AP strike FAQ is full of nonsense

by Paul William Tenny

The Associated Press released a FAQ (frequently asked questions) on the writers strike yesterday, and based on how the first answer looks, I'd say it was written by someone taking notes directly from the AMPTP. Glenn Greenwald has written a lot recently on how the mainstream press believes its job to be writing down what one side says and then publishing it -- and then if the other side disgrees -- publishing a "correction" stating that the "others disagree."

Pretty much like I said, our vaunted investigative free press thinks its job is to dictate memos rather than finding and publishing the truth between two or more conflicting positions. Since both sides can't possibly be right, the press has basically resorted to lying on behalf of those who would take advantage of it first.

This FAQ is perhaps not a serious problem, even though it's wrong on at least one major point, but I still think it's a great example of what Glenn has been talking about over the past couple of weeks. So let's take a look at this "FAQ" and see if it holds water.
The list begins with the recent AMPTP walkout:

Q: Why did negotiations break off last Friday?

A: After four straight days of negotiations, the alliance refused to bargain further unless the union dropped a half-dozen proposals that included the authority to unionize writers on reality shows and animation projects.

After the guild refused to back off, each side blamed the other for the collapse of talks. The alliance claimed guild leaders were trying to increase their power at the expense of members. Union leaders accused the alliance of "lies" aimed at sowing doubt and dissension in union ranks.

Reality: AMPTP negotiator Nick Counter knocked on the hotel door of the WGA contingent who were busy formulating a counter-proposal to the AMPTP's most recent counter-proposal, demanding that the WGA drop six issues right then and there, or the AMPTP was going to walk away. The WGA said they'd address that demand in the proposal that they were currently working on, and that they'd present it soon.

Counter and his people made good on their self-destructive ultimatum and walked away from the table for the second time. In no way shape or form can the WGA be blamed for the AMPTP issuing a ridiculous ultimatum that couldn't apparently be addressed by a new counter-proposal that was already being crafted.

Most everyone seems to believe the AMPTP knew full well the WGA wouldn't drop those six items in the middle of a hotel hallway and certainly wouldn't start accepting ultimatums when they were actually making some progress in this round of talks, meaning the entire scene was orchestrated by the AMPTP to give them cover to back out of the talks.

There were rumors going around 24 hours before this happened that the AMPTP was plotting a way to back out and blame the WGA for it. They did, and the AP is running the standard non-journalistic line of "one side said this, one side disagrees, we're just going to let you decide who is telling the truth making us nothing but seriously over-paid stenographers."

And I want to drive this point home, because the entire answer is disingenious: "After the guild refused to back off.." isn't even true. The WGA in front of witnesses said they'd address the ultimatum at the table by folding their response into their already partially finished proposal, and not in a hotel hallway. The AMPTP subsequently walked away from the table when the WGA didn't do what they were told -- a disturbing pattern that explains the AMPTP's unwillingness to bargain much at all.

Q: What will it take to restart negotiations?

A: ... Pressure to move forward might come from the Directors Guild of America, which could begin early negotiations on its contract that expires in June.

A deal between directors and studios could undercut the bargaining power of writers by serving as an industry template for labor contracts.

What was left out: The DGA deal would be for less than the WGA wants, which means it's going to be for less than SAG wants as well. I think it's far from clear if the DGA has the guts or even the interest in undercutting the other two talent unions. It's not even clear if the WGA and SAG would accept the lower terms of the DGA contract.

Conventional wisdom says both WGA and SAG would have to accept the new deal because the AMPTP would be putting itself in hot water with the DGA by giving the DGA a worse deal than the other two unions. Then again, there's no arguing that a collective strike by the WGA and SAG would eventually force precisely that result, if they really wanted to.

If that happens, the DGA would have only itself to blame.

Q: What are the key issues?

A: Both sides say the central issue is compensation for programs, movies and other content streamed or downloaded over the Internet.

Writers want a framework for residual payments now, citing what they considered raw deals in the 1980s involving what ultimately became lucrative home-video and DVD markets.

Producers say it's too soon to know how much money they can make on the Web or even which formats will work. They're offering limited proposals that would end in three years and be renegotiated.

What was left out: The AMPTP initially refused to pay writers for streaming video -- be it full length feature films or entire seasons of television shows -- at all. The current offer for streaming video was a flat flee of $250 for unlimited use in the first year.

The argument that the market is too new and unstable has been debunked repeatedly and is only being repeated by the AMPTP, which in turn is why you keep reading about it in the news. Remember what I said about the mainstream media basically being stenographers? There you go -- this claim was laid to rest months before the talks even began.

Because residuals are based on a percentage and not a flat rate, they'd only be making money when management makes money. If there is no money to be had in the market, management wouldn't be on the hook to get anything either.

Regurgitating this debunked claim without telling the public that it hasn't held water for over three months is irresponsible and damaging to the public interest.

The answers to the last two questions are factually accurate; getting 3/5 wrong is not a very good record
in Business, Labor, Streaming Video


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