Friday, September 23, 2005

As suspected

I watched Gavin Esler’s (not, as I wrote the other day, Ensler) Newsnight program last night on poverty and race in Savannah, and the synopsis of it, which I critiqued Wednesday, was a fair reflection of the show. With the notable exception that, unlike the synopsis, Esler did not say anything about this being “George Bush’s America”, the criticisms (and small amount of praise) which I presented were just and well deserved.

Esler gets credit for daring to raise the issue of the relationship between personal behavior and poverty, and for interviewing a black man who argued forcefully for less government assistance and more personal responsibility. But his unthinking and uncritical trumpeting of deceptive statistics, along with his lack of curiosity over how those in ostensibly unmanageable circumstances have in fact managed, ultimately reduce his report to the typical BBC effort to reinforce preconceived notions about America rather than to discover an underlying reality.


Blogger the adventuress said...

I thought the segment was rather comical to tell you the truth. He fulminates about "hunger" outside of a soup kitchen where the clientele is nearly all strikingly obese!

Everyone he interviewed appeared well-dressed and well-fed -- if not over-fed. One interviewee owned her own home -- her furniture was nicer than mine.

Oh for the days when poverty documentaries showed people who actually looked poor.

He interviews another hugely obese woman at a free medical clinic, noting in passing that she's there because she can't get Medicaid. There is no attempt to explain why she can't get Medicaid, nor is there any explanation of what Medicaid is, or that most poor people in the US get it. The impression left very strongly is that all poor people do not have any other option except free clinics for their medical care. I'm sure this was intentional.

For the "awful conditions" in which his subjects live, the segment repeatedly showed a large white frame house with a typical screened porch in need of a lick of paint. That's it.

3:18 PM  
Blogger the adventuress said...

Also, I thought that Esler was actually smirking at the "personal responsibility" guy. It was plain he didn't believe a word the guy said, just wanted to quote his tired and discredited statistics to please the folks back in Europe.

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

irene "There is no attempt to explain why she can't get Medicaid, nor is there any explanation of what Medicaid is, or that most poor people in the US get it

Yes, I didn't see all his report, but I did catch that bit & agree that he would do better to inform us about the qualification for public medicine.

I also saw him ask an old black woman what she expected Bush to do to make everyone happy, as if the present situation had been created since 2000, & after the 8 years of the presidency of that brilliant Mr Clinton

4:08 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


I had precisely the same thoughts as you. Especially on the fat woman in the medical clinic.

That's mainly what I meant when I said that Esler appeared incurious about the actual circumstances of the people he was holding out as examples. Did you see the "day laborer" he interviewed? The guy was built like a mountain, and I don't mean fat. It struck me that, on the days he wasn't getting a job, he must be working out in a gym. He certainly didn't seem to be wanting for food. How could that be, given the dire straights he was supposedly in? Obviously, there was more to this guys life than hanging out waiting for the job van to come around. But Esler had no interest in that. He was sent to Savannah to film a story about poor black people, and he wasn't going to let complex reality get in the way of that story.


4:16 PM  
Blogger the adventuress said...

Scott, I agree totally. The day laborer looked extremely fit and healthy. It was yet another of the incongruities I noticed about that report.

Frankly, if these are what the worst of the poor in the US look like, we are doing a lot better than I thought we were.

4:47 PM  
Blogger the adventuress said...

As for the "awful" white poverty frame house in need of a lick of paint, it looked about three or four times larger -- as well as more comfortable -- than the average 500-square-foot European efficiency apartment.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


Your perceptions do not deceive you. According to this report (, the average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, etc.


4:58 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Regarding the "fat lady" that people have been talking about. It's not uncommon for poor people here to be fat/obese. One reason is the cheap foods here are high in carbohydrates, fat, and sugar, and low in nutritional content. It's my understanding that it's possible to be fat/obese and still be malnourished, simply because of the diet. I could be wrong about that.

We're certainly not lacking for availability of food, which would tend to lead to the symptoms of poverty seen elsewhere in the world of bone-thin people and distended bellies.

11:40 AM  

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