The American news media exhibits a variety of recurrent behaviors which should be very concerning to audiences. Among these tendencies, faults such as the media’s hyper-focused coverage of President Donald Trump and its underrepresentation of international issues are particularly salient, but these faults are also discussed with adequate frequency such that, in 2019, it seems redundant to spend too much time rehashing over them.
By contrast, the news media also tends to avoid exposing the U.S.’s economic failures when they are glaringly obvious, and this is a deficiency which audiences do not criticize with the same frequency as the previous faults I mentioned above. I can only assume that this is simply because consumers do not notice it when it is happening, as I likewise failed to until very recently.
For example, let’s focus on a CBS News article published April 2, titled “High School robotics team builds electric wheelchair for 2-year-old whose family couldn't afford one.” The report outlines the unfortunate situation of Cillian Jackson, a 2-year-old with a rare genetic condition which necessitates that he use an electric wheelchair.
Jackson’s insurance plan does not cover the expenses of the sort of chair Jackson needs, which can cost as much as $20,000, so a local high school robotics team built one for him. The story is heartwarming, but nowhere in the report is it mentioned which insurance program Jackson is a recipient of, nor is it specified whether Jackson’s condition will incur additional, uninsured costs in the future.
A similar report from KOLO-TV ABC outlines the actions of 13-year-old Nevada resident William Preston, who sold his Xbox and took up yard work around his neighborhood in order to help his mother afford a car for commuting to work. Preston’s mother is a single parent of three who is struggling to make ends meet.
It is definitely not my intent to minimize the value of good-faith acts of human empathy, especially in these politically isolating times. Altruistic acts like Preston’s and the aforementioned robotics team’s should always be commended, and I can see why these narratives are attractive to news outlets seeking a heartwarming story.
On the other hand, it seems to me that the news outlets covering these stories, as well as similar acts of altruism, have an additional responsibility to provide their readers with an even-handed perspective.
In cases like Preston’s and Jackson’s, news coverage clarifies the ways in which the U.S. economy has failed both them and low-income Americans at large. That failure is so cemented in society that news coverage actually treats it as negligible.
In this context, headlines like the CBS News article mentioned above seem downright misleading. While it is true that Jackson’s family could not afford the wheelchair their son required, it would be more accurate to say that his insurance company refused to pay for it.
Similarly, to focus only on Preston’s willingness to help his mother make ends meet is to ignore the obvious flaws in that situation; that American working wages are so low that they necessitate the aid of child labor.