FROM THE NEWS MEDIA TO ELIAN, WITH LOVE
Elian, we love you! We're the News Media. And you're incredibly special.
politicians, legal experts, psychologists, celebrities and pundits have wanted
the world to know that they fervently desire what's best for you. We've been
glad to put you on national television -- live if possible -- playing on a
backyard swing set or holding your pet rabbit named "Esperanza." Hope
for your future has become very important to us all.
kids your age usually aren't interesting to those of us in the media profession.
They may suffer from danger and deprivation, but the chances are slim that a
spotlight will fall on their unimportant little lives. What afflicts their daily
existence is apt to be too downbeat and humdrum for prime time. There's no
tragic shipwreck or high-profile legal battle to recount, just ongoing social
conditions. Kind of boring.
your story is wonderfully dramatic and extraordinary -- far afield from what
matters for millions of children. Medical neglect, malnutrition, crummy housing,
under-funded schools and other ills are tedious facts of life that lack
glamorous momentum. Sure, we do stories on poor kids once in a while, mostly
told with a few numbers and fleeting images, but there's no drumbeat in the
national media echo chamber.
might mention that the United States has the highest rate of child poverty among
all the industrialized nations, with one in five American kids living below the
poverty line. We could note that the U.S. Department of Agriculture now says 36
million Americans -- 14 million of them children -- do not have adequate access
infant mortality rate in the U.S. -- 7.2 infant deaths per 1,000 births -- is
currently worse than in 21 other industrialized countries. Meanwhile, the United
States "has failed to reduce the disparities in rates among different
racial and ethnic groups," the Children's Defense Fund reports. "Black
infants continue to die at twice the rate of white infants. The latest data show
that the cause of death for black infants is four times more likely to be
related to low birthweight than for white infants, strongly suggesting unequal
access to prenatal care."
deadly situation could be called -- quite accurately -- institutionalized
racism. But we don't have to call it anything if we rarely even mention it.
way or another, poverty is killing a lot of children in the United States every
day. And it's making life miserable for millions of others. But hey, that's a
dwelling on that kind of stuff might raise unsettling questions about social
priorities in the USA. Since we're the News Media, we can be judicious about
what's newsworthy. We've preferred to broadcast dramatic TV footage from Miami
and feature Cold-War-relic arguments about Cuba.
so far this spring, we've made sure that many millions of Americans keep
thinking about you. Your story is big. So, count your blessings. Any number of
6-year-olds, unfilmed and unextraordinary, can only dream of a day when
America's magic media alchemy will turn their suffering into infotainment.
not one of those run-of-the-mill children. For instance, if immigrant kids are
"undocumented," their access to social services is likely to be quite
limited (no matter how many tax dollars get withheld from their parents'
paychecks). Even the kids of legal immigrants are often denied assistance: If
they arrived on these shores after the 1996 welfare reform law took effect,
those families don't have access to food stamps, Medicaid and other basic
media limelight does not have much room to spare for America's poor children.
They aren't talked about hour after hour on "Larry King Live" or
discussed in breathless reports on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and Fox News Channel. Those
cable networks routinely adorn the bottom of the screen with the latest
stock-market numbers. But as far as top producers are concerned, the latest
vital statistics about poor kids are just media bummers.
like you, Elian. You're so special! Your ordeal is a mesmerizing tragedy, a
Elian, how we love you!
Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."