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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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May 1997


Reporters Explore Unique Angles
Kudos: Zahn and Myers

In December of 1994, MediaNomics reported that when network news shows reported on the airline industry, they invariably looked at airlines that were losing money instead of the smaller airlines that were growing. This exclusive focus on unprofitable airlines made deregulation look like a disaster, when in fact it had been enormously beneficial to passengers by spawning innovations and allowing younger airlines to compete against entrenched carriers.

On the April 19 CBS Evening News, Paula Zahn broke with this tendency. Her extended segment focused on Southwest Airlines and its unorthodox CEO, Herb Kelleher. "Southwest has carved out a niche for itself as a low-cost, no-frills, short-haul carrier," Zahn reported. "It has become the eighth-largest airline, with flights to 50 cities."

Kelleher explained that Southwest doesn't assign seating so that "we return our planes more quickly, so that they can stay in the air more and generate more revenue each day," which allows Southwest to charge lower fares. "And what's good for passengers has been good for Kelleher and for Southwest," Zahn pointed out, "which recently announced its 24th straight year of profitability, a record unmatched by any other airline." Kelleher also said that the bigger airlines spent four years in litigation trying to keep Southwest out of the industry.

Zahn made clear that their failure to keep Southwest down has been a boon for passengers. "Southwest has had the fewest customer complaints and the number one on-time record for the last five years, according to the Department of Transportation," she noted.

The May 13 NBC Nightly News informed viewers about the Family Friendly Workplace Act. "On Capitol Hill today a debate that goes to the heart of what's important more time or more money in the workplace," began Tom Brokaw. "Under consideration, in the Senate, a bill that could give hourly workers more freedom of choice."

Lisa Myers then introduced Lisa Montenegro, "a paralegal and a single parent." According to Myers, "She'd like to trade overtime pay for more time off," but cannot because of existing labor law.

Montenegro told NBC viewers: "My ideal day would be more flexibility. Maybe some comp time to allow me when I've come in and worked really hard on an assignment, I've accrued some hours or something I can take some time off."

Myers explained that "right now federal law prohibits companies from offering hourly workers paid time off instead of overtime. A bill before the Senate would change that and give those who work extra hours the choice overtime pay at 1.5 times their hourly pay, or 1.5 hours of time off instead. It also provides for flex time." She noted that "many government workers have had these options for years."

Concluded Myers: "The bill is now stalled in the Senate, with Republicans and business lined up for it, Democrats and labor unions against, and the President threatening a veto. So for now, Andrew's karate classes and swimming classes will have to wait. His mom's work schedule won't allow it."


Rich Noyes


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