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Fact Checking Failure in Five Easy Steps

Glenn Kessler's nose is growing.

4:03 PM, Feb 8, 2012 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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But he's a lot more unfair to the Center for Union Facts than that. He starts the piece off with a good bit of thinly-veiled character assassination. Here's how he identifies the group right at the beginning of the piece:

The Center for Union Facts is part of a web of pro-corporate organizations run by Rick Berman, who has also battled Mothers Against Drunk Driving, disputed evidence regarding mercury levels in fish and countered a perceived link between high-fructose corn syrup and obesity. His Web Site features a 60 Minutes profile in which he says, “I do get paid for educating people; if that’s my biggest crime, I stand accused.”  (A more negative take on the Berman enterprise can be found here.)

Suffice to say, he does not offer a link to a more positive take on what the organization does, and his link goes to an expose by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington—a group founded and run by a longtime Democratic operative and that most people acknowledge has something of a left-leaning tilt. I have no desire to defend Berman, who may or may not run a mercenary PR machine, and if you want to identify his organization as such, fine. But the not-so-subtle suggestion his organizations are enabling drunk drivers to plow over your children, poisoning the food supply, and making you fat is a bit much—not to mention totally irrelevant to substance of their claim, which, again, Kessler admits is "technically correct."

It also belies the fact that the sources used to attack Berman are equally, if not more, biased. Aside from the Center for Union Facts's J. Justin Wilson, only two other people are quoted, both of which condemn the Center for Union Facts's claim: Jared Bernstein and Richard Freeman. Jared Bernstein is identified by Kessler as "a former economist for the Labor Department now with the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities." Freeman is identified as a nearly unimpeachable source—he's "a professor at Harvard University and one of the leading labor economists in the country."

That is only half the story, to put it mildly. Bernstein is the former president of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which might be Big Labor's favorite think tank—for instance, it has worked directly with the SEIU and AFL-CIO on many policy issues and labor unions are one of EPI's biggest sources of funding. As a result, there's no union policy too outlandish that it won't strenuously advocate. Among other things, EPI and nation's two largest unions have been pushing for Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs), which effectively do away with 401(k) plans and force you into a government managed retirement system, because this is seen as way to bail out insolvent union retirement plans that are billions in debt. 

When Bernstein worked in vice president Joe Biden's office, he helped put together the White House's "Annual Report of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class." But oddly, even though unions make up a small percentage of the middle class workforce, the entire report was a policy wish list for unions. The report advocates rewriting federal contracting rules to favor unions; "card check," a.k.a. the elimination of secret ballots in union elections; project labor agreements; pleas to enforce labor standards; the creation of a "National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force"; and, yes, GRAs.

So Bernstein is hardly some benign former Labor Department economist toiling away at some innocuously named think tank. He's a pro-union activist of the highest order. Which brings me to Richard Freeman. Now Kessler doesn't just quote Freeman, he also generously cites his academic research—he's the source of the survey claiming "unionized workers strongly support their unions."

Freeman also happens to write policy papers for [drumroll please]... the Economic Policy Institute! He's not some dispassionate academic who goes where the numbers take him, either. For instance, he was one of three people that put together a public petition signed by a bunch of other academics insisting that the elimination of secret ballots in workplace elections "is needed to restore balance in the labor market." Now given that card check legislation proved to be a non-starter even when Democrats controlled congress following Obama's election, Freeman is way out on the left here.

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