Newscasts Leave Out Liberal Label in Court Ruling Against Wal-Mart

Sometimes media bias can be found in what the networks don’t say. On Tuesday, Wal-Mart suffered a major blow when the liberal 9th Circuit Court in California ruled that a class action lawsuit claiming sex discrimination could proceed against the company. All three evening newscasts reported the story, with ABC and CBS noting that a "federal appeals court" had sided with the female plaintiffs. Over on NBC, "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams simply used the phrase "federal court."

However, the 9th circuit isn’t just any court. This is the group of judges that ruled the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. And, according to a report by the Center for Individual Freedoms, 32 percent of the reversals by the United States Supreme Court in 2003 came from the 9th Circuit. And yet, none of the network anchors thought this a pertinent point. "World News" anchor Charlie Gibson instead chose to hype the enormity of the case:

Charles Gibson: "It is a lawsuit so large in scope and size, that it staggers the imagination. A federal appeals court ruled today that a gender bias suit against Wal-Mart can proceed in what is known as a class-action suit. That means a million and a half to two million women would-be plaintiffs arguing, as a group or class, that Wal-Mart discriminated against them in providing promotions and in paying them less than male employees. Here's our senior law and justice correspondent, Jim Avila."

In fact, the 9th circuit became so notorious, that there has been talk of dismantling it. However, in the "World News" segment, which aired at 6:30pm on February 6, ABC reporter Jim Avila seemed almost excited by the "message" that would be sent to corporate America:

Avila: "Wal-Mart attorneys lost their argument that defending a class-action suit is unfair because it would be impossible to cross-examine each of the two million women accusing them. Wal-Mart claimed its workers should be required to sue each store individually. Today, the court majority said that is impossible. But the lone dissenting judge worried that a class-action suit would reward all plaintiffs equally and enrich undeserving workers and lawyers. Next for Wal-Mart, attorneys will appeal to anyone who will listen, from the full appeals court to the Supreme Court. But if Wal-Mart loses, it could cost them billions in damage, sending an expensive message to corporate America that no matter how big you are, employee discrimination can be costly."

Both the NBC "Nightly News" and the "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric" featured news briefs on the story. Neither mentioned the 9th Circuit’s liberal history or proclivity to be overturned. Apparently labels are only necessary when one is discussing conservatives.

A transcript of the "World News" segment follows:

Charles Gibson: "It is a lawsuit so large in scope and size, that it staggers the imagination. A federal appeals court ruled today that a gender bias suit against Wal-Mart can proceed in what is known as a class-action suit. That means a million and a half to two million women would-be plaintiffs arguing, as a group or class, that Wal-Mart discriminated against them in providing promotions and in paying them less than male employees. Here's our senior law and justice correspondent, Jim Avila."

Jim Avila: "It's America's biggest store, biggest employer, and now, must defend itself against a huge female group of its own employees who claim Wal-Mart is also the biggest discriminator in the country. A federal appeals court in California ruling today that there is, quote, 'significant proof of a corporate policy of discrimination,’ that supports the contention that, 'female employees nationwide were subjected to a common pattern and practice of discrimination.’"

Betty Dukes (plaintiff): "Our words are true. We are not falsely accusing Wal-Mart. We are stating the facts as they have occurred."

Avila: "The women claim Wal-Mart systematically pays its female staff 5 percent to 15 percent less than its male workers in comparable jobs. And that while the Wal-Mart workforce is two-thirds female, women get only one-third of all promotions to management."

Christine Kwapnski (plaintiff): "I was making half what the men made and, you know, I was over those same men, training them on their jobs."

Jim Avila: "For its part, Wal-Mart, in a telephone news conference, said it will appeal this decision as far as the Supreme Court. The company denies it discriminates and says it strongly promotes diversity in the workplace. And in 2005, its CEO promised to correct any valid complaints."

Lee Scott: "The exceptions that occur, we're going to deal with very strongly. It's our obligation, not only to our associates, but it's our obligation to society."

Avila: "Wal-Mart attorneys lost their argument that defending a class-action suit is unfair because it would be impossible to cross-examine each of the two million women accusing them. Wal-Mart claimed its workers should be required to sue each store individually. Today, the court majority said that is impossible. But the lone dissenting judge worried that a class-action suit would reward all plaintiffs equally and enrich undeserving workers and lawyers. Next for Wal-Mart, attorneys will appeal to anyone who will listen, from the full appeals court to the Supreme Court. But if Wal-Mart loses, it could cost them billions in damage, sending an expensive message to corporate America that no matter how big you are, employee discrimination can be costly. Charlie?"


UPDATE (23:15 EST): The MRC's Business & Media Institute also wrote about Avila's unbalanced reporting, accessible here.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org