Now It Can Be Told
Belated barking on
By Roger Bybee
watchdog that barks only after a major plundering will understandably have its competence questioned—as well as its loyalty. Major media’s performance around Permanent Normalization of Trade Relations (PNTR) with
For months, both the news sections and editorial pages of flagship newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post happily wagged their tails in support of PNTR, and marginalized PNTR opponents. Normalizing trade with
Meanwhile, major media largely dismissed the possibility that PNTR was entirely compatible with
But once the House voted narrowly on May 24 to approve Permanent Normalization of Trade Relations with
On paper, the accord promises vast new openings for American agricultural goods, telecommunications equipment and Internet providers, among others. But history suggests that as soon as
Enforcement provisions in the WTO deal are so vague, and China’s promises to import more American farm products must be reconciled with long-standing fears that China might become too dependent on foreign countries for its food supply and with the already precarious economic circumstances of China’s farmer. . . . Our headaches with
While the Wall Street Journal’s editorialists are unequaled in their zealotry about free trade, the paper’s news coverage of the PNTR debate was actually more balanced and nuanced than Times and Post reporting, according to Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. Still, the Journal’s most damning assessment of PNTR came after the vote.
Contradicting those who hailed
China as a huge potential market for U.S.-made goods, the Journal (5/25/00) suggested diat China’s real significance lay in U.S.-owned factories churning out goods for export back to the U.S.: "While the debate in Washington focused mainly on the probable lift for U.S. exports to China, many U.S. multinationals have something different in mind. This deal is about investment, not exports,’ says Joseph Quinlan, an economist with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co."
Why the sudden alarm raised by the watchdogs in the media about PNTR? What accounts for the literally overnight shift in coverage? Once the narrow House PNTR victory became a fait accompli, pieties about the virtues of "free trade" could be set aside without endangering the outcome of the vote. The media swiftiy switched into a problem-solving mode, assessing the very real issues raised beforehand by largely ignored labor, environmental and human rights advocates.
The more realistic coverage serves the interests of corporate executives and major stockholders, who make high-stakes investment decisions and require clear intelligence about real problems and prospects, not near-religious prattle about the inevitable benefits flowing from "free trade" and "globalization."
However, the vast majority of Americans, those whose wages and jobs are jeopardized by the potential shift of U.S. factories to China or other high-repression, low-wage sites, are not helped by belated barking. The public clearly needs media outiets whose loyalty as watchdogs is to the interests of working Americans. •
Roger Bybee is the communications director of Wisconsin Citizen Action and works with the