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Leaving the People Out of the Debate

Laura Flanders

An unemployed man seeks work outside a temporary labor office in the southern Californian town of El Centro.American history's filled with people having to fight to be seen and heard. Now the great mass of working people are being muted and made invisible. (AFP/File/Mark Ralston)

"Occasionally you see pictures and they're standing in some long line or applying for jobs, but they're not thought of," said GRITtv guest Edrie Irvine recently, speaking of unemployed people like her.

It's not just the unemployed we don't tend to see on U.S. TV.  Take public workers. They're in the news every day, but it's not actually them. It's people talking about them. Politicians, pundits and propagandists targeted them for cuts and layoffs. But public workers themselves are barely in the conversation.

We're having a huge national debate about cutting public workers' jobs and pay -- without talking to most of the players. There may be an anonymous source, sharing an anecdote about how selfish and overpaid his fellows are, but apart from that, we're letting a few decide who gets paid and who doesn't, and Americans who are neither public workers nor politicians are in a fix: we're supposed to decide which wars, or budgets, or taxes to support, without ever hearing from and getting to know the people who are most affected by our decisions.

It's not just the news, either. While reality shows showcase Real Housewives of Rich Counties, when was the last time you saw a working-class family in a sitcom?

When talking immigration, FAIR found in 2009 that Arizona anti-immigrant sheriff Joe Arpaio had been interviewed on TV 21 times, compared to only two interviews with someone actually affected by his policies. The problem goes back further -- in 2007, FAIR found that over the previous three years, there had only been 58 stories total on poverty on all the major networks combined -- and only 76 sources out of 46 thousand were actually personally in poverty.


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While Republicans bluster about destroying the Obama agenda, they've quietly walked away from their promise to roll back government spending by $100 billion.  They know that those cuts will hit their constituents, and come with angry phone calls and letters.  But they still grandstand on the nightly news and the House floor about runaway spending and personal responsibility. And they're virtually uncontested.

American history's filled with people having to fight to be seen and heard. Now the great mass of working people are being muted and made invisible. Anyone want to create a new channel?


The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at and Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and be our friend on Facebook.

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