We Can’t Talk About Class Because We Can’t Talk About Why We Can’t Talk About Class

In the L.A. Times today (9/21/11), media reporter James Rainey asks a very important question:

In a week that saw the number of people in poverty hit a half-century high and President Obama propose a tax increase on those with million-dollar incomes, will America and the American media finally dig in for a serious conversation about class?

And his evaluation of the media’s performance on wealth-and-poverty issues accords with what FAIR has found when we’ve looked at the coverage (Extra!, 9-10/07, 6/10). Here’s Rainey’s take:

Even though economists say the gap between haves and have-nots has been building for three decades, the growing income disparity and its causes have come up for discussion mostly as a sidebar–removed from the front page, rarely the lead story on the evening news.

But when it comes to explaining why the media fail to cover “arguably the central story of our times,” I can’t help but feel there’s something missing. Rainey offers several possibilities:

The media excel at stories that are instantaneous, visual and that produce clear winners and losers…. Despite the struggles of our own industry, most journalists still live more cheek by jowl with the people who are getting by…. In the years since the late 1970s, journalists have been focused elsewhere…aimed at other great socioeconomic collisions…. The working class has no obvious lobbying group or advocate to bring its interests to the fore…. A majority of the public hold an almost mystic faith in the upward mobility ideal…. They hesitate to speak out, lest they sound as though they are whining…. There’s plenty of fodder for those who want to create a counter, not-so-bad narrative…. “Americans have been uncomfortable for a long time talking about class…. The idea that there is a strong class system undercuts the claims we cherish most.”

There may be some truth to each of these explanations. But the most obvious explanation for why U.S. media avoid talking about growing inequality is that they are almost entirely owned by, and dependent for the bulk of their income on, large corporations that have greatly benefited from that inequality. Why should we be surprised that the institutions that control our national conversation use that power to protect their own interests?

Certainly they’re not going to quit doing that as long as there’s a taboo against pointing out that that’s what they’re doing.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.