It’s Hard to Change the Discussion of Poverty on Sunday Morning

FAIR’s recent study of the Sunday morning network shows documented a distinct right-wing bias in the guestlists. Republicans and conservatives were everywhere; progressives and people of color, not so much.

Since the study was released, there left-leaning commentator/TV host Tavis Smiley has been on two shows, CBS‘s Face the Nation (4/22/12) and ABC‘s This Week (5/6/12)

The latter showed how a guest like Smiley can broaden the discussion– at one point he invoked Martin Luther King’s critique of militarism to talk about current U.S. policy. And he talked about poverty:

I think we have to all agree here, though, that neither Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney are speaking to the angst of the poor. Every politician who runs for the White House, Jake, thinks they can campaign by talking about the angst of the middle class. The middle class of this country as we know it is disappearing. You have the perennially poor. You have the near poor. And you have the new poor.

We believe that the new poor are the former middle class. So you can’t have a campaign now where we just talk about the angst of the middle class without talking about the poor. That’s what’s missing in this context.

Unfortunately, regular panelist George Will and Fox News host Greta van Susteren redirected the conversation to more familiar terrain–one where poverty is about too much dependence on government, and student loan debt isn’t such a big deal:

VAN SUSTEREN: But even with the poor, it’s sort of the morality issue, but there’s also–it’s sort of the, you know, almost the selfish issues, because as the poor class grows bigger and bigger, the entitlement grows bigger and bigger, and we have bigger and bigger economic problems. So there’s morality issue and also the question, it’s a real drag on the economy, if we don’t help them and don’t inspire…


JAKE TAPPER: And, George, you and I were talking about this earlier. You think that we’re witnessing the birth of a new entitlement, with the president’s push on student loans.

WILL: Well, look what happened. It’s a slow-motion, almost absentminded creation of a new entitlement, exactly at the moment when the entitlement state is buckling under the weight of its already existing commitments. Five years ago, Congress says, well, let’s cut in half the interest rate on certain student loans, from 6.8 to 3.4.

TAPPER: 6.8 to 3.4, yeah.

WILL: We’ll do it, they said, temporarily. Well, now we’re coming up against the expiration of that, and they’re saying, well, let’s temporarily move it on yet again.

TAPPER: But Romney supports that, as well.

WILL: I understand that. And that’s why this is a bipartisan example of how entitlements — because once you do this, once you extend it again, you’ll never go back to 3.4 percent.

SMILEY: But when student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt, and we want to label that an entitlement, we don’t call corporate welfare an entitlement. I just — I don’t see….

WILL: Of the two-thirds of the people who graduate from college with debt, the average debt is something under $30,000 total. That is just about the one-year difference in earnings between a college graduate and a high school graduate. We’re talking about a pittance a month.

That “pittance,” it’s worth remembering, doubled between 1996 and 2008. Then again, George Will frequently told viewers that there was nothing to be worried about in the housing market. The perfect TV pundit: Often wrong, while suffering no consequences.

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.