'Evening News' Blames U.S. Economy for Reno's 'Tent City'

     Dozens of media reports have compared current economic conditions to the Great Depression. But the Oct. 1 broadcast of “CBS Evening News” didn’t just say there were similarities; it conjured up images of Depression-era Hoovervilles with a report on a tent city.


     The “Other America” series segment – which included the release of a new CBS News opinion poll showing downbeat views on the economy – interviewed people residing in tents outside Reno, Nev.


     Katie Couric introduced the segment with dismal poll numbers showing pessimism about the economy.


     “Finally tonight, it may come as no surprise but our new CBS News poll finds Americans more pessimistic about the economy than they’ve been in many years,” Couric said. “Only one in 10 thinks it’s in good condition, the lowest number since we first asked the question more than two decades ago. And, for the first time ever, the majority thinks it’s in very bad shape. For a small but growing number, the economy has hit bottom.”


     But the setting for CBS correspondent Seth Doane’s report was Nevada – a state with 7.1 percent unemployment – a 23-year high – and one of the highest in the country. Doane painted a depressing picture for viewers.


     “In the shadows of the high-rise casinos, one community in Reno, Nev., lives with almost nothing – in tent after tent, a human mosaic of suffering,” Doane said. “Nevada’s unemployment rate is at a 23-year high. In Reno, the number of jobless jumped nearly 60 percent in the last year. Now for 170 people, this is home.”


     Doane interviewed one couple that moved from Portland, Ore., to Reno looking for work. However, he didn’t explain that the couple moved from a state with 6.5 percent unemployment (Oregon) to a state with an even higher unemployment rate.


     “Just last Christmas the couple lived in a rented house in Portland until Michael [Moore] lost the job he’d had for three years at a gas station,” Doane added. “They moved to Reno in search of jobs.”


     Though the economy has shown weakness during the first half of 2008, the current unemployment rate of 6.1 percent is nowhere near the Depression-era rate of 24.9 percent – a time when shack communities called Hoovervilles sprung up throughout the United States, after many Americans lost their homes.


     That hasn’t prevented the media from drawing comparisons to the Great Depression more than 70 times in the first half of the year.


     Doane has showcased the worst of these hardship stories with his “Other America” series, blaming the American economy as the root cause. In July, Doane reported that inflation was taking a bite out of the purchasing power of food stamps, hurting the people dependent on them.


     According to the Media Research Center, the media also hyped homelessness in the 1980s, despite “the longest and most sustained boom in the nation’s history” – as Peter Jennings put it. As the decade was ending, networks lashed out at President Reagan.


     Tom Brokaw declared that social programs “suffered under Reagan,” in a voice-over of a video of homeless people. Newsweek gave the ‘80s a thumbs down summing up the decade: “Greedy Yuppies screwed homeless,” according to the MRC study.