How some news outlets are downplaying the pandemic relief bill saving thousands of jobs

Media outlets heralded a supposed Trump “victory” at saving jobs in one factory. Now, they are downplaying Biden saving jobs in whole industries.

Almost immediately after the passage of the pandemic relief plan, two major airlines announced that they were able to cancel previously scheduled layoffs, saving a total of 27,000 jobs through September, thanks to industry-wide aid for airlines and their subcontractors in the relief package.

But Fox News and some mainstream outlets are giving scant coverage to this development, coming in the first months of the Biden administration— especially in comparison to the coverage of an early economic deal by former President Donald Trump, which turned out to be a lot of smoke and mirrors.

Trump and the Carrier factory

Back in late 2016, while he was still president-elect, Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence (then the outgoing governor of Indiana) announced a $7 million year package of state tax incentives over 10 years with Carrier, an Indiana-based air conditioning manufacturer, which Trump said would save 1,100 jobs that would’ve otherwise relocated to Mexico.

But in the years to come, the deal’s weaknesses became more and more clear. According to Reuters, Carrier had already laid off hundreds of workers two years later, while its parent company United Technologies had shut down a different factory two hours away, relocating its operations fully to Mexico. One laid-off worker from the Carrier facility said: “Yes he (Trump) saved jobs, yes he did. But he didn’t save mine, he didn’t save manufacturing jobs. He saved office personnel, okay?”

Moreover, another company in the area, Rexnord, laid off 300 workers from the same local union as those at the Carrier facility. Trump simply attacked Rexnord on Twitter for “rather viciously firing” its workers.

One of the fundamental problems with the deal was that making deals with just one company at a time, rather than dealing with entire industries, more jobs would still leave an affected area than the ones that were saved. And as The Indianapolis Star noted last year, United Technologies has since spun off Carrier into a separate company — thus severing the links between Carrier and United Technologies’ federal contracts worth billions of dollars, which may have been used as a bargaining chip on the original deal. Thus, “the next president will have even less leverage in dealing with the company.”

Aid to whole industries is now saving jobs

The Washington Post explained that the relief package “does include $65 billion that is directed to range of hurting industries including restaurants, aviation, live entertainment and tourism.” In the case of aviation, $15 billion was set aside to keep employees on payroll so that immediately upon passage. This followed up previous aid for the airlines from both the CARES Act last spring and the supplemental aid package in December. But that aid was set to expire, and this new relief package helps the airlines to not furlough workers until September, by which time air travel may pick up again thanks to widespread vaccination.

In a post on LinkedIn, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker announced: “On behalf of the entire #AATeam, we’re immensely grateful for the support this legislation provides for our essential workers, and we couldn’t be happier to cancel the thousands of furloughs that were looming.”

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby also posted: “I thank the employees and union partners who made their voices heard, and I thank Congress and the Administration for listening as we work together to survive the unique impact the pandemic has had on our industry.”

Fox News isn’t talking much

Naturally, Fox News touted the Carrier deal at the time, with its hosts declaring that “Christmas came early” for Carrier workers and contrasting Trump with the “lazy and stupid” Obama administration that could never have pulled off such a deal.

So far, the only coverage the airline news has gotten on Fox is a segment on Thursday’s edition of the business-oriented Your World with Neil Cavuto. The host set up the segment, however, by saying: “They'll be able to avoid some layoffs. How long, though, does that last?”

The news was also mentioned only in a brief news headline Friday on Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria Baritromo. Previously, Bartiromo had avidly promoted the Carrier deal, remarking in December 2016: “I can't believe how many people are trying to find a negative in the Carrier story.” She had also interviewed a worker at the plant, asking him to tell the audience “how important this is, how big a deal this is for you.”

The problem extends to mainstream media outlets, too

Mainstream media coverage of the Carrier deal largely tended to at once acknowledge that it was bad economics and yet still hail it as a political win for Trump. And by contrast, current efforts to rescue entire industries are getting scant coverage.

The Associated Press reported in December 2016 that Trump was “poised to take a victory lap” in Indiana. The article then began with an early taste of the years-long media trend of looking for a new “tone” from Trump, wondering if a “newly serious Trump embracing the gravity of the job” might show up during the rally. It was in the paragraph after that the article mentioned  “some questions remain about the extent of victory at Carrier.”

At time of writing, the AP apparently did not put out a wire piece on the airline jobs being saved by the relief package. There is an article on the Biden administration’s efforts to promote the relief program, framed mainly in political terms as a “sales push,” rather than discussing real jobs already being saved due to businesses having an expectation of money being on the way.

Back in late 2016, NBC News host Chuck Todd managed to simultaneously promote the Carrier deal as a major win for Trump while suggesting it probably wasn’t good economics. “The point is, it may not be a sustainable economic strategy, but politically this is a win for Trump,” Todd said. “Unadulterated win. Promise made, promise kept. Got to give him credit for that. We just have to be on the lookout for the long-term consequences of this type of transactional governing.”

By contrast, Todd has not discussed the airlines story — nor help for other industries — on either the Thursday or Friday editions of his MSNBC show, MTP Daily, nor on Sunday’s Meet The Press.

Other MSNBC hosts did mention the story, with the standout example being Rachel Maddow during an extended piece on the overall relief package. This makes it all the more notable that Todd — who praised the Carrier deal as an example of Trump’s political acumen, even as he knew it wasn’t good economics — had not mentioned the real relief that has already come for industries.

Video file

Citation From the March 10, 2021, edition of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show

RACHEL MADDOW (HOST): On that American Airlines thing, though, there definitely is — you know, it's striking. How often do you see a company of any size able to tell its employees, “This thing passed today. We expect it's going to be signed into law presently, by the president, and so all of you who we were going to furlough will no longer be furloughed.” I mean, that just doesn't — it just doesn't happen that definitively like that, but this is definitive.

Back in December 2016, The New York Times published a headline: “Trump Sealed Carrier Deal With Mix of Threat and Incentive,” with the article carrying a Trump quote: “Corporate America is going to have to understand that we have to take care of our workers also.”

It was only in the eighth and ninth paragraphs that readers would first learn that “critics have pounced” on the deal and that “cutting individual deals with different companies is a costly and ineffective way to stem the powerful forces” driving the movement of jobs to other countries. (The continued job losses at the plant were mentioned even further down.)

For the airlines story, the Times is leading with its skepticism in the headline, “Relief Bill Gives Airline and Airport Workers a Reprieve, for Now,” followed by a sub-headline: “Aviation workers will be protected from furloughs through September under the bill President Biden signed Thursday, but a full travel recovery could take years.”