MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
How often do you come across an article or a television news story that presents a poor person in a positive light? Or for that matter when do you read about or see a story on an unemployed individual or the challenges of a working class American whose salary is receding as the stock market soars?
Oh, yes every once in awhile there will be a hard luck formula piece of reporting about the plight of the economically left behind – but it's comparatively rare and is often presented in a pitying, patronizing tone.
In short, if you are not a member of the economically made, political or corporate elite, you generally don't appear in the news. You are voiceless, faceless. The reality is that you are not news; your existence is hardly worthy of note, with the obligatory exception of an occasional "gee it's tough to live like this" profile of a "welfare mom" or person unemployed and looking for work for three or four years.
Otherwise, in urban areas, the only regular stories you see about the poor is the knife and gun coverage of violence, particularly on weekends, particularly on local television news. These video accounts of weeping relatives, blood-stained crime scenes, and eyewitnesses only serve to reinforce stereotypes of the urban poor, particularly minorities. It's voyeuristic catnip for suburbanites and the well-to-do who gain comfort in their racial views being reinforced by tawdry and sensationalistic "news delivery systems."
Let's face it, corporate mainstream news doesn't – in general -- adequately or appropriately recognize those with low or no incomes as having a stake in society or anything to contribute in discussions of public policy. As far as economics is concerned, it appears that the only persons entitled to speak about financial policy options are those of the privileged class, and particularly those who have been enriched by the current system (including politicians). Add to that at the ever present class of "journalistic punditry," who if they are on national television (or major market local television stations) de facto belong to the entrenched wealthy.
Just look at unions. Some union members are well into the middle class, but even labor gets short shrift by the corporate mainstream media. Why? Many reasons, but one of the big ones is that the owners of news "machines" in America are generally not keen on unions. They cut into their media conglomerate profits. So why promote the union viewpoint?
But there's another key point to remember. News that relies on advertising for revenue and profit – which is almost all the news media (although Truthout/BuzzFlash are an exception because we accept no ads) – are shaped as conduits for advertisers to deliver to a defined market. And guess what? Poor and low income people don't have the money to make them a desirable advertising audience (with some exceptions) for big media. So why write articles about them in the corporate media?
They won't deliver advertisers, after all – and the well-off don't want to read about them for the most part. The poor, the unemployed, the working stiffs are best left under the carpet – out of plain sight.
The net result of all this lack of recognition of those who are not powerful and those who lack sufficient funds is to imply that they are worthless, not even worthy of news coverage, and certainly not to be considered as having opinions that can benefit the debate about the direction of our economy or participate in out political discourse.
As we mentioned, occasionally an article makes its way through the de facto news omission of stories about those without power or money. That happened on June 15, when the New York Times (NYT) posted a one page story, curiously in its business section, on "Faces of the Minimum Wage." Although it only included 7 photos of the underpaid, it did actually state some startling truths (except for Truthout/BuzzFlash readers who are familiar with them from our ongoing coverage) that are generally ignored in the corporate media:
Put simply, the recession took middle-class jobs, and the recovery has replaced them with low-income ones, a trend that has exacerbated income inequality. According to Labor Department data, about 1.7 million workers earned the minimum wage or less in 2007. By 2012, the total had surged to 3.6 million, with millions of others earning just a few cents or dollars more….
Combined with tax measures the administration has supported, Alan B. Krueger, the departing chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, said that raising the minimum wage would undo “a lot of the rise in inequality we’ve seen over the last 20 years.”…
But for now, it seems the minimum will stay where it is. Because of inflation, the minimum wage loses value over time if it is not bumped up. Accounting for inflation’s effects, it is now worth less than in the 1960s and 70s. And, as the people pictured here can attest, getting by on it — whether the federal minimum or a state version, which can be somewhat higher — is getting harder.
So, in this rare NYT piece that reveals how those who have jobs that pay minimum wage are barely surviving, some of them on food stamps, we see just a glimpse of the economic reality hidden between the luxury car and jewelry ads in the NYT.
We have two economies: one that is surging with wealth for the top bracket – and one in which the minimum wage working person is just getting further behind economically, barely surviving.
This short but revealing article is like the NYT opening the shutter of a camera at such a fast speed, you can barely see the image being photographed.
After all, the people hurt by the reality of an economy that is only picking up for the already wealthy aren't able to buy from the advertisers who are the financial base of the NYT.
For all practical purposes, they don't exist in the news.
To many in the society, their mere presence on earth blights the landscape of the prosperous.