The Post's news coverage of the air controllers' strike serves the Reagan strategy. It tells the public the issues are an illegal strike for outrageous salaries. It tells the strikers that they are wrong, isolated and helpless. An examination of what's printed and where, and what's omitted, supports this analysis.
True, The Post has printed PATCO "claims" that its members suffer unusual stress and seldom reach retirement. But it has printed little of the information, much of it quantitative, that related PATCO concern for its members' safety with their concern for the public's. There is evidence of greatly increased average workloads per controller, reduced maintenance staff, lower standards for inspections, increased computer outages with longer repair periods. The unpredictable outage periods are key to the stress that leads to many controllers' retiring for medical reasons and few reaching full retirement. To report adequately the long-term safety issue is to suggest that the president may have acted irresponsibly and that the strikers have valid, public-related concerns.
Internal Air Line Pilot Association memos ("Pilots Concerned on Safety, Memos Show," Aug. 18) appeared on page 8 of The Post, a curious placement for documentation disputing the ALPA's (and the FAA's) public reassurances on air safety (themselves page one stories).
"Foreign Controllers Drop Threat of More Boycotts"--a front-page headline introduced a story grossly misrepresenting the position of the International Federation. As other papers noted, boycotts were to be stopped as a good will gesture with the hope that Reagan would move to ward "a peaceful settlement." The group didn't rule out strikes, boycotts or other actions in the future.
While fostering anger at the controllers with its coverage of the frustrated traveler, The Post has given less attention than many papers to individual strikers: why they went out and how they are affected. Related stories that might have been include comparisons of controller pay, workload, benefits and health in various countries; the ACLU's argument that the right to strike is a valid democratic right; background on strike-bearing strategy; and the history of the use of laws and troops to prevent strikes in the private sector.
A piece that began on page one ("Poli Concedes He Misjudged Reagan Stand," Aug. 9) buried on page A11 the basis of PATCO's misjudgment: Reagan's written promise of support. (In the same reported TV interview, Poli had called for negotiations in which both sides yielded some. The Post didn't publish that part.)
Reagan's letter of support for PATCO ought to have generated a batch of significant stories. He had written that there were too few controllers, that they had "unreasonable" hours and obsolete equipment and that air travelers were in "unwarranted danger." Now his team tells us that there are too many controllers, and that the skies are safer now with fewer people working even longer hours. (The FAA says the early 1990s are still the target for new equipment.) Is it not a major news story when a president claiming all the moral cards appears to have defaulted on his written pledge?
The author is a columnist for the D.C. Gazette.