Over the past several months, I’ve written extensively on the news media’s inability or unwillingness to cover the ongoing story of America’s long-term unemployed. The millions of jobless Americans who have been unemployed more than six months don’t have a public advocate and they don’t have the money to hire lobbyists to stalk the halls of Congress on their behalf. When it comes to sexy story ideas for cable TV news, the stories of older Americans unable to find a new job don’t have the zing of Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann.
That lack of news coverage has helped to bring about the situation we find today in Congress. Many legislators will privately admit that they know there is a need to add additional weeks of unemployment benefits to the current maximum of 99 weeks. But without pressure from the press or a large public outcry (the two of which often go hand-in-hand), no one has the motivation to take the first step and craft an appropriate bill.
If the hundreds of emails I’ve received in the past week are any indication, many of the long-term unemployed have given up on the news media. With a few exceptions, most of the coverage of their struggles have been in small,local news outlets. Over and over, emails come in to me complaining that national journalists “just don’t care” about the unemployed unless its part of some inside the political process story.
All of which might explain the several dozen emails I’ve received in the past 48 hours that ask for unemployed Americans to launch a protest against MSNBC. These people argue that MSNBC’s left-leaning hosts such as Rachel Maddow or Ed Schultz are their best potential advocates on television. And without their help, it’s unlikely that anything will happen in Congress.
“Rachel Maddow should be supporting us,” says one email from an unemployed 51-year-old New Jersey electrician. “It seems as if MSNBC doesn’t want to talk about those of us who are unemployed because it might make Obama look bad.”
“Ed (Schultz) always seems like some man of the people, but where is he when the people need him?” complains another reader. “If there were tea party rallies about unemployment, everyone would be covering our story. It’s all just nothing but inside the beltway bull.”
It’s not clear what this proposed protest would look like, or what they hope would be accomplished. And after having corresponded with some of the readers who sent me these emails, the protest idea doesn’t even seem that well organized. It’s as if a bunch of random Americans all independently decided that MSNBC needed to be targeted for their perceived lack of interest in the plight of America’s long-term unemployed.
While I’m not sure that a protest against MSNBC makes a lot of strategic sense, it does point to a growing frustration over why some stories seem to dominate the newshole on cable television. How do the networks juggle the conflicting challenges of being entertaining while highlighting the stories that really matter to Americans?
I can’t say that I believe Maddow or Schultz (or Keith Olbermann) have done anything wrong. But it is true that some attention to the need for additional weeks of unemployment benefits would make the eventual passage of a bill much more likely.
For ongoing coverage of America’s unemployed and how the news media is covering the story, visit www.allyourtv.com/theunemployed