Networks Blame British Riots on Poverty, Ignore Moral, Economic Failure of Welfare State

Arson, destruction, thievery, beatings and even murder – they’re the inevitable reaction to increased college tuition fees?

To hear the broadcast news networks spin the violence and looting convulsing English cities in August, the riots were clashes between the “haves and the have-nots” (a term used by NBC reporter Martin Fletcher) in British society. According to the networks, an oppressed minority unleashed pent-up rage against a conservative government hell-bent on cutting government spending and creating economic inequality in the process.  

Reporters on all three major networks blamed cuts in the welfare state system and a lack of economic equality as the underlying cause of the British riots. During eight different segments, reporters blamed economic factors as an underlying cause of the riots.

The media continually returned to the theme of economic disadvantage as a cause of the riots. Facing massive public debt, Britain slashed government spending in 2010 – a move decried by members of the liberal press in Britain. Predictably, the American news networks united with their ideological brethren in Britain – and seized on government cuts in spending as a contributing factor to the riots.

On August 9, CBS reporter Jeffrey Kofman claimed: “But to many here in Britain, it is much more than that [unemployment]. In part, a symptom of massive cuts imposed by conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, including health care, education and police funding, which is to be slashed by up to 20 percent.”

On August 9, ABC reporter Lama Hasan rhetorically questioned: “So who are these rioters? Young, angry men from poor neighborhoods, who see little opportunity in a country trying to survive the economic doldrums, slashing programs to help the poor.”

Hasan again connected the riots with government cuts during an August 8 segment: “Making matters worse, the youth, angered over a lack of jobs and the deep cuts by the government in social programs, as England tries to rein in its budgets.”

And CBS reporter Mark Phillips declared on August 13: "The big "C" conservative Cameron has chosen to define the rioting as a purely criminal event but there is now more and more discussion of underlying social, economic and racial factors as well."

(Cameron, by the way, has publicly declared himself to be a “liberal conservative.”)

The same reporters also insinuated that police overreaction had a hand in sparking the riots. The riots originally started when Mark Duggan, an alleged gang member, was shot by police. But reporters downplayed Duggan’s possible gang connections, only mentioning his alleged gang connections twice in 15 stories.

On August 8, Hasan opined: “In a poor neighborhood where relations with police have long been strained, sadness quickly erupted into fiery violence.”

And Phillips stated on August 9 that: “There’s no mystery, though, about how it [the rioting] started. A police gun search operation that resulted in a man being shot dead last week.”

The media’s insistence that economic causes and police malfeasance were to blame contrasted with several of the rioters they interviewed.

One rioter crowed: “We're just showing the rich people we can do what we want.” Another rioter told Hasan: “Why are you gonna miss the opportunity to get free stuff that's worth like loads of money? But I'll keep doing this every day until I get caught.”

And many of the looters turned out to be anything but disadvantaged.

Not everyone was as quick as the networks to explain away the violence as a reaction to budget cuts (most of which haven’t taken effect yet) or material poverty.

British journalist Paul Willis blamed the riots on moral cowardice, arguing that “We Brits have ceded our public space to antisocial teenagers. There has been a collective loss of nerve.”

Other commentators went further, linking the riots with the British welfare state mentality.

Conservative American columnist Cal Thomasexamined the rioters’ motivations: “One teen blamed the government: ‘They say [they] are going to help us but I don't see any of it. There has to be more opportunities and jobs. Help us at least and then maybe everyone will settle down.’ This is the triumph of the entitlement mentality and the welfare state.”

British conservative writer Peter Hitchens was even harsher in his condemnation of the welfare state. In a Daily Mail piece titled “Police, water cannon, and plastic bullets? After 50 years of the most lavish welfare state on earth? What an abject failure,” Hitchens condemned British liberals for their failure to recognize the moral failings of the welfare state: “All this piffle enshrines the official (and hopelessly wrong) view that crime is caused by circumstances and background, not by unleashed human evil. It is precisely because of this windy falsehood that the cells are crammed with young men who broke the law because they felt like it.”

English writer and physician Theodore Dalrymple declared the riots “the apotheosis of the welfare state and popular culture in their British form.” He explained,

A population thinks (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class) that it is entitled to a high standard of consumption, irrespective of its personal efforts; and therefore it regards the fact that it does not receive that high standard, by comparison with the rest of society, as a sign of injustice. It believes itself deprived (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class), even though each member of it has received an education costing $80,000, toward which neither he nor—quite likely—any member of his family has made much of a contribution; indeed, he may well have lived his entire life at others’ expense, such that every mouthful of food he has ever eaten, every shirt he has ever worn, every television he has ever watched, has been provided by others. Even if he were to recognize this, he would not be grateful, for dependency does not promote gratitude. On the contrary, he would simply feel that the subventions were not sufficient to allow him to live as he would have liked.

But this view does not resonate with the media elites, who consistently advocated for expansions in government meddling in society on numerous occasions. ABC, CBS, and NBC, in their coverage of the riots, chose to ignore this view.

Instead, they continue to intone the liberal mantra that economic inequality, cuts to government spending, and police problems are at the root of civil unrest.