When it comes to recent news coverage of so-called “Right to Work” legislation, the question I keep asking myself is, “Where’s the beef?”
First, let me say that I have the utmost respect for journalists. There are a lot of talented news professionals in Michigan, but there are far too few of them covering far too many issues in a rapidly changing media environment.
Unfortunately, that has left Michigan citizens with an opaque view of what’s actually happening in Lansing as politicians race through a frantic lame duck agenda.
For the most part, coverage of RTW has been a mile wide and an inch deep. We’ve seen countless stories covering the issue as a political horse race, mainly because it’s faster, easier, and cheaper.
What’s been missing from many news sources is an in-depth look at RTW as a policy matter. In part, that’s because Lansing Republicans and corporate special interests know that Michiganders still overwhelmingly support collective bargaining rights. That’s why politicians like Mike Shirkey are afraid to even release a bill – let alone hold committee hearings on the issue. And that’s apparently why politicians felt the need to summon nearly 30 state police cruisers and a SWAT team to patrol the capitol last week, when several hundred teachers, nurses, and firefighters came to Lansing to oppose RTW.
So instead of in-depth analysis, we get off-the-record quotes and rumors. Instead of a thoughtful debate on the economic arguments for and against RTW, we get endless speculation about the political consequences. Instead of tough questions holding public officials accountable, we get softballs and un-filtered talking points.
It’s worth highlighting the journalists who are (for the most part) getting it right in their coverage of RTW: Susan Demas with MLive, Rick Haglund with Bridge, Paul Egan with the Free Press, and Chad Livengood at the Detroit News.
The reporters covering the capitol are doing the best they can with limited resources. Hopefully more news outlets will step up to the plate to offer their readers a more in-depth view of the long-term policy implications RTW will have on Michigan’s future - preferably sometime before a bill is signed into law.
If you’d like to learn more about the economic consequences of RTW, check out these two reports from actual economists:
- What “Right to Work” Would Mean for Michigan, by Rolland Zullo, University of Michigan
- ‘Right to work’: The wrong answer for Michigan’s economy, by Gordon Lafer, Economic Policy Institute