Will Media Compassion ‘Trickle-Down’ to All Poor People?

Hoping for “a trickle-down of a different sort, of compassion,” media writer Edward Wasserman gives his personal take (Miami Herald, 3/16/09) on resurgent media interest in (some) impoverished Americans:

My own sense is that, in general, coverage of the poor has been so bad for so long that if indeed there is growing interest in the newly impoverished–even with the undertone of disdain FAIR finds toward other poor people–it’s still an improvement. I’ve followed media treatment of poor people for the past several years as supervisor of a student-run website for journalists, The site aggregates poverty news from all over the country, broadcast as well as print.

Seldom does the reporting amount to much. Coverage is meager. It tilts strongly toward two areas: first, the homeless, particularly community responses to the blight associated with homelessness; second, bureaucratic foul-ups and corruption in delivering support to the needy.

In the reports, poor people don’t often speak; they’re spoken about. Rarely are the working poor or their struggles covered at all. Instead, emphasis is on those who are dependencies, burdens on the rest of us, taxing the good will and ingenuity of beleaguered officialdom.

In short, “the media overwhelmingly do what they do best, report on officialdom–market mavens, business owners, policymakers, lenders and the like–not on the people whose personal calamities constitute the real history of this economic disaster.” See the current issue of FAIR’s magazine Extra!: “The Recession and the ‘Deserving Poor’: Poverty Finally on Media Radar–but Only When It Hits the Middle Class” (3/09) by Neil deMause.