Spin Control On The Sidelines


Journal-Bulletin Staff Writers

RELATED STORIES: The Worlds of Arthur Coia

WASHINGTON -- The House crime subcommittee really did delve into some serious public-policy issues during its hearings on labor corruption this week, but it also poured lots of energy and hot words into partisan bickering and spin control.

Democrats and Republicans bitterly debated the question of whether the proceeding was a "sideshow," a "witch hunt" or anything else besides a straight forward examination of mob corruption in unions.

Outside the hearing room, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, Rich Trumka, stood ready to tell reporters -- repeatedly -- why he thought the hearings were "bogus": a Republican attack on the union movement, driven by fear of labor's $35-million advertising campaign against the GOP.

Or, as Trumka put it, a campaign "for working men and women."

Almost every member of the subcommittee -- of both parties -- managed to weave that phrase into a speech during the two-day session.

A full platoon of political spin controllers worked the press tables inside the hearing room and the corridors outside with a stream of dueling press releases, glossy charts, play-by-play interpretations of the testimony and murmured updates to distant offices via cellular phone.

AFL-CIO operatives and some Laborers' union members wore the emblem of the hard-fought spring campaign on Capitol Hill: multicolored lapel pins declaring that "America Needs a Raise" -- the minimum-raise hike working its way through Congress.

More quietly, the National Right-to-Work Committee weighed in with a handsomely bound polemic entitled "Union Violence: Organized Labor's Unique Privilege."

On the first of the two days of hearings, Wednesday, the Laborers' union ran a half-page ad in the Washington Post, ridiculing the hearings. Estimates by the subcommittee staff put the price of the union's advertising campaign at well over $200,000.

But the investigation got some invaluable free press in the form of a lead editorial on the conservative opinion page of The Wall Street Journal. The headline, "Who Is Arthur Coia?" echoed -- possibly in poor taste -- the title the newspaper used for its attacks on White House lawyer Vincent Foster before he shot himself in a Virginia park.

Copyright © 1997 The Providence Journal Company.
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