Poverty Tour Meets Poor-Bashing CNN Host

Radio hosts author/social activists Tavis Smiley and Cornel West are on anti-poverty tour, trying to draw attention to issues that are neglected in most political discussions–and all but absent in corporate media.

The good news, in theory, is that they’re getting some national TV attention. But this is one of those cases where you start off wishing there was more media coverage–until you see what kind of coverage you get. Then you’re wishing for something else.

Appearing on CNN‘s American Morning (8/8/11), host Carol Costello got off on the wrong foot, quoting from a letter from a CNN viewer:

This is from Stacy, she says welfare in theory was a good thing, but it’s become a way of life for generations. The poor actually have it better than the middle class.

Perhaps the intent was to ridicule that absurd point of view–that’s certainly how Smiley responded. But Costello seemed to be indicating that this viewer maybe had a point:

But, Cornel, put it this way, Cornel, the Heritage Foundation, this is conservative organization. They did this study. They say the poor in America today, are unlike the poor in America years ago. In fact, most of the poor in America live in a decent house. They have TVs. They have microwave ovens and they even have a refrigerator. What are they complaining about?

Those Heritage talking points, courtesy of analyst Robert Rector, have been a staple of media coverage of poverty–see Extra!, 1-2/99. Though I think Costello is going a little further than even Rector would–unless he, like her, really thinks there’s something weird about how the pampered poor “even have a refrigerator.”

When West begins talking about the gap between the top 1 percent and the rest of us, Costello interrupts to say: “Those people pay the taxes in America and the poor don’t pay any.” That’s not true , though it’s the kind of thing you’re likely to hear on right-wing talk radio.

But perhaps the most revealing moment came after the interview had ended, when the CNN hosts were chatting among themselves. That’s when Costello said this:

And, frankly, I think to an extent the poor have been demonized because many people in America think they’re leeches on society. They’re just, you know, sucking everything out of us.

Like the question that started off the interview, a charitable interpretation is that Costello doesn’t agree with what she’s saying.

But given her attitude during the interview, it’s more likely that when she talks about how “many people” think the poor are “leeches…sucking everything out of us”–a sentiment that I doubt is all that widely shared–she’s talking about herself.

Update: Carol Costello responded on Twitter to our criticism:

@FAIRmediawatch and u r fair? Wow.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.