Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Not Showing – The ‘Poor People’s News’

Not Showing – The ‘Poor People’s News’

Several weeks ago Ed Schultz, MSNBC and the Left’s answer to Rush Limbaugh, made an interesting suggestion that was probably a throwaway line in his early show monologue. He said there should be a “poor people’s news.”

Schultz and the Keith Olbermans, Rachel Maddows and Bill O’Reilly’s of the world are incredibly well paid and comfortable, and that inevitably skews what they’re going to cover and focus on in the news. Meanwhile, 13 percent of the U.S. population is considered poor. That’s a pretty big number and it’s growing every minute when you consider how lousy the economy is going.

How would coverage of healthcare be different if the voiceless had a voice? How would crime, job losses or even more abstract, the upcoming mid-term elections, look if we actually took the feelings, thoughts and attitudes of the poor into news coverage? I have a pretty good idea, and I think it’d change the way we cover news forever.

Right off the bat, I’ll acknowledge that I’m not poor. Of course, most Americans don’t really know what their financial status is since politicians spend so much time blurring class issues to motivate the vote. Here’s a quick refresher: Middle class in America is defined as a joint family income of $45,000 a year. That’s two working adults.

The average salary for a police officer in America is about $50,000 a year; the average salary of a public school teacher in America is approximately $50,000 a year. So those of you who might be angling to call yourselves “the middle class” might actually be living high on the hog, according to government statistics.

If you have a college degree, and are married, you’re probably not middle class. Only about 25 percent of the U.S. population has a four-year degree and again most of those people are making about 30K a year. So the first thing we’d have to acknowledge about a “Poor People’s” newscast is that while the poor in this country outnumber the rich, and even the ‘middle class,’ all too many of us don’t realize how privileged we probably are.

If poor people ran the news, the healthcare debate would take on a completely different tone. Rather than inane discussions with cabinet members of Obama’s administration, or worse, disingenuous money-grubbing members of the Democratic Senate, we’d have more stories about regular people. Most poor people in America actually have jobs. They just don’t make enough money to support themselves let alone their families.

A divorced single mother of two children working as a cleaning lady at a local hotel would look directly at a Senator and say, “My job doesn’t provide healthcare because they keep my hours just short of full time. I’d buy coverage myself, but there’s no insurance provider who has a plan that I can afford. How do you plan to fix this?”

Elected officials can bluster all they want in town halls, but facing down the respected anchors of PPN (Poor People’s News) would be a much tougher crowd to fool.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be covered differently as well if our news was reported by the poor. While there would still be stories of rebuilding all across the Middle East as U.S. and allied troops repair all that we’ve damaged in the last several years, we might see more of a comparison. How many billions has the United States been willing to spend on infrastructure in Iraq versus infrastructure in the United States? How has the U.S. military sought to protect the hundreds of thousands of military wives with children in the United States whose spouses and primary breadwinners are in the theatre of war? From 2007 to 2008, the use of food-stamps by military families jumped to 25 percent, twice the rate used by Americans as a whole. I’m pretty sure the PPN would keep on this story more than once a year during the Thanksgiving season.

Of course the PPN is a fantasy. No one is going to fund and financially support a network that reports the needs, concerns and political views of the poor in the United States. And that is truly a shame.

We are not only failing to cover the views of the vast majority of the people in the United States, but we’re committing another crime as well. The gap between the working poor, and the middle class, and those just above is shrinking faster than anyone cares to admit. And sooner than anyone believes, the issues of America’s poor are going to be everyone’s issues.

(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor of political science and communications at Hiram College in Ohio, where he teaches courses in campaigns and elections, pop culture, and the politics of sports. He can be reached at johnsonja@hiram.edu.)

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