MediaWatch: December 1996

Vol. Ten No. 12

Welfare Deformed

The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated welfare reform will result in a seven percent annual increase in federal poverty spending over the next seven years. With inflation projected to average 2.8 percent a year, the nominal increase in federal poverty spending translates into an inflation-adjusted increase of more than four percent a year.

But CBS didn't serve up this figure on the Thanksgiving edition of the Evening News. Instead they offered up the usual holiday turkey, stuffed with labeling leftovers from the Medicare debate about nonexistent budget "cuts," and scary anecdotes about potential riots in the streets.

Anchor Harry Smith announced: "For the first time in decades the federal government will no longer guarantee open-ended help to the poor. Case in point, food stamps. As Diana Olick reports, this could mean hunger in America will grow, even in places famous for food and plenty of it."

From New Orleans, Olick introduced a welfare recipient who didn't seem to fit the usual liberal stereotype: "37-year-old Denise Lee has been on food stamps most of her life. She doesn't want to work, but she's now planning to get a job. She fears though that others will turn to crime instead to pay for food." While conservatives would paint Lee as the reason reform was needed, Olick didn't challenge Lee's self-serving vision of the future, with welfare checks as the only thing keeping America from anarchy. Lee charged: "They say times is hard, and crime is up, and this and that, but they ain't seen nothing yet."

Next Olick breezed through the CBS version of new math, claiming: "In the 35-year history of the food stamp program there has never been a cut this drastic." Although some people will no longer be eligible, overall spending will increase beyond the rate of inflation.

Olick did quote a pro-welfare reform source, Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio). But Olick concluded by seeming shocked that welfare reform would require recipients do what most people have done for years: "The cut in food stamps will force many people to go to work. But in New Orleans, where there are more people than jobs, some, like Denise Lee, are worrying how they will carry this new financial burden once the government stops carrying them."