Thursday, October 21, 2010

Poverty, the media and Katrina

Media accounts of hurricane Katrina "riveted, angered, and depressed" Americans. However, the media images of devastated individuals and communities from Katrina did not result in public policy to fight poverty and economic inequality. Deborah Belle (2006) points to research that suggests that social policy decisions in the U.S. favor the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class. The wealthy control the policy making process. Those most likely to downplay the problems of economic and racial inequality are most likely to have political power. While the media may impact middle America they seem to have little influence on the decision makers.

Belle, D. (2006). Contested Interpretations of Economic Inequality Following Hurricane Katrina. Analyses of Social Issues & Public Policy, 6(1), 143-158. doi:10.1111/j.1530-2415.2006.00111.x

News coverage of Katrina may have in fact lessened people's support for public policy. In his comparison of "episodic" versus "thematic" news stories, Iyengar (1990) found that people viewing "thematic" news stories about poverty were likely to blame the condition on societal factors. On the other hand, when viewers "episodic" news stories showing images of people in poverty, they tend to hold the poor responsible for their own poverty. In a six year period, television showed twice as many "episodic" as "thematic" stories. This tendency to blame the poor for their poverty may have lessened the impact of news coverage of Katrina.

Iyengar, S. (1990). Framing responsibility for political issues: The case of poverty. Political Behavior, 12, 19-40.

Photo source:

No comments: