THE BLOG

NAFTA Redux: Reporters Again Refuse to Ask Simple Questions

05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET
  • David Sirota Newspaper columnist, radio host (AM760), bestselling author

Thanks to the now-famous abdication of responsibility by the media to actually "report" news in the lead up to the Iraq War, many people forget that the Washington press corps had displayed the same kind of power-worshiping proclivities during the debate over NAFTA 15 years ago (The most famous anecdote from the time came when polls showed the public opposed NAFTA, yet the Washington Post almost categorically refused to print any anti-NAFTA op-eds because its editor claimed with a straight face that the paper didn't want "to create an artificial balance where none existed"). But though Bill Moyers has recently humiliated Beltway reporters for their irresponsible behavior before the war, this same press corps seems uninterested in reforming itself as evidenced by its "coverage" today of the negotiations over global economic policy going on today between the White House and congressional Democrats.

These negotiations could be the most important deliberations on global economic issues in a generation with Democrats now demanding basic labor standards be included in all of our future trade deals - standards that would finally end the situation where American workers are deliberately forced into a wage and job-destroying race to the bottom against oppressed slaves in third world countries. Yet I put the term "coverage" in quotes, because reporters are refusing to ask or even report on a very simple question: Why does Big Business think America should be subject to lawsuits by foreign corporations but not by multinational unions? I have been following this debate very closely, and I haven't seen one story from any major news outlet that has tried to address this basic question, even though it is at the core of whether Congress and the White House enact a serious agreement or not.

Here's what's going on: Corporate lobbying groups are screaming bloody murder over the potential for the new agreement to allow foreign governments and unions to launch legal complaints against the United States for not complying with basic United Nations-supported international labor standards that Democrats are trying to put into the deal. They are threatening to use all of their power to stop any White House-congressional agreement on labor standards over this complaint. Yet, these same corporate lobbying groups have long ago added provisions to our existing trade pacts that allow multinational corporations to sue the federal government and state governments for "damages" when those governments pass profit-inhibiting laws protecting the environment, consumers and workers. American taxpayers have already been forced to shell out about $2 billion in "damages" because of these suits, which of course are litigated by unaccountable international courts. Reporters surely know about these cases - it takes all of 5 seconds to google "Nafta Chapter 11" to see what's going on.

So again, how come Big Money interests believe they should be able to sue America's federal, state and local governments to protect their profits, but unions shouldn't be able to have the same right to sue over enforcement of labor laws? And perhaps more importantly, how come not a single reporter is even bothering to ask about this brazen hypocrisy?

This question is at the crux of the fragile trade negotiations going on between House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and the White House. This is not some small technical issue -- this question and these negotiations are at the heart of what could be the most far-reaching globalization reforms in the last decade and at the heart of whether we are going to continue to economically reward countries and corporations that violate basic labor/human rights standards. That no one has tried to ferret out an answer to this is yet more proof that in Washington, the new zeitgeist among the Fourth Estate is power worshiping, not power challenging, stenography not actual reporting.