Editorial Boards, Sunday Morning Talk Shows Completely Ignore End of Pandemic Aid
The contrast of weeks of media outrage over the Afghanistan withdrawal with U.S. media's broad indifference to millions thrown off life-saving aid couldn't be any starker.
At the end of August, two deadlines loomed––the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the end of pandemic lifelines for the poor. One solicited wall-to-wall coverage and outrage from our pundit class. The other, largely indifference.
Over the past three weeks, for the shows of Sept. 5, Aug. 29, and Aug. 22, the major network Sunday talk shows—NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation, and ABC’s This Week—all completely ignored the ending of the federal eviction moratorium and federal unemployment assistance, a storm of circumstance that will no doubt result in an increase of hunger and poverty. Just the same, the editorial boards for the New York Times and Washington Post said nothing about the end of the federal unemployment assistance program, and there was only one handwringing editorial from The Washington Post on the eviction moratorium.
Contrast this media indifference with a total 359 mentions of “Afghanistan” over the past three weeks on the network Sunday Morning shows—NBC’s Meet the Press (115), ABC’s This Week (124), and CBS’s Face the Nation (124). And a half dozen editorials from the Washington Post and the New York Times criticizing, in harsh and clear moral terms, the Afghanistan withdrawal.
There is reporting on the end of pandemic aid, of course—namely, that which I’ve linked here throughout—but it’s buried below the fold and sober in presentation. It’s barely mentioned in the national discourse, much less centered. It is absent from the Sunday Morning talk shows and the editorial boards, and has led to no wide-scale dramatic personal notes of condemnation on cable TV. Poverty, unlike the defeat of the U.S. military, is seen as an unchangeable law of nature for which there’s little we can do.
The “benefits cliff”—the term for the sudden ending of three major federal aid programs—will see 9.3 million people thrown off federal unemployment assistance and 3.5 million at risk of losing their homes. These “pandemic aid” measures were, over the past year and a half, central to reducing poverty and hunger in the United States even as the economy tanked and unemployment skyrocketed. Despite the fact that there’s no evidence cutting UI even achieves its nominal aim of helping job growth, lawmakers are going ahead with cutting off the these lines of economic security, even as it’s clear the pandemic is not anywhere close to being over.
The sunsetting of federal unemployment assistance was more or less bipartisan. And the loneliest place to be in media is on the wrong side of a “bipartisan” consensus. After all, if both Republicans and Democratic leadership agrees it’s time to toss millions off life-saving aid then it must be a settled issue unworthy of coverage, much less moral condemnation. On cue, the major US media policy debate forums reflected this “see no evil” approach and decided to simply ignore the pending human suffering.
The things that outrage and awaken the conscience of our pundit class, versus that which actually affects the poor and working class, couldn't be any further apart. A 2016 FAIR survey of the Democratic primary debates (another useful gauge of media priorities) found that in nine debates there was not a single question asked about poverty. There were, however, 30 questions about ISIS, 11 questions about Russia, and 10 about Bernie Sanders’ ties to socialism.
9.3 million people, overnight, had a major lifeline cut off, and 3.5 million are at risk of being kicked out of their homes. Yet this profound and relatively sudden story of human suffering has disappeared from the primary platforms of national debate. Contrasted with the constant, moralizing, and breathless editorializing and punditry over Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal, these past few weeks couldn’t provide a starker example of whose class interests corporate media represents.