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February 09, 2012

Tucker in Extra!: The Trade Debate That Wasn’t Reported

Our own Todd Tucker has a piece on the media distortion of last year's trade debate in this month's edition of Extra!, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's magazine. Here’s a snippet:

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In the 16 months leading up to the congressional vote on a set of trade deal with Korea, Colombia and Panama in mid-October, new reporting on the agreements scarcely mentioned that critics existed; when they were acknowledged, their objections were frequently mischaracterized. With media doing little to evaluate misleading claims made by the trade pacts' proponents, all three were approved by Congress by considerable margins.

There were two major points that opponents of the trio of deals – including  labor, environmental, consumer and even Tea Party groups – consistently emphasized in reports, press releases, letters and direct outreach to reporters.

First, these trade deals were modeled on the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a pact whose actual content reporters have historically paid little attention to (Extra!, 11-12/97). The combined text of the three new deals was nearly 4,000 pages; as with NAFTA, the bulk of the provisions were not related to "trade" issues per se, but rather restrict how the U.S. and the other nations might regulate their domestic economies. For instance, corporations are given new rights to challenge environmental and other regulations outside of national court systems, and demand that taxpayers compensate them for regulations' potential impact on profits.

Second, unlike earlier trade deals, even the government's own projections showed that the pacts would increase the U.S. trade deficit (Extra!, 10/11). The projections were produced by the independent U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), which typically produces overly rosy estimates of trade deals' impacts.

But at two of the country's most prominent papers, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, such criticisms were almost entirely absent.

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The full article is available by subscription.

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