Networks Steer Ford Stories to 'Hard Times,' Ignoring Other Firms on Track
NBCâ€™s report was even headlined â€śHard Times,â€ť which movie fans will catch as an un-subtle reference to a 1975 film about struggles during the Great Depression. But things arenâ€™t that bad for the entire auto industry; just for the Big Three â€“ Ford, GM (NYSE: GM) and Daimler-Chrysler (NYSE: DCX). A February 13 BusinessWeek article told â€śThe Good News About Americaâ€™s Auto Industry.â€ť
According to that piece, â€śLook past the trouble in Detroit, and the auto industry is anywhere but in decline. In a growing number of Southern hamlets such as Canton, Toyota (TM ), Honda (HMC ), Mercedes and other foreign car manufacturers are providing nonunionized jobs â€“ 33,000 since 2000 â€“ that pay almost as much as United Auto Workers earn farther north.â€ť
But the networks focused almost entirely on Ford. NBC anchor Brian Williams introduced his story by saying Ford â€śhas made a change that will change the way business is done by doing away with tens of thousands of unionized workers.â€ť Ford is â€śdoing awayâ€ť with those workers by offering them buyouts worth up to $140,000 each.
The company has been battling high union wages and benefits along with foreign-owned competition like Honda and Toyota. But neither of these explanations figured prominently on the September 14 evening news shows. BusinessWeek explained that foreign-car companiesâ€™ employees here in the United States earn a bit less and have slightly less in benefits. But that adds up. One area of major difference is retirement. Nissan, for example, uses a 401(k) instead of a defined benefit plan like Detroitâ€™s autoworkers.
Both CBS and ABC admitted Ford needs what CBSâ€™s Anthony Mason called â€śradical surgery to survive.â€ť And all three networks talked about how the companyâ€™s sales had gone down. On ABCâ€™s â€śWorld News with Charles Gibson,â€ť reporter Dean Reynolds had a partial explanation: â€śHeavily invested in gas-guzzling SUVs, at a time of high pump prices, its sales have plummeted.â€ť
But both foreign competition and the huge cost of salaries and benefits for Fordâ€™s union labor received attention only at NBC.
NBCâ€™s Reynolds described Ford as â€śpummeled by high gas prices and fierce foreign competition, particularly from Toyota.â€ť He made only a passing reference to the benefits crisis Detroitâ€™s manufacturers have been coping with: â€śIt gives them breathing space and hopefully a more predictable issue dealing with the funding of pensions and health care.â€ť
Recently, the story of American automotive success has come from companies like Toyota and Honda. Toyota moved into the No. 3 spot in American auto sales and â€ścontinued to take market share from other automakers last month, posting an industry-best 17 percent increase in sales,â€ť according to the Associated Press.