Dec 01 2006

The Smell of Success

After 10 years of 'welfare reform,' ignoring the human impact

In August, the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program—popularly known as “welfare reform”—turned 10 years old, sparking a rash of articles looking back on how the new law’s emphasis on time limits and “work activities” requirements has fared. But even with recent figures showing poverty on the rise, by and large news media treated the program as an unquestioned success. Defining what exactly constitutes “success” when it comes to welfare policy has long thrown reporters. TANF was originally sold as a program that would get people off welfare and into jobs, thus lifting them out of poverty. Yet journalists […]

Nov 01 2006

Wrong Numbers

Distorting Venezuela’s record on poverty

One charge that U.S. media have hurled at Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—that poverty has worsened under his administration—seems tailored to alienate the populist leader from his natural supporters. Isn’t Chávez a leftist? Aren’t his policies pro-poor? progressives may wonder. What about all that oil wealth? Is this really true? No, it’s not. But that doesn’t stop the media from printing misinformation about poverty in Venezuela. It isn’t that opinion writers and editorial editors used false statistics or made errors in their calculations—in most cases, they used the Venezuelan government’s own statistics, as many editorials pointed out. Instead, they used old […]

Sep 01 2006

Sue Sturgis on Katrina anniversary, Heather Boushey on welfare ‘reform’

Download MP3 This week on CounterSpin: the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was marked by media outlets remembering, among other things, those few days when some reporters decided they wouldn’t tolerate lying and deception from government officials. But what’s happened on the Gulf Coast since then, away from the cameras and TV anchors? We’ll speak with Sue Sturgis of the Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch. Also on CounterSpin today, another media anniversary: It’s been ten years since the passage of so-called welfare reform, and most of the media are celebrating its success as measured by the plummeting numbers on the […]

Jul 07 2006

John Feffer on North Korea, Neil DeMause on welfare and poverty

Download MP3 This week on CounterSpin: North Korea’s launch of several missiles on July 4th revealed once again the sensational and crisis-driven nature of U.S. media coverage of North Korea. While media dredged up stories of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s irrationality and eccentricity, coverage left many Americans ill-informed U.S./North Korea relations. Korean expert John Feffer will join us to talk about the latest alleged crisis. Also on the show: Remember Ronald Reagan and his Cadillac-driving welfare queens? Now that the White House wants to tighten public assistance even further, officials are pushing a new image: welfare recipients will […]

Jun 01 2005

Fuzzy Math

Media buy White House line on “deficit reduction”

The Washington Post headline on March 18 seemed straightforward enough: “Senate Rejects GOP Budget Cuts; House Deficit-Reduction Moves Thwarted.” The U.S. Senate, in passing its budget bill the previous afternoon, had, reported Post writer Jonathan Weisman (3/18/05), “dealt a slap to President Bush and the Republican leadership, approving a 2006 budget that would gut much of the GOP’s deficit-reduction efforts by restoring requested cuts to Medicaid, education, community development and other programs.” There’s only one problem with this tale of the deficit-busting White House and House Republicans and the defiantly free-spending Senate: It’s not true. According to a pair of […]

Jan 01 2003

‘Making the Invisible Visible’

Antipoverty activists working to make their own media

“We’d like to thank the mainstream media for showing up,” quipped Cheri Honkala, adjusting her baby son on her jeans-clad lap. The executive director of the Philadelphia-based Kensington Welfare Rights Union, a multiracial organization of, by and for poor and homeless people, Honkala was opening a Saturday press conference last October in a claustrophobic classroom at Temple University. The occasion: “Break the Media Blackout: A Conference on Media Democracy and the Struggle to End Poverty,” of which KWRU was a co-sponsor. The absence of mainstream reporters only reinforced one reason the meeting was taking place: to address and remedy what […]

May 01 2002

Declaring Victory in the Welfare Debate

'Reform' is working, say media--but what does that mean?

Ever since President Bill Clinton’s 1997 declaration that “we know now that welfare reform works,” media coverage of the issue has been haunted by the question of just what “working” means. Passed amid rhetoric of saving poor families from poverty, but with a preamble explicitly pushing a Gingrichian agenda of mar­riage and abstinence, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act’s “success” depends entirely on just what one assumes it was supposed to do. Unfortunately, most news outlets have largely ignored the actual effects of the law on such areas as female poverty, instead accepting the sunnier outlook put forward by […]

May 01 2002

The ‘Oh Really?’ Factor

Bill O'Reilly spins facts and statistics

Bill O'Reilly

If it’s “spin” to back up your arguments with bogus facts and statistics, and to dismiss numbers that don’t fit in with your preconceptions, then Bill O’Reilly‘s Fox News Channel show isn’t, as he repeatedly claims, a “no-spin zone”–it’s Spin City. During an interview with National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy (O’Reilly Factor, 2/5/02), O’Reilly claimed that “58 percent of single-mom homes are on welfare.” When Gandy questioned that figure, O’Reilly held firm: “You can’t say no, Miss Gandy. That’s the stat. You can’t just dismiss it…. It’s 58 percent. That’s what it is from the federal government.” But […]