Within the past few weeks, two prominent and respected media outlets have taken very different approaches to Social Security disability. The Washington Post published a long article that rather strongly implied that many poor people are trying to game Social Security disability for personal gain. National Public Radio (NPR), conversely, broadcast a sympathetic look at the process of getting Social Security disability.
Washington Post Publishes Poorn
Of the two, the Washington Post article is the more problematic. The tone of the piece was exploitative. The reporter, Terrence McCoy, treated the family he depicted as something akin to grifters. The thrust of the story was that the Tidwell family was looking for a doctor to say that their twin boys were sufficiently mentally ill to qualify for disability checks. Without these two additional government checks, the Tidwells would not be able to afford their bills for such things as cell phones and cable TV. No need to read between the lines to see the accusation that McCoy was making about this family. This is the second article of this sort that the Washington Post published. I praised the first one, but now it appears that the Washington Post is making a practice of exploiting the poor for sensational stories. I call these sorts of stories "Poorn."
NPR Much Fairer
NPR was even handed and presented basic facts regarding how much Social Security disability applicants endure to try to get benefits. Unlike the Washington Post, NPR deserves credit for their reporting.
The Risk of Unfair Reporting
The problem with the Washington Post-type stories is that they appear to confirm the stereotype of the poor and disabled as being "takers" who are a drain on society. In a time when major policy changes could be coming for Social Security disability, there is a genuine danger in writing "Poorn" that titillates not the libido, but an unearned sense of moral outrage.
The Washington Post should stop writing these sorts of stories. If they want to cover Social Security disability, they could learn important lessons from NPR.
Have you seen or read depictions of disability or poverty that moved you? If so, let me know.