Independent media outlets have basically owned the ALEC story over the past few years. The American Legislative Exchange Council is a corporate-sponsored "bill mill" that works with state legislatures to pass the kinds of laws corporations want. Thanks to investigations in Mother Jones, the Nation, Extra! and continued attention from the likes of AlterNet and ThinkProgress, a group that prefers to work in the shadows has been exposed to a harsh spotlight. And the group doing much of the hard work to expose ALEC–the Center for Media & Democracy–has pushed many of the group's corporate backers to bail out.
So that's the ALEC story in the independent media. What does it look like in the hands of the corporate media? CBS Evening News gave us a look on June 30. And it sure isn't pretty.
CBS anchor Lee Cowan introduced the piece by noting, "Critics complain that ALEC is a corporate-backed bill mill. ALEC calls itself the defender of free markets and smaller government."
To help settle that dispute between ALEC and its many critics, correspondent Mark Strassmann talked to only one source: Chip Rogers, who just so happens to be ALEC's national treasurer and the Georgia State Senate majority leader. So Rogers could, without challenge, tell the group's story of beleaguered corporations that must "continually look over their shoulders to protect themselves from an onerous government."
Strassman explained the group's goals: "Lowering corporate and capital gains taxes, rolling back environmental regulations, and tapping damage lawsuits or torts." He did note that there had been some controversy:
But 20 ALEC members from Coca-Cola to Procter & Gamble quit ALEC this year, unhappy with the group's push into controversial noneconomic issues — from Stand Your Ground self-defense laws to strict photo ID laws, which critics say make it harder for minorities and the poor to vote.
Of course, anyone familiar with this story knows this happened because of pressure from activists–not a sudden change of heart. CBS doesn't speak to those sources, though; instead, Rogers is given time to explain that if you need an ID to buy a beer at Wal-Mart, the same should be true for voting.
So where is the pushback? Strassman only notes in passing that the group Common Cause wants to challenge ALEC's non-profit status.
The piece closes on this note:
Rogers says that's just an attack from a liberal critic. And with 25 new companies joining this year, he says ALEC remains a powerful tool of conservative legislators like him.
Independent journalists hope their stories cross over into the corporate media. But in this case, CBS is not so much advancing the story as trying to squash it.