Over the three-day Labor Day weekend, CNN devoted less than 10 minutes to covering the robust unionization and labor movement in 2022. MSNBC, on the other hand, fared a little better with almost 24 minutes of labor coverage, including the only interview with a union leader across both cable channels.
2021 was a bellwether year for organized labor in the U.S., but cable news coverage since then has repeatedly failed to cover advances in organized labor throughout the country, largely glossing over campaigns to unionize at major national chains as well as the resurgence of labor strikes. Even though the holiday has its roots in celebrating the working class and there’s been groundbreaking growth of organized labor in recent months, CNN’s Labor Day weekend coverage failed to give credence to these developments in union activity and workers’ rights.
From September 3 to September 5, CNN covered union-related topics for approximately 9 minutes. CNN’s longest segment on the topic was an almost 5-minute guest panel discussing President Joe Biden’s appeal to union voters ahead of the 2024 election. Although there was one segment discussing 71% polled approval for unions, the majority of CNN’s Labor Day coverage focused on speeches by the president to union members in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, alongside a few mentions of the pilot associations’ ongoing protests. CNN did not host or air live interviews with any union leaders or organizers during its union coverage.
MSNBC’s organized labor coverage spanned just under 24 minutes during the same time period. Most of MSNBC’s coverage was focused on Biden’s speeches and the push to garner union support for elections, as well as fleeting mentions about Americans’ high approval of unions and increased labor activity in the country without context as to why workers are organizing in record numbers. However, a 7-minute MSNBC PoliticsNation segment with Chris Smalls, founder and president of Amazon Labor Union, offered a notable exception to the trend of lackluster Labor Day coverage as the only interview with a union leader across both cable networks. During the interview, Smalls and PoliticsNation host Al Sharpton discussed the successes of the labor movement and the interconnected relationship between workers' rights and civil rights.
Ahead of the holiday weekend this year, Media Matters provided a guide for MSNBC and CNN on significant pieces of union news that deserved to be highlighted in the spirit of Labor Day. But both channels failed to cover important union developments, including Star Garden dancers picketing in Los Angeles, MLB minor league players moving toward unionization, and Minnesota nurses going on strike.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on CNN and MSNBC for either of the terms “worker” or “labor” or any variation of either of the terms “union” or “organize” from September 3, 2022, though September 5, 2022.
We timed segments, which we defined as instances when labor unions or unionization efforts were the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of labor unions or unionization efforts. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed labor unions or unionization efforts with one another. We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker mentioned labor unions or unionization efforts without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about labor unions or unionization efforts scheduled to air later in the broadcast. We rounded all times to the nearest minute.