USA Today Leaves out Minimum Wage Earner's Liberal Activism

     “Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability,” the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) advises its members.


     That’s not how USA Today reporter Stephanie Armour’s September 5 story on “living with the minimum wage” appeared in the paper. The full-page story and photo essay told how hard it is to live on a paycheck close to Florida’s minimum wage of $6.40 an hour. It left out that the star of the piece – depicted simply as a “low wage” worker who makes $6.55 an hour – was an activist for a group that advocates a wage increase.


     Armour began her day-after-Labor Day Money section story by admitting that most minimum wage-earners “tend to be young,” often with only a high school diploma, and, according to the Labor Department, at 1.9 million workers only “make up 2.5% of all hourly paid workers” in the United States – an 82-percent improvement since 1979’s 13.9 rate.


     Yet Armour’s article and five accompanying photos focused on “Alice Laguerre, 53, of Orlando,” a high school drop-out. “When I’m by myself, I cry. People never know when I’m down and out. Times are very hard,” she complained to Armour about life working low wages at an auto auction company.


     Nothing more than a sad story of one person left behind in a strong economy, right?


     Not exactly. Internet and Nexis searches indicated, and an official with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) confirmed, that Laguerre is a community organizer for the liberal advocacy group, a fact unmentioned by Armour.


     Among other liberal policy objectives, “ACORN is fighting to raise the national minimum wage, and working to win fair wages in many cities and states,” according to its office Web site. The group was involved in the recent move by the Chicago City Council to increase wages there.


     ACORN’s Web site showed that Laguerre is the chairwoman of the Orange Blossom Trail (OBT) chapter of the group’s Orlando office. A May 31, 2005, news release from the ACORN Web site revealed that Laguerre was a speaker at a May 27, 2005 rally held in Orlando to rally for “comprehensive immigration reform” as laid out in the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act sponsored by Sen. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and McCain (R-Ariz.).


     Justin DeLeon, who identified himself as the “tax site coordinator” for Orlando ACORN, confirmed to the Business & Media Institute that the Alice Laguerre featured in the September 5 USA Today article is the OBT chapter chairwoman.


     Armour is not alone when it comes to leaving out Laguerre’s activism. A search in Nexis for the past two years generated seven items featuring Laguerre, one of which was a signed letter to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel from Laguerre. Of the other six, two Associated Press (AP) items left out Laguerre’s ties to the liberal group.


     AP reporter Bill Kaczor filed a March 1 story from Tallahassee that mentioned ACORN’s campaign to raise Florida’s minimum wage, and separately mentioned Laguerre but did not associate the two. The second item was an abbreviated wire report based on Kaczor’s March 1 article.


     Asked for comment, USA Today Assistant Reader Editor Jennifer Bryan forwarded BMI’s inquiry to Standards Editor Adell Crowe and Money section Managing Editor Jim Henderson. Neither Crowe nor Henderson replied to BMI by deadline.