MEDIA WATCH: Steel tariff stories air concerns about free trade andprice hikes

The American steel industry has been struggling for some time now. In the last five years, more than 30 US steel companies have declared bankruptcy.

The American steel industry has been struggling for some time now. In the last five years, more than 30 US steel companies have declared bankruptcy.

Earlier this month, the Bush Administration proposed temporary tariffs of up to 30% on steel imports to help the ailing industry. In Pennsylvania, a state that has one of the nation's largest steel industries, The Philadelphia Inquirer (March 6) credited the tariff proposal to "an extensive lobbying campaign by American steelmakers and the steelworkers' union."

While steelmakers were enthusiastic that Bush had embraced most of their proposals, there were less favorable opinions expressed by domestic manufacturers and foreign trade partners. Consequently, media coverage of the Bush proposal depicted a mixed reaction to what The Washington Post (March 6) called "the most aggressive action taken by a president to protect a domestic industry from imports since Ronald Reagan imposed steel import restraints in the mid-1980s."

In covering the Bush proposal, the press frequently portrayed the protectionist move as being at odds with the Bush Administration's free trade goals.

Several nations portrayed Bush as caving in to big business' interests.

Many reports also suggested that Bush put "domestic political concerns ahead of free-trade economics

(The Wall Street Journal, March 6).

Specifically, the press often interpreted Bush's decision as being heavily influenced by wanting to gain favor among traditionally Democratic voters in the key swing states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

A columnist for the Detroit Free-Press (March 6) called the tariff proposal "a goofy-looking patchwork of political favors."

Newspapers also addressed how the tariffs would impact everyday consumers, noting that the public could expect higher prices on everything that included steel components - from cars to appliances.

Despite the fact that the tariffs were meant to help US industry, a number of reports viewed them as bad news for American jobs. A Chicago Tribune editorial (March 6) observed that the tariffs would shrink imports, which would have a domino effect throughout the economy: "Keep in mind that for every job in the steel industry, there are 75 jobs in industries that buy steel."

The American media portrayed foreign countries as being upset about the prospect of tariffs. The Trade Commissioner of the European Union, which will be heavily impacted by the decision, commented, "The US decision to go down the route of protectionism is a major setback for the world trading system

(The Boston Globe, March 6). Amid talk of the EU lodging an immediate complaint with the World Trade Organization, there were fears that a trade war could develop between the US and the EU.

In the media's coverage, the steel industry came under fire for being too dependent on government protection, both historically and currently.

Critics see the American steel industry as too bloated and inefficient to compete on the international markets, while supporters suggested that foreign governments subsidize their own steel markets and there is not a level playing field on which to compete. But the steel industry is embracing US support, describing it as an opportunity to turn itself around. Although the steel industry has won over President Bush, it appears it will need to make further efforts to convince the media that he made the right choice.

Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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