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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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June 1996


Poll: Workers: Happy. Media: Yawn.
After Hyping Worker Anxiety, National Press Ignores Contrary Evidence

Few mantras have been repeated more often in the media this year than the one about anxious American workers. It's accepted as fact among reporters that American workers are alarmed about their prospects in the new, global economy. Just ask Dan Rather. As MediaNomics reported earlier this year, he spotted "fear and anger" in the workforce over "layoffs and barely rising wages." According to CNN's Kathleen Kennedy, "The latest rounds of corporate cutbacks have left many people fearing that they may be the next to be fired."

Tom Brokaw, introducing a January 29 Nightly News story about "today's frightening job market," announced: "Job security is a thing of the past now and the way of the future is downsizing and layoffs, even for America's biggest companies. It's making for serious anxiety."

The print media have been similarlyfocused on gloom. The January 22 U.S. News & World Report cover asked: "Is the American Worker Getting Shafted?" (The magazine's answer: yes.) Newsweek's February 26 cover labeled four executives who had laid off employees as "Corporate Killers," and declared that the "public is scared as hell."

The New York Times saw fit to print a seven-part series depicting American workplaces as "battlefields" with "millions of casualties." According to the Times, the story of a man who lost a high-paying bank job, was forced to take a job at one-fourth the pay, and then had his family leave him "is no longer extraordinary."

To find out, Inc. magazine tried something different. Rather than repeating emotional anecdotes about companies laying off loyal workers, Inc. commissioned the Gallup Organization to conduct a nationwide poll of workers.

"Across the board the 34 questions [to the worker survey] prompted upbeat -- sometimes even glowing -- responses," the magazine found. For example: 90 percent of the respondents were not worried about losing their jobs and 75 percent had not had three or more days in the past month when stress caused them to behave badly with their families. (For more survey results, see box.)

Interestingly, Inc. found that on many questions, workers at smaller companies are happier than those at large firms. The national media may be missing the story of worker happiness because they relentlessly focus on big business. Last summer, Media- Nomics found that in the first six months of 1995, there were 119 network evening news stories on the health of large companies, while only 13 stories focused on the health of those companies not in the Fortune 500. This is truly a whopper of an omission, since smaller, fast-growing companies ("gazelles") created five million jobs between 1990 and 1994, while other companies lost 800,000.

The non-business media have not reported Inc.'s findings and have yet to tell the whole story about the true nature of the American workplace. It is a picture of the entire economy -- they aren't telling the whole story.


Rich Noyes


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