George Will versus Stephen Pearlstein: a tale of two newspapermen


Newspapermen, for the most part, are not known for their intellectual gravitas.  They are the intellectual lightweights of the writing profession. But good newspapermen are known for their commitment to the facts of the situations that command their attention. If they are not, discerning readers quickly will skirt their columns and (hopefully) place their jobs in well-deserved jeopardy.

I suggest, in this column, that two Washington Post journalists are located at each extreme of this spectrum. George W. Will epitomizes everything that is good in the newspaperman, including an honest commitment to the facts.  Stephen Pearlstein,  au contraire, epitomizes everything that is bad, allowing ideology to sweep away inconvenient facts, as he engages in rants designed to whip up rage in the minds of equally ignorant readers.

Two columns in today’s Post , each dealing with last week’s ‘right to work ‘  struggle in the State of Michigan, support my hypothesis perfectly. The battle focused on pending legislation, which passed into law, allowing individuals the right to join or not to join a union and the right to pay or not to pay union dues levied on union members. The legislation was designed to eliminate coercion by unions over employees working in specific trades and industries. Certain government employees  – police and firemen – are excluded from the new laws in Michigan, though not elsewhere.

Let me stress that my judgment as to the relative worthiness of these two journalists, in this column at least, rests not on their respective ideologies – they lie towards the two extremes of the left-right political spectrum – but rather on their treatment of the facts and their willingness to engage in relevant research prior to penning their respective newspaper columns.

1.  George W. Will:

“Freedom is not the unions’ friend. After Colorado required public-employees unions in 2001 to have annual votes reauthorizing the collection of dues, membership in the Colorado Association of Public Employees declined 70 percent.  After Indiana’s government stopped in 2005 collecting dues from unionized public employees, the number of dues-paying members plummeted 90 percent.  In Utah, automatic dues deductions for political activities were ended in 2001; made voluntary, payments from teachers declined 90 percent.  After a similar measure in Washington state in 1992, the percentage of teachers making contributions fell from 82 to 11.”  George W. Will, ‘The anti-union backlash’, The Washington Post, December 16, 2012

Note the precision with which numbers are reported. Anyone can check those numbers out, if they are so inclined. George Will has done his homework before writing this column.

2.  Stephen Pearlstein

“Contrary to popular belief, state right-to-work laws don’t make it any harder to organize a union…All the state law does is to make it possible for workers to opt out of paying their fair share of the cost of negotiating and implementing contracts.  Yet even that doesn’t result in much of a difference. The percentage of workers in right-to-work states who chose not to participate is only 10 percentage points less than it is in non-right-to-work states, such as Nevada, where voluntary participation approaches 100 percent. It is easy to dig up statistics showing that right-to-work states have slightly lower wages, lower unemployment  and higher job growth, just as you can dig up statistics that show those states have significantly higher on-the-job  injuries, less health care, less education and lower living standards. But these are examples of correlation, not causation.” Stephen Pearlstein,  ‘A union battle whose time has passed’, The Washington Post,  December 16, 2012

Note the lack of precision with which the numbers are reported. This is a clear example of a newspaperman who has written his column off the top of a likely empty head. There is no evidence of research in this outburst.

 

 

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