(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—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.”
Acknowledging that he, along with the Keith Olbermans, Rachel Maddows and Bill O’Reillys of the world are incredibly well paid and comfortable, that inevitably skews what they’re going to cover and focus on in the news. I mean think about it, (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 health care 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, 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, so 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, more specifically, the average salary for a police officer in America is $50,000 a year, the average salary of a public school teacher in America is $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 health care debate would take on a completely different tone. Most poor people in America actually have jobs, they just don’t make enough money to support themselves let alone their families. So 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 health care 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 theater 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.
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. Which 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 soon the issues of America’s poor are going to be everyone’s issues.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)