Accuracy in Media

One of the biggest stories of the presidential campaign is being ignored by the major media.  It’s how the president of the firefighters union engineered an endorsement of John Kerry for president without asking his members about it.  It turns out most of the members of the union are Republicans who support Bush.

Harold Schaitberger, the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the IAFF, has received tons of publicity and has been shown repeatedly with Kerry at campaign events.  These appearances convey the impression that the firefighters who performed heroically on 9/11 have abandoned Bush.  But it’s Schaitberger who abandoned his members.

During the Republican convention, the union representing New York City’s 8,600 firefighters endorsed Bush.  But stories about this development tried to diminish the significance of the endorsement by noting that the international union, the IAFF, had endorsed Kerry.  The stories failed to explain, as we did in a recent Media Monitor, that Schaitberger made this decision without polling his members.  Instead, a few members were asked about the characteristics they wanted in a president.  On that basis, Scahitberger decided to endorse Kerry. Schaitberger admitted to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that there are more Republicans than Democrats in his union.

“Thank you so very much for your work on exposing these facts.” That’s how a professional firefighter and member of the IAFF local 2876 of South Kitsap Fire District 7 in Washington state responded to our Media Monitor on this matter.  He told us, “I am so sick and tired of union ‘leaders’ talking for us, so much so that I don’t pay into the PAC [political action committee] fund anymore because it does not represent my views or the majority of those of my co-workers either.  No one in our department, to my knowledge, received or heard of a poll regarding who we supported.  I am a proud firefighter for Bush as are, I believe by straw poll, a great many of my fellow firefighters, including our VP. “

Using the same old ploy, a Newsday story about the firefighters’ endorsement of Bush claimed that, “the International Association of Fire Fighters unanimously endorsed Kerry and its members have since often campaigned with him.”  But that once again ignores the fact that the endorsement was delivered without polling members of the union.  Not surprisingly, the New York Times compounded the error.  It declared, “A year ago, the nation’s main firefighters’ union, the 260,000-member International Association of Firefighters, became the first large union to endorse Mr. Kerry.”  That falsely implied that these 260,000 members had voted to endorse Kerry.

The Firefighters for Bush website continues to ask firefighters whether any of them were ever consulted by Schaitberger about the Kerry endorsement.  One posted the following answer: “I don’t think anyone but Schaitberger’s opinion counts at all.  The IAFF is stealing our dues to support Kerry.”  Another said, “It’s disgusting a portion of our dues go toward campaigning against President Bush.”  This is the story that the media should tell.

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