Corporate Media, Poverty, And How Poetry Can Save America

by lizard

For the pro-life conservatives who consider the fight against abortion as being the number one concern, it’s all about saving the lives of the unborn (we will get to what happens to the lives of kids when they’re born into poverty in a bit). And for the right-wing meme-machine, abortion is a convenient social issue guaranteed to rile up the base.

Abortion also exposes the inherent contradictions for the broader conservative movement when it comes to their ideological obsession over the claimed need to shrink government. This is what drives me crazy. Conservatives say they want smaller government and less regulations, but they also want government regulating what happens in the wombs of women and the bedroom of gay Americans.

The issue of abortion is creeping into our media fray thanks to the current case being prosecuted against Kermit Gosnell—a case the right-wing meme-machine is generating a frenzy over. Part of the argument being made is lax oversight allowed this doctor to do horrific things in an incredibly unsanitary environment. But the main point for conservatives is this case is not being covered by the liberally-biased mainstream media because liberals enjoy killing unborn children so much, they don’t want any bad publicity to negatively impact on the ability of women to abort their unwanted pregnancies.

From the link (Mother Jones):

Obviously, conservatives believe the media is ignoring this story because it’s about abortion, and the lefties who run our media empires hate stories that put abortion in a bad light. Alternatively, it could be because it’s a Philadelphia story, and the national media doesn’t usually give a lot of time to local cases like this. Frankly, I don’t know—though I’ll note that even the conservative media didn’t give it a huge amount of coverage until fairly recently, when Gosnell’s trial started.

But if the motivations of the mainstream press are hazy, the motivations of the conservative press are crystal clear: they want this case to get a lot of attention because it highlights a rogue abortion doctor. That’s it. They wouldn’t give it the time of day if it were merely a story of regulatory failure that caused the deaths of a few poor people in, say, a rogue inner city dentist’s office.

Which is fine. If it were a rogue banker, I’d want to highlight it too. But that wouldn’t mean the rest of the media would somehow be implicated in a conspiracy if they didn’t follow my lead.

Our mainstream corporate media is selective about what issues get covered, and how they get covered. To understand the bias of corporate media, Project Censored closely tracks the stories corporate media buries:

The Project Censored team researched the board members of 10 major media organizations from newspaper to television to radio. Of these ten organizations, we found there are 118 people who sit on 288 different American and international corporate boards proving a close on-going interlock between big media and corporate America. We found media directors who also were former Senators or Representatives in the House such as Sam Nunn (Disney) and William Cohen (Viacom). Board members served at the FCC such as William Kennard (New York Times) and Dennis FitzSimmons (Tribune Company) showing revolving door relationships with big media and U.S. government officials.

These ten big media organizations are the main source of news for most Americans. Their corporate ties require us to continually scrutinize the quality of their news for bias. Disney owns ABC so we wonder how the board of Disney reacts to negative news about their board of directors friends such as Halliburton or Boeing. We see board members with connections to Ford, Kraft, and Kimberly-Clark who employ tens of thousands of Americans. Is it possible that the U.S. workforce receives only the corporate news private companies want them to hear? Do we collectively realize that working people in the U.S. have longer hours, lower pay and fewer benefits than their foreign counterparts? If these companies control the media, they control the dissemination of news turning the First Amendment on its head by protecting corporate interests over people.

So conservatives have a point that media bias exists, and is somehow tied up in the omission of this story in the 24/7 news cycle. The nature of the media bias, however, is tilted toward the interests of the almighty corporate bottom-line, and the plight of those in poverty is not a high priority, even if it’s something this grisly, and thus a good candidate for media sensationalization.

It would also help, in light of the corporate media consolidation that has happened in the past two decades, if people understood that the terms “liberal” and “conservative” are simply commodified products sold to news-consumers. Once you figure that out, you can then move beyond the labels to a better understanding of the corporate incentives behind reinforcing the polarization of our political landscape.

All that said, there is still great content generated by our media that can lead humans to be more aware of the problems our society faces and form solutions to address them.

Now, let’s talk about what happens when kids are born into poverty. I’m going to purposefully avoid talking about the ideological war being waged against the poor, because I recently focused on that angle in this post.

