Posted by Lynn Welch on March 03, 2011

On February 21, the New York Times created a stir in Wisconsin by printing a front page article giving the impression that union families supported Governor Scott Walker's attempt to remove collective bargaining rights from workers. On February 26, The Times retracted information related to this article.

The lead of the story, entitled "Union Bonds in Wisconsin Begin to Fray", featured a former Janesville General Motors employee Rich Hahn, who was characterized as "...a man who has worked at unionized factories, [and] a supporter of Gov. Scott Walker's sweeping proposal to cut the benefits and collective-bargaining rights of public workers." In the story reporters A.G. Sulzberger — said to be the son of New York Times Co. Chairman of the Board Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.— and Monica Davey spend very little time quoting Hahn but a lot of time characterizing him. "He says he still believes in unions, but thinks those in the public sector lead to wasteful spending because of what he sees as lavish benefits and endless negotiations," the story says of Hahn.

Walker referred to the story and Hahn's quote as "one of these unbelievable moments of true journalism," to the now-famous prank call from a Buffalo Beast blogger posing as Walker campaign contributor David Koch.

Walker also urged legislators questioning his proposal to "get that story printed out and send it to anybody giving you grief," in that call. He also used the story in interview after interview making the case that workers supported him even workers from union families. As it turns out, the moment was nothing resembling "true journalism" Hahn is not a "union guy" at all.

From the correction: "While the man, Rich Hahn described himself to a reporter as a "union guy," he now says that he has worked at unionized factories, but was not himself a union member. (The Times contacted Mr. Hahn again to review his background after a United Auto Workers official said the union had no record of his membership.)

The story goes onto contend that in Wisconsin "There are deeply divided opinions and shifting allegiances over whether unions are helping or hurting people who have been caught in the recent economic squeeze. And workers themselves, being pitted against one another, are finding it hard to feel sympathy or offer solidarity, with their own jobs lost and their benefits and pensions cut back or cut off."

The entire article paints a picture of a imaginary divide. A national Gallup survey released last week suggested that a majority of Americans oppose measures like the one proposed in Wisconsin that would restrict collective bargaining rights for public employees. A New York Times/CBS News poll out today produces almost identical results: 60% say they oppose curtailing bargaining rights of public workers, while 33% favor it. Public Policy Polling conducted a poll recently of Wisconsinites that showed 57% said they thought public employees in Wisconsin should be allowed to collectively bargain on wages, benefits and working conditions, while 37% said they should not.