The Role Of Newspapers Examined p.32

By: David Astor Author Jonathan Kozol says newspapers do a poor
job of covering the country's shortcomings sp.

"ARE NEWSPAPERS 'AFFLICTING the comfortable and comforting the afflicted?' I don't see it. I think it's the opposite."
Those were the words of Jonathan Kozol, who has written best-selling books about America's racism, poverty and neglected urban schools.
The author discussed these problems during a recent speech at the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors convention in Atlanta. But Kozol also used his AASFE forum to talk about one other thing: his belief that many daily newspapers do a rotten job of covering this country's shortcomings.
For one thing, he said, most dailies don't focus enough on the responsibility of the white power structure for many of the social ills in poor minority areas.
"Manufacturing jobs have fled," Kozol noted, by way of example. "I don't think you can blame single mothers or unemployed black men for the flight of jobs."
He added that residents of minority neighborhoods are given substandard housing, "the worst schools," "the vilest hospitals" and waste dumps. They hear, on talk radio and in the halls of Congress, "how deeply they are hated." Then, Kozol said, people wonder why some of these residents don't develop good "family values"!
"There is so much analysis of the pathologies of the poor but not of the pathologies of the rich," added the speaker.
Kozol also said many newspapers run "happy ghetto" stories that focus on an isolated individual who makes good, or on the announcement of a private or governmental improvement effort. What many newspapers don't run, he added, is analysis of how "cosmetic" this effort usually is and how it was tried "15 times before" and never really changed anything.
"False hope is worse than despair," commented the former Rhodes scholar and teacher.
If newspapers were really truthful, Kozol said, they would emphasize that much of the American power structure doesn't want to help minorities. Instead, it wants to "conceal" them in segregated neighborhoods and "let just enough into the middle class for an illusion of racial progress."
Then, there is the approach and language of stories that are clearly designed to reach more affluent readers (and keep advertisers happy). Kozol noted that if a newspaper publishes an article about how "everyone this year is wearing short skirts," it's obviously not addressing readers who can't afford new clothes.
Also, the AASFE speaker said newspapers rarely review restaurants in poor neighborhoods and rarely feature poor people in wedding announcements and obituaries. Kozol asked why a rich businessman deserves an obituary more than a poor grandmother who successfully raised four children.
He added that newspapers often give positive coverage to rich businessmen and other prominent people who hold "glitzy" charity events every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
During the other 11 months of the year, said Kozol, these same people "downsize jobs that the poor may have gotten or starve the school system of funds while sending their kids to prep school. Who's the charity for? It's for themselves, so they won't feel guilty going to church on Christmas Eve. There's something very ugly about stealing loaves of bread all year long and then coming back once a year to give out crumbs."
Kozol himself has set up a foundation to help poor people, including some of the ones he has met over the years while doing his books.
"But charity isn't a good substitute for justice," said the prize-winning author of Death at an Early Age, Rachel and Her Children and Savage Inequalities.
His latest book ? Amazing Grace, which was just published by Crown ? focuses on children in a section of New York City's impoverished South Bronx.
Kozol said he became friends with a number of wonderful kids (and adults) through the book. Some of them later died in shootings or accidents, or of AIDS or cancer.
"The book was very painful to write," he recalled.
"I spent much of the past two years crying."
Kozol ? introduced to the AASFE audience by Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal features editor Mark Sommer ? also described how he reluctantly accepted lunch invitations from former Harvard classmates who wanted to ask about his safety in the South Bronx.
"That question always upsets me," he stated. "I'm a grown-up. Why don't they ask about the safety of the children who have to live there all the time?
"I do get scared about the physical danger from drug dealers. But it's not in the same league as the danger I feel eating an $80 lunch with my privileged friends to discuss hunger and poverty. That's when my soul feels imperiled."
?(Jonathan Kozol) [Photo]


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