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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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September 1998


Only One Side to Family Leave?

August 6 was the fifth anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act. But instead of using the occasion to debate the merits of the law, ABC’s Good Morning America saw it as an opportunity to show glowing admiration for government mandates on business.

Reporter Mabel Jong started off her story by sharing anecdotes of families that had benefited from the law, which requires businesses with 50 or more employees to allow workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family illnesses or the birth of children. Jong’s only criticism: the law doesn’t go far enough. "The U.S. still ranks as the least generous in the industrialized world when it comes to helping employees combine work and family," she said. "In a recent United Nations study, of the 150 nations surveyed, a third guarantee at least 14 weeks of maternity leave, and that’s paid. But thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act, Americans are discovering what Europeans already know, that family-friendly policies can make for happier and more productive employees."

After Jong’s report, host Kevin Newman interviewed Donna Lenhoff of the National Partnership of Women and Families, a proponent of expanding the law. Did Newman balance Jong’s report with tough questions for Lenhoff? Hardly. Newman instead threw such softballs as: "Here we are the richest society on the planet, and yet we are the Western country that spends the least amount of time giving mothers, or fathers for that matter, time with their children or time with your parents if they’re grieving. That just doesn’t seem to have changed in the last five years."

Jong and Newman would apparently be surprised to learn that there is another side of the family leave story. An editorial in that same day’s Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) reported that "this law is creating havoc." According to IBD, the Labor Department "has fostered new forms of hooky for workers to play under protection of the law. What Congress thought was a fairly obvious notion of what qualified has’'t been clear to Labor at all."

For example, the House had said that the law didn’t cover cases in which "treatment and recovery are very brief." But Labor Department guidelines for the law now include colds, the flu, and headaches, and according to IBD, "Last year a woman won a court case giving her the right to take unpaid leave for an ingrown toenail." This all adds up to increased costs for businesses and the economy in general.

Sometimes biases in the news are subtle and nuanced, but not when a reporter and a host interview only people from one side of an issue, never once challenge their positions, and never even acknowledge that there is another side.

Rich Noyes






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