Instead, I would like to highlight this great article by Tina Rosenberg titled The Power of Talking to Your Baby:

By the time a poor child is 1 year old, she has most likely already fallen behind middle-class children in her ability to talk, understand and learn. The gap between poor children and wealthier ones widens each year, and by high school it has become a chasm. American attempts to close this gap in schools have largely failed, and a consensus is starting to build that these attempts must start long before school — before preschool, perhaps even before birth.

There is no consensus, however, about what form these attempts should take, because there is no consensus about the problem itself. What is it about poverty that limits a child’s ability to learn? Researchers have answered the question in different ways: Is it exposure to lead? Character issues like a lack of self-control or failure to think of future consequences? The effects of high levels of stress hormones? The lack of a culture of reading?

Another idea, however, is creeping into the policy debate: that the key to early learning is talking — specifically, a child’s exposure to language spoken by parents and caretakers from birth to age 3, the more the better. It turns out, evidence is showing, that the much-ridiculed stream of parent-to-child baby talk — Feel Teddy’s nose! It’s so soft! Cars make noise — look, there’s a yellow one! Baby feels hungry? Now Mommy is opening the refrigerator! — is very, very important. (So put those smartphones away!)

The idea has been successfully put into practice a few times on a small scale, but it is about to get its first large-scale test, in Providence, R.I., which last month won the $5 million grand prize in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, beating 300 other cities for best new idea. In Providence, only one in three children enter school ready for kindergarten reading. The city already has a network of successful programs in which nurses, mentors, therapists and social workers regularly visit pregnant women, new parents and children in their homes, providing medical attention and advice, therapy, counseling and other services. Now Providence will train these home visitors to add a new service: creating family conversation.

The Providence Talks program will be based on research by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley at the University of Kansas, who in 1995 published a book, “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children.” (see here for a summary.) Hart and Risley were studying how parents of different socioeconomic backgrounds talked to their babies. Every month, the researchers visited the 42 families in the study and recorded an hour of parent-child interaction. They were looking for things like how much parents praised their children, what they talked about, whether the conversational tone was positive or negative. Then they waited till the children were 9, and examined how they were doing in school. In the meantime, they transcribed and analyzed every word on the tapes — a process that took six years. “It wasn’t until we’d collected our data that we realized that the important variable was how much talking the parents were doing,” Risley told an interviewer later.

All parents gave their children directives like “Put away your toy!” or “Don’t eat that!” But interaction was more likely to stop there for parents on welfare, while as a family’s income and educational levels rose, those interactions were more likely to be just the beginning.

The disparity was staggering. Children whose families were on welfare heard about 600 words per hour. Working-class children heard 1,200 words per hour, and children from professional families heard 2,100 words. By age 3, a poor child would have heard 30 million fewer words in his home environment than a child from a professional family. And the disparity mattered: the greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school. TV talk not only didn’t help, it was detrimental.

Read the whole article.

By the time teachers begin their role in the education of American children, the playing field is already incredibly skewed through no fault of the children impacted by poverty, which of course makes the conservative poor-bashing of poor children even more despicable.

So what can we start doing about it?

Understanding the problem is the beginning, and though I’m clearly biased when it comes to the subject of poetry, I think everyone should read this Harper’s piece by Tony Hoagland, titled Twenty Little Poems That Could Save America:

What went wrong? Somehow, we blew it. We never quite got poetry inside the American school system, and thus, never quite inside the culture. Many brave people have tried, tried for decades, are surely still trying. The most recent watermark of their success was the introduction of Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg and some e.e. cummings, of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “In a Station of the Metro” — this last poem ponderously explained, but at least clean and classical, as quick as an inoculation. It isn’t really fair to blame contemporary indifference to poetry on “Emperor of Ice-Cream.” Nor is it fair to blame Wallace Stevens himself, who also left us, after all, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” a poem that will continue to electrify and intrigue far more curious young minds than are anesthetized by a bad day of pedagogy on the Ice Cream Poem. Let us blame instead the stuffed shirts who took an hour to explain that poem in their classrooms, who chose it because it would need an explainer; pretentious ponderous ponderosas of professional professors will always be drawn to poems that require a priest.

