The Recession and the ‘Deserving Poor’ (Extra!)

The news media is finally getting around to noticing poverty, but do only a certain class of needy qualify?

As the economy crumbles, issues of poverty and economic need have begun to make more frequent appearances in the news media. From October through December 2008, for example, the three nightly TV news shows ran 20 stories—about one every four or five days—addressing poverty or related issues such as homelessness or food stamps. A previous FAIR study of nightly news coverage (Extra!, 9–10/07), by comparison, found an average of one poverty story on the evening news every three weeks.

More coverage, though, does not necessarily mean better coverage. And while swelling food-stamp rolls and unemployment lines may become media staples as the economic downturn worsens, the way poverty issues are portrayed remains constrained by political biases and stereotypes.

If there’s one commonality to the recent surge in coverage of economic need, it’s that the focus is on the newly poor—-with particular attention to those who can claim a middle-class background… [read more]