NY Times Asks: 'Is Wisconsin the Tunisia of Collective Bargaining Rights?'

Saturday's off-lead New York Times story from Michael Cooper and Katharine Seelye, "Wisconsin Leads Way As Workers Fight State Cuts," dealt with the still-seething union protests in Wisconsin over new Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to limit collective bargaining and to coax his state's public-sector unions to contribute more to their pension and health care plans.

The story wasn't that bad, but omitted the offensive signs held by many of the pro-union protesters, including images of Gov. Scott Walker in crosshairs and others likening him to Adolf Hitler. And there was one laugh-out-loud line: "The parallels raise the inevitable question: Is Wisconsin the Tunisia of collective bargaining rights?"

(The line so enthralled NBC's David Gregory and CBS's Bob Schieffer that they recited it on their Sunday shows. On Meet the Press, Gregory provided attribution to the New York Times - see the screen shot - while Schieffer, on Face the Nation, pretended the spin was his own.)

You may remember that after the January shooting in Tucson of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Times as an organ acted very concerned over an inoffensive, standard image of crosshairs on a Sarah Palin campaign map.

From the Times on Saturday:

The unrest in Wisconsin this week over Gov. Scott Walker's plan to cut the bargaining rights and benefits of public workers is spreading to other states.

Already, protests erupted in Ohio this week, where another newly elected Republican governor, John Kasich, has been seeking to take away collective bargaining rights from unions.

In Tennessee, a law that would abolish collective bargaining rights for teachers passed a State Senate committee this week despite teachers' objections. Indiana is weighing proposals to weaken unions. Union members in Pennsylvania, who are not necessarily facing an attack on their bargaining rights, said Friday that they planned to wear red next week to show solidarity with the workers in Wisconsin.

In many states, Republicans who came to power in the November elections, often by defeating union-backed Democrats, are taking aim not only at union wages, but at union power as they face budget gaps in the years ahead.

The images from Wisconsin - with its protests, shutdown of some public services and missing Democratic senators, who fled the state to block a vote - evoked the Middle East more than the Midwest.

The parallels raise the inevitable question: Is Wisconsin the Tunisia of collective bargaining rights?

Funny, but that question doesn't sound "inevitable" to us.

Reporter Monica Davey on Sunday at least mentioned, in a neutral tone, some of the offensive signs brandished by pro-union protesters in a Sunday profile of Gov. Walker, noting that some images likened Walker to "Scrooge, Hosni Mubarak, even Hitler." In contrast, the few offensive signs at Tea Party marches were readily and frequently mentioned negatively in Times' coverage of the rallies.

- Clay Waters is director of Times Watch. You can follow him on Twitter.