The Poor Suffer Media Neglect

Media Neglect makes it less likely the poor will live like other Americans. They are cast from the garden.

Media neglect results in the issue of poverty in America is never treated as an important issue even though 15% of all Americans suffer from it.

Take at look at this quote from the a study from FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

Discussions of poverty in campaign coverage were so rare that PBS NewsHour had the highest percentage of its campaign stories addressing poverty—with a single story, 0.8 percent of its total. ABC World News, NBC Nightly News, NPR’s All Things Considered, and Newsweek ran no campaign stories substantively discussing poverty.

The New York Times included substantive information about poverty in just 0.2 percent of its campaign stories and opinion pieces—placing it third out of the eight outlets, behind PBS and CBS.

By contrast with other issues that have received wider attention in recent campaign coverage, “poverty” was mentioned at all, with or (most often) without substantive discussion, in just 3 percent of campaign stories (309 stories) in the eight outlets. This compares to “deficit” and “debt,” which were mentioned about six times as often, in 18 percent (1,848) of election stories.

Even throwing a wider net, to include stories that mentioned “poverty,” “low income,” “homeless,” “welfare” or “food stamps,” turned up just 945 pieces, 10 percent of total election stories—still well below the rate at which “debt” and “deficit” were mentioned.

News coverage focuses concern on issues covered. Media neglect results in important subjects failing to become subjects of concern.

Why isn’t the subject covered? Why is media neglect so prevalent on this problem. Is it not sexy, lurid or violent enough? Is this the result of editorial decisions made at the corporate level? This is a failure in journalism, an ethical failure. The lives of a sixth of Americans are of virtually no concern to the media. The vital issues of the day have to be covered for democracy to function. Media neglect harms our ability to have the knowledge to function as effective citizens.That is wrong.

Is poverty a serious issue? Look at this quote from the same study cited above.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 report (9/11), poverty in 2010 was at a 19-year high, affecting 46 million people, or 15.1 percent of the population. That’s up sharply from 11.3 percent in 2000, and 12.5 percent in 2007. And several groups feel the effects of poverty at a much higher rate than the national average. According to the 2011 census, more than one in five children (22 percent) live in poverty, as do more than a quarter of all blacks (27 percent) and Latinos (26 percent). A 2011 Brookings Institution study (9/13/11) predicted that as many as 10 million additional Americans will join the ranks of the poor by 2014.

The Census Bureau counts a single person under 65 as being in poverty if they make less than $11,702; for a family of four, the cut-off is $22,314 a year. These thresholds—calculated since the 1960s simply by multiplying estimated food costs by three—have been criticized for failing to account for the increased costs of necessities like housing, transportation and childcare, so the official poverty rates may grossly understate the number of families actually living in poverty. The National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University (6/08), for example, estimates that “families typically need an income of at least twice the official poverty level ($42,400 for a family of four) to meet basic needs.”

A recent AP report (7/23/12) summarized the dire predictions of economists, academics and think tanks about poverty’s current trajectory: “The ranks of America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.”

The economic status of 46 million people is important but these human beings are invisible. They have less media existence than a good car chase, a celebrity wardrobe malfunction or a funny cat video. The result is an impoverishment of political, commercial or religious dialogue. A critical matter is placed in the background of public discourse.

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” or in this case, 15% of Americans, fellow citizens, human beings, and brothers and sisters before the eyes of God. The marketplace of ideas is where Americans have traditionally found solutions to our problems. Impoverish our dialogue. Limit our thinking. Keep this issue off the front burner, and the problem will have little chance of any positive outcome. It will linger like the poor on the margins of our society.

Democracy thrives on the application of reason and judgment. When a subject is neglected to this extent, the dominant themes will be those based on myth, opinion or lies. There can be no defense if there is no discussion. Facts and evidence are little used and thus, welfare Cadillac’s and women having children to qualify for more money dominate the discussion.

The media should take its responsibilities seriously and give Americans a chance to consider the plight of the poor amongst us.

James Pilant

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