Labor Almost Invisible On TV Talk

As the Labor Day holiday approaches, ask yourself how often you see unions represented on corporate-owned television. On the highest-profile public affairs shows, the answer is basically never.

According to a search of the Sunday morning talkshows for this year (January-August), not a single representative of a labor union appeared on any of the four network programs (NBC‘s Meet the Press, ABC‘s This Week, Fox News Sunday and CBS‘s Face the Nation).

Ironically, the one union leader discussed substantively on any of the programs was Ronald Reagan, the famously anti-union former president. He came up as an answer in an ABC “Powerhouse Puzzlers” quiz (3/2/14) as the only president to have headed a labor union, the Screen Actors Guild.

And it’s not that the shows couldn’t have used a voice for working people. While normally preoccupied with Beltway politics, these shows touched on issues like poverty, jobs and workers’ rights. There were even discussions of efforts to organize college athletes (Meet the Press, 3/23/14; Face the Nation, 3/30/14).

But representatives of organized labor were not part of these conversations. The closest labor came to the Sunday chat show circuit was when Meet the Press (6/29/14) aired an excerpt of a Clinton Foundation event that included two quotes from Sara Horowitz of the Freelancers Union, which is not a certified union but a nonprofit organization that brokers health insurance for independent workers.

fredsmith-FNSThe Sunday shows did, however, find time to hear the views of corporate America. Guests that were identified as current or former corporate CEOs made 12 appearances, including former AOL head Steve Case (Meet the Press, 4/6/14), Apple CEO Tim Cook (This Week, 3/30/14) and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (Fox News Sunday, 6/22/14). Former Hewlett Packard CEO and Republican political candidate Carly Fiorina made fourĀ appearances.

Introducing a segment with FedEx chair Frederick W. Smith and former UBS Investment Bank chief Robert Wolf, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace (5/4/14) announced:

We got a lot of numbers about the economy this week, but not a clear picture of where we stand. To help sort it out, we brought in two of America’s leading business executives.

None of the Sunday show hosts were ever similarly moved to bring in any of America’s leading labor representatives to give us a clearer picture of where we stand.