There are some hints that Ensler will depart from the conventional story line that we have come to expect. For example, he rightly points out that:
He also reveals that:
The simple fact is that most Americans in poverty are not black - whites make up most of the population, and most of the poor.
And, whatever the pictures from New Orleans seem to suggest, most black Americans do not live in poverty. There is a healthy black middle class, and of course many outstandingly successful African American citizens, from Colin Powell and Condi Rice to black business-people all over the US.
An unusually non-"progressive" take on poverty indeed.
On Newsnight, we will also hear from a black community worker who says the fast-track to poverty is dropping out of high school, taking drugs, and getting pregnant as a teenager.
Avoid all that, and at least you have a chance of the American Dream.
Unfortunately such welcome facts and ideas seem likely to be overshadowed by Ensler's apparent inability to rid himself of the usual BBC ticks and methods of framing the story. For example, he can't simply say that Newsnight has decided to look into the "twin issues of poverty and race" in America. No. Instead it is investigating those issues in "George Bush's America," as if the issues of poverty and race are somehow the product of Bush's term in office rather than perennial issues dating back decades.
He gives us the standard faux astonishment that poverty exists in the "richest country on earth". He repeats the usual, tired statistics, such as the"40 million uninsured" line (although he ups it to 50 million) without a hint of explanation, as if, by itself, such a statistic is meaningful. He even credulously repeats the same old canards about US child mortality rates relative to Cuba and China.
He also provides us with unexamined anecdotes that simply beg for a deeper analysis that is unfortunately absent. For example, he mentions how day laborers in the town he visited "swarm around" a van offering work for $3 an hour, which translates to a mere $6,000 a year. "In America," Ensler reminds us, "it is difficult to see how you can live on that." Well maybe, and yet there they are, living people, not zombies, working as day laborers. Perhaps there is something more to their stories than simply working for the impossible-to-live-on $6,000 a year?
As I said, it is not entirely fair to judge Ensler's report simply on this synopsis. Perhaps he will ultimately avoid the superficial treatment and Bush-baiting that his preview implies. However, keeping in mind that this is the BBC, our hopes should be kept to a realistic minimum.
Ensler's report airs Thursday night on Newsnight. I will endeavor to watch it and let you know what I think.