Seeing the Round Corners

July 4, 2016


   Columns written for a holiday week usually don't get much reading so today's column will be a few thoughts and a re-appearance of a media bias column.
It is always interesting to this writer how sanctimonious the media (print and on-air) gets in such situations as today's Presidential election coverage. Of course, freedom of the press means different things to different people and from which side of the issue the opinion is being offered.

   For or against Donald Trump, one has to notice the news “snips” are far too often limited to his negative volatile statements at campaign rallies – those meant to stir up the crowd. To hear Trump explain his positions in a calm and professional way, one must tune into a show such as Face the Nation or Meet the Press.

   For or against Hillary Clinton, coverage usually includes her bashing Trump but plenty of coverage about her to do list as President, that is until this week's screw-up (no pun intended) of the candidates' husband/former President's impromptu crossing of paths with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the airport tarmac in Phoenix.  Speculation during the run-up to Hillary announcing her candidacy was that the former President would be her biggest liability – and here we are! This writer just cannot miss the opportunity on this one!
Still relatively new on the job, AG Lynch attempted some serious damage control after the s----- hit the fan and the news media spread the chance encounter. Supposedly, Clinton and Lynch are not “talk on the phone daily” “whatcha you doin” acquaintances, which made Lynch's explanation absolutely lame – that they chatted about the grandchildren . . . no discussion of the FBI's investigation of Hillary came up. Big time attorneys are known for thinking fast on their feet, but apparently, former President Bill's charm must have been in high gear.

   AG Lynch, acknowledging it was not the greatest idea for the two to chat, now promises to abide by the decision of the Justice Department's lead attorneys in the investigation of Hillary to avoid any appearance of impropriety or bias. Typically, the AG makes the final decision based on all the information compiled in such an investigation as to whether the investigation results in an indictment. Not exactly a good precedence this early in her tenure as the first black, female Attorney General of the United States.
   With these few thoughts on this July 4th holiday, the following is a column that first appeared during the last Presidential election on October 6, 2007. 


   How many of the Presidential candidates are aware of the large number of Americans who live in poverty? Only one has demonstrated recognition of it – John Edwards.  His answer regarding the issue at the end of the column.

   Ever notice how the major networks run stories just before Thanksgiving and Christmas on food banks running short of donations, but ignore the subject the other ten months of the year? Is it realistic to believe food banks are running over with donations the other ten months of the year or the poor are not hungry during those ten months?
The stories generated by Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath will be with us for a long, long time, but maybe the media should never “let it go” for the simple reason American should not be allowed to forget what concentrated poverty can mean and the consequences.

   In stories presented by NBC in December of 2005 and January of 2006, residents of the area of New Orleans most devastated by the Hurricane – the Lower 9th Ward – accused City officials of delaying restoration of services to their neighborhood as a means of setting up a “land grab” for developers. Low-income homeowner Margaret Tolliver said, “I see it as plainly taking poor people’s property.” According to the study by Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, NBC did not follow up with City officials nor did it present a follow-up story regarding the accusation by Tolliver about developers grabbing private land.

   The FAIR study also looked at bias by the major networks, and what is most likely to get on the nightly news with repeated coverage. Should there be any factor that guarantees repeated nightly news coverage? The FAIR study identified this type of coverage as “the deserving poor,” and identified stories on grandparents raising their grandchildren and hardships faced by Medicare recipients needing prescription drug coverage.  Repeated coverage was also given to veterans and their families and the hardships faced as a result of low pay and limited disability benefits.

   Most readers would agree, the plight of these groups should be hammered home, with no amount of coverage enough. The problem FAIR found with the coverage was the overall tone of the pieces. “The U.S. should be ashamed, not that there is poverty in this country, but that these particular groups of people are living in poverty.” When the focus is on a limited number of a segment of the population living in poverty, it causes one to question who selects the groups in the “deserving poor.” This type of coverage implies that it is acceptable for there to be such a huge segment of America’s population living in poverty.

   The “24-hour news cycle” drives the coverage of stories carried by the major networks – to always have the latest update on the breaking news. But is that drive to inform the public  on certain stories justifiable in the zeal for ratings?

   Poverty epitomizes “not glamorous,” and by no means is it considered one of those “feel good” issues. Perhaps the reason for the manner in which the networks deal with poverty is based on this premise: From a practical standpoint, the sheer size of the American population living in poverty is so overwhelming that the networks seem to have no earthly idea how to get the message out to the public. Segment after segment is done ABOUT poverty – not “within and of” what living in poverty actually means.

   NBC’s three-segment series in 2005-2006, “Making A Difference,” was about charity workers in Philadelphia and their efforts for the poor. Rather than profiling the Kensington Welfare Rights Union which is one of the nation’s oldest organizations made up of low-income residents and their experiences living in poverty, the series profiled a Philadelphia nun who fights homelessness. No slight is intended to the incredible work done by this person, but again, the piece was “about” poverty, not “within and of” poverty.

   Former Senator John Edwards founded a poverty think tank in 2005 at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Edwards’ approach is a far cry from the major networks. In July of this year, Edwards toured dreadful living conditions in the Mississippi Delta country, a tour which received little or no national media coverage.

   Edwards conducted the tour by actually going into areas such as where poultry workers at a chicken processing plant live in a single trailer in a trailer park beside the plant, with as many as 10 to 12  in a trailer with two beds. Edwards also stopped at West Helena, Arkansas, and spoke with health care workers who were hired by the state health department (of all agencies), to work no more than 20 hours per week so that health benefits did not have to be paid these workers. The hourly wage for those workers varied from $6.30 to $8.63 per hour – less than $175.00 per week!

   Edwards, visibly angry, vowed to end the circumstances told of by a man in the audience who had been born with a serious cleft palate. Suffering such abuse as a child because he could not make himself understood, he had lived his 50 years as a near mute until he met volunteers from the Rural Area Medical Help who referred him to doctors who corrected the cleft palate. He was in Edwards’ audience to thank the volunteers for their help.

   All of the above conditions exist right here in the United States of America, and do not represent even the tip of the iceberg. Yet, think back over the coverage by the major networks. Is it adequate? Are they performing their moral responsibility to inform the public? FAIR’s review of the network presentations on poverty for a 38-month period (September 11, 2003 through October 30, 2006) revealed “just 58 stories about poverty on the three network newscasts, including 191 quoted sources.” Typically for such a period, the three networks would use some 46,000 quoted sources.

   John Edwards was questioned by the media about why he thought poverty is a winning political issue. His answer was simplistic and to the point: “I don’t know that it is. This is not a political strategy. It’s a huge moral issue facing America.”

WRITER'S UPDATE:     John Edwards, as we all know, saw his presidential aspirations go down in flames as a result of extra-curricular activities, while his wife suffered a re-occurrence of breast cancer. Gary Hart of Colorado also flamed out for extra-curricular activities. Both would most likely have been excellent presidents.

The reader's comments or questions are always welcome. E-mail me at