I don’t know if poetry can save America, but I know for a fact poetry saves lives.

In this week’s LWPS I mentioned how the Book of Frank by CAConrad wasn’t for everyone, then linked to an interview for anyone who wanted to explore why.

In that interview, CAConrad is painfully honest about the childhood experiences those poems come from. The book opens with a quote from CAConrad’s grandmother— “well of course they are staring, we’re very interesting—and the interviewer asks about that and about how the audience reacts during readings. This is what CAConrad has to say:

CA: The audience has to take it. If they’re there, they have to take it, or leave. People have walked out on me reading these and other poems more than a few times. I don’t care. Poetry will not apologize.

TD: “well of course they are staring, we’re very interesting” summarizes much of the book as the reader experiences reality with Frank. Did you have that statement from your grandmother in mind when you were compiling the poems?

CA: Oh, well that’s something she said to me when I was young. I was a young boy visiting my mother’s mother in Iowa. I wasn’t born there, I was born in Kansas, then mostly raised in rural Pennsylvania. Anyway, my mother had a reputation because she was a thief, an alcoholic, always in trouble, and kind of known as the town whore. So as a young boy I was in the little grocery store with my grandmother back in that town where my mother grew up. I can still see this. The look of CONTEMPT on the faces of these old women looking at me, whispering, shaking their heads while looking at me, you know, the kind of body language that turns your stomach no matter how old you are. I told my grandmother that they were staring at us. Then she said that sentence to me. It cheered me right away, I can’t say why. But it’s something that’s come in handy in my life. But your question was more about how it fits the book. It felt right. Particularly because of the trauma the poems came out of, well, it was my little way of making myself feel good at the start of the book. That’s why I put it there. What readers think it was put there for, or how it fits for readers is just fine with me.

I was absolutely delighted to have received a very positive response from the poet himself after tweeting the link to that post. I think CAConrad is an amazing poet (you can buy his books here) who shows those who care to look how language has the power to process trauma.

And because there is a war being waged against the poor, we will need to utilize whatever tools are available.

To end this rather lengthy post, I offer a little clip from a movie I absolutely adore. Enjoy!


  1. Big Swede

    The KKK killed about 100 blacks in its dark history.

    How many live black babies has Kermit killed?

    • lizard19

      Swede, this conservative blogger is your ideological kissing cousin regurgitating the latest right-wing memes for dumb-dumb consumption. he despises liberal college professors and liberal celebrities and liberal comic book writers and the liberal media. you should totally go over to his place and give him some encouragement. I’m sure you can think of some youtube clips that will cheer him up. he’s all upset right now because I tried to provide some actual context to what is happening with this case of ILLEGAL abortions, which has the right-wing meme-machine completely freaking out.

      • Big Swede

        Looks like you and Doug have all ready gone several rounds.

        My brief comment, like this photo stands alone.

        http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Journalism/2013/04/12/Photo-Empty-Reserved-Media-Seating-at-Abortion-Doc-Trial

      • Steve W

        Liz. I see your “friend” is also a blogger for the Mooney-owned Washington Times.

        Now that’s a big city newspaper, and the Moonies also own UPI. So why they are whining about “big media” not covering the trial is beyond me. They are big media.

  2. The Polish Wolf

    My big question on childhood development is, why do poor children hear so many fewer words? I understand a middle class family with a stay at home parent would provide a substantial word-count boost, but if anything one would expect a family on welfare to spend more time at home, or at least have more time available at home, than a family barely off welfare, or ‘working poor’. Moreover, I haven’t seen any compelling evidence that children of two full-time working parents generally do any more poorly in elementary school, as one would expect if time spent with parents was the biggest issue. It seems like there is some fundamental difference in parenting techniques, on the average. If I had to place a bet, which I fortunately do not, I’d guess that there is a pretty close link between linguistic skill and comfort, and economic success, which is to be expected if language plays the role many believe it does in how we analyze, make sense of, and interact with the world around us.

  1. 1 152 Poetry Posts to Celebrate April, National Poetry Month | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Corporate Media, Poverty, and How Poetry Can Save America […]




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