May
01
1995

Crying Over Spilled Coffee

Media Deform the Legal Reform Debate

The Republicans' "Contract With America" proposed to drastically alter the U.S. legal system to curtail a flood of "frivolous lawsuits and outlandish damage rewards [that] make a mockery of our civil justice system." What "frivolous lawsuit" problem is the Contract talking about? Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, provided a clue (KPFK, 2/22/95): "Whenever the public reads about a woman who spills coffee in her lap and gets $3 million, most people say this doesn't make a whole lot of sense." You've probably heard about this case. From Jay Leno to your local radio […]

May
01
1995

Public Enemy Number One?

Media's Welfare Debate Is a War on Poor Women

In a bizarre column blaming TV talkshows, in part, for the "sexually irresponsible culture of poverty," Newsweek's Joe Klein (2/6/95) provided telling insight into how some in mainstream media see their relationship to poor people: "Television is the only sustained communication our society has with the underclass," Klein wrote. "It is the most powerful message we send." Recent mainstream news reporting on welfare and its "reform" has been full of messages about "us" and "them," with reporters leaving little doubt about who "we" and "they" are. In a vivid example, ABC PrimeTime Live's Diane Sawyer (annual salary: an estimated $7 […]

May
01
1995

Limbaugh Out to Lunch in Budget Debate

"Today, my friends, we're going to do everything the media accuses us of doing, that we never have done, but we're going to do it," Rush Limbaugh announced on his March 10 radio show. "Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today we're going to give you marching orders, and today we will ask you to follow us in lock-step." Actually, Limbaugh urges his followers to take political action with some regularity (Extra!, 9-10/94). But what issue was so important that it would make Limbaugh claim that he was breaking his rule? The school lunch program. "My friends," Limbaugh declared, for the last […]

May
01
1995

Five Media Myths About Welfare

Money/Photo: Flickr of 401(k) 2012

1. Poor women have more children because of the "financial incentives" of welfare benefits. Repeated studies show no correlation between benefit levels and women's choice to have children. (See, for example, Urban Institute Policy and Research Report, Fall/93.) States providing relatively higher benefits do not show higher birth rates among recipients. In any case, welfare allowances are far too low to serve as any kind of "incentive": A mother on welfare can expect about $90 in additional AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) benefits if she has another child. Furthermore, the real value of AFDC benefits, which do not […]

May
01
1995

Seeing the Bright Side at the New York Times

For those fearing inflation, analysts said, one of the most reassuring elements of today's report [of rising employment] was that average hourly earnings declined by 2 cents, after an October surge of 7 cents. --New York Times, Dec. 3, 1994 A common complaint is that the media favor bad news, but that isn't fair. Given that news, as Voltaire says of history, is "indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind," it's hard for mainstream reporters to be upbeat, but they do try. One way is by euphemism, like calling the military budget "defense […]

May
01
1995

Angry Rewrite Man

Tells the story of one unemployed lab technician widely cited in media reports as an example of the "angry white male" who ushered in the Republican victory last November. When Hirshman followed up on the story for EXTRA!she discovered that Sidney Tracy voted Democrat not Republican and actually blamed corporate downsizing -- not women and people of color -- for the loss of his job. Extra! May/June 1995

May
01
1995

SoundBites

Over Newt's Dead Body The Corporation for Public Broadcasting will get no more money from the federal government, Newt Gingrich declared in February (Washington Post,2/17/95). "They still don't realize that the appropriation is gone, that the game is over," the House speaker told fellow Republicans. "The power of the speaker is the power of recognition, and I will not recognize any proposal that will appropriate money for the CPB." Did Gingrich's resolve have anything to do with the fact that Gingrich's close friend, Vin Weber, had just been fired as a lobbyist for CPB? "He wasn't fired because it looked […]