Opinion / Chen Weihua

US media belittle issue of inequality

By Chen Weihua (China Daily) Updated: 2012-05-05 07:57

US media belittle issue of inequality

Although International Workers' Day on May 1 was created to commemorate the general strike in Chicago for an eight-hour workday in 1886, it is no longer a national holiday in the United States, as it is in many other countries.

But that does not mean nothing happened in the US on Tuesday. In New York and many other US cities, it was marked by a general strike led by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In New York the angry protesters in Bryant Park included an old lady in a wheelchair and a 9-year-old girl who accompanied her father in the morning rain, as well as the Guitarmy, a group of guitarists led by Grammy-winner Tom Morello. In Madison Square Park, dozens of professors of the so-called Free University gave lectures and workshops that attracted people of different ages.

That was in addition to the many small groups of protesters picketing outside corporate headquarters in Manhattan, such as the one outside the Bank of America Tower on 42nd Street, which had a strong police barricade. The day culminated with thousands of people marching down Broadway in the late afternoon from Union Square to Wall Street.

They were all protesting, as I learned when I talked to a diverse group including the 9-year-old girl Jude Rollison, about political, social and economic inequality. It has been the consistent message of the Occupy Wall Street movement since it was born in downtown Zuccotti Park on Sept 17 last year.

A Pew Center poll released two months ago found that 66 percent of Americans believe there are "very strong" or "strong" conflicts between the rich and the poor in the country, an increase of 19 percentage points since 2009, while a recent Gallup poll found that 70 percent of people think it extremely or very important that the federal government in Washington enact policies that increase the equality of opportunity so that people can get ahead.

According to a study based on World Bank data, the US was found to be in the bottom third of the list of 90 countries for economic inequality, well behind Europe, Canada and South Korea.

The inequality has also become a presidential campaign issue with President Barack Obama trying to cash in on the issue to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Such growing inequality is indeed a serious issue not only for the US, but for China and many other countries. In China, the growing inequality that has developed during the past three decades also calls for drastic action in the coming years before it runs out of control.

However, if you read the major newspapers in New York city on May 2, you would find the protest had little coverage, a big contrast to their enthusiastic and lengthy reporting on smaller-scale protests in other countries.

The New York Times only had a 300-word story in the middle of an inside page emphasizing the inconvenience caused to traffic, the clashes and arrests, surprisingly making no mention of the real issues raised by protesters. None of the Times' columnists, such as Thomas Friedman, bothered to write anything about this domestic revolt.

The New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch paper, was probably the most opinionated in such coverage. Its headline "Protests pretty much a joke, despite skirmishes with cops" shows its attitude to the underprivileged in American society. Its one-sided news report was supplemented with an editorial titled "Goodbye, Occupy."

However, this is wishful thinking by the New York Post as the movement won't go away anytime soon as long as the political, social and economic inequality in the US keeps worsening.

What is sure is that the inequality will only grow when news media refuse to speak for the underprivileged they are supposed to represent.

The author, based in New York, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. E-mail: chenweihua@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 05/05/2012 page5)

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