Some readers may find it hard to believe, but the Reagan-appointed chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, Donald L. Dotson, is complaining that The Wall Street Journal, Business Week and the Los Angeles Times have linked arms with organized labor, a Southern Methodist University law professor and a sociology professor whom Mr. Dotson labels "a Marxist scholar" seeking to do him in.
In a speech to a North Carolina employers' group in May, Mr. Dotson charged that "if you want to make a difference in the labor relations area, you will run afoul of a three-ply defense designed to stop it. That defense is composed of three groups bound together by ties of interest and ideology. They are institutional labor, the working press and a large segment of the academic community."
Mr. Dotson was worried not only about how the triple-decker attack would affect the public, but also "those inside a conservative administration who lack technical expertise in labor law."
After references to articles in The New Republic in 1983 and in Newsweek in 1984, Mr. Dotson aimed his guns at Business Week. The business journal, he charged, picked up on the critical New Republic article, but "the inflammatory rhetoric was accompanied by statements that reflected simple ignorance of the (National Labor Relations) board's powers and history."
Robert E. Farrell, Washington bureau chief of Business Week, said, "We stand by what we wrote, of course. We got information from several administration sources, including the NLRB itself. The people who wrote the material for us don't even read New Republic."
The Wall Street Journal drew the heaviest Dotson barrage. First, in discussing a board decision on Feb. 27, it "committed an egregious error." Mr. Dotson said, "We contacted The Wall Street Journal in a short letter, as we have done before, to correct their misapprehension. They wrote us back saying this time that we were, of course, correct but their error didn't make any difference to their story. I wish they had printed our response and let the public and the labor-management community judge the effect of the error," he said. He then told of another episode in which he did elicit a correction from the Journal, after some difficulty.
Albert R. Hunt, Washington bureau chief for the Journal, said Mr. Dotson's complaints "are totally and absolutely baseless" and were not offered as a letter to the editor. Mr. Hunt said he and several colleagues had spent 30 to 40 hours looking at Mr. Dotson's grievances, "including personal attacks on the motives of our reporters" and allegations "that we were deceitful in our byline policy," substituting one reporter's name for another. "It's hard to deal with people like that," Mr. Hunt said.
Next on the target list was the Los Angeles Times for publishing an op-ed piece by Prof. Maurice Zeitlin, of the University of California in Los Angeles, headlined, "The Growing Assault Against Unions -- U.S. Labor Board's Rulings Aid Attack by Business."
Mr. Dotson said, "We checked Prof. Zeitlin's background and scholarly publications. We found that he is a Marxist- oriented sociologist." Mr. Dotson's chief counsel, Charles M. Williamson, contacted the Times several times seeking corrections and a notice to its readership of Prof. Zeitlin's alleged "Marxist orientation." He also wrote the chancellor of UCLA, Mr. Zeitlin said. Mr. Zeitlin said he stands by his article's interpretations and that his background as a longtime academic, author and Guggenheim fellow has been identified on previous Times articles. He described himself as a Democrat with both a large and a small "d."
Anthony Day, editor of the Times editorial page, said he had heard from Mr. Dotson's counsel numerous times and at great length about the Zeitlin article and others mentioning the board. "I simply told him we had looked into his allegations, concluded we made one small error of fact but it was utterly inconsequential. The rest of his allegations were simply about a matter of opinion, and opinion is what we publish on the op-ed page."
As one who served on the NLRB more than 15 years ago, I know that criticism is no stranger to the quasi-judicial body. But it is surprising now to find a Reagan-appointed chairman railing against such publications as The Wall Street Journal and Business Week. I was also surprised The Post was not on his hit list, but I suspect this column may fix that.