In short, the Center for Union Facts is the key organization in Big Business efforts to stop the progress of labor in America, most notably through fighting against the Employee Free Choice Act. One of their co-founders, Bret Jacobson, was given license to push the Center's anti-union, anti-worker agenda in an op-ed against the nominee for Labor Secretary, while the Times failed to disclose the only informative part of his biography. He's the founder of a research firm? What is that supposed to tell the Times' readers?

Pretty much every person I know who works in politics does some level of consulting. The most important piece of Jacobson's biography - his professional connection to one of the biggest anti-union groups in America - is left out of a column that specifically pushes the Center's agenda.

In an AP article three days ago, a spokesman for the Center attacked President-elect Obama's pick of Solis for Labor Secretary (though, amazingly, the AP cited the Center as "a group critical of organized labor").

There has been a heavy, persistent trend in the mainstream press of anti-union articles and op-eds. The business lobby has been very good about getting their surrogates' op-eds placed in big papers like the LA Times, NY Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. There is a major fight going on between big business and America's workers about the future of organizing to increase worker rights in America. The fight is centered around the Employee Free Choice Act, but clearly the Secretary of Labor is now another front in this fight.

As frustrating as it is to repeatedly read columns, like Jacobson's, which include outright lies about what the Employee Free Choice Act is and does, I am 100% willing to take part in a national debate about how our country relates to working families. There are obviously different sides in this debate and there is nothing wrong with the debate being played out in the press. But in this atmosphere of daily volleys back and forth between big business front groups like the Center for Union Facts and the Obama administration and the American labor movement, it behooves the press to be honest about who is taking part in the debate.

The LA Times was brutally negligent to not disclose Bret Jacobson's employment at the Center for Union Facts, the only piece of his biography that had any bearing on his column. By not disclosing Jacobson's ties to this anti-worker group, the LA Times succeeded in giving their pages over to a press release from a big business front group, with no means for their reader to discern it from a non-partisan piece on President-elect Obama's pick to chair the Department of Labor.

So editors of the Los Angeles Times, let me show you how this is done:

Disclosure: I'm proud to work for the Service Employees International Union…so proud that I disclose it when I write about issues that relate to my employer. That said, this post was not approved by nor written with the knowledge of SEIU. It is representative of my views alone.

Now that wasn't hard, was it?

Matt's post at Hold Fast:


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