Saturday, February 4, 2017

Intentionally closed eyes

Brook Gladstone is the host of the NPR program On the Media which looks at how the media shapes the stories we hear. Before the election she did a five-part series on *Busted: America’s Poverty Myths*. I don’t listen to her show, so I didn’t learn about the series until Radiolab asked Gladstone to introduce the series on their program.

I’ve listened to the first part. This one is 25 minutes. I did so over a week ago, so some of the details (at least the ones not in the blurb on the website, alas no transcript) may be a bit off. This episode features a conversation with Jack Frech, who for decades has been the welfare director in Athens County, Ohio. That are is considered to be part of Appalachia and its poverty. So Frech has a pretty good idea about the causes of poverty and will discuss it with anyone who will listen.

Any time someone asks, Frech will do a poverty tour – show people around and meet his clients. The people who usually take this poverty tour are journalists. Sometimes these media people will go away and do nothing. Sometimes they will write compelling stories.

Back in the early 1990s (and this is where my memory is hazy, but I don’t want to listen to the 25 minutes again) a major TV network visited Frech and their well-respected evening news reporter did an excellent series of reports on poverty in America. Frech was delighted. The richest nation would finally revise its policies to help the poor. And …


The American public, and certainly its politicians, ignored the story. The few responses Frech heard about insisted things weren’t, couldn't be, that bad. The story must have been fabricated. A few years later there was the successful push to “redefine Welfare as we know it,” essentially ending it.

Frech’s conclusion: America does not want to know about the plight of its poor.

An exercise for the reader: Explain how this fits into a society that ranks one person more valuable than another.

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