Beginning on September 15 and continuing through the 19th, "Good Morning America" has been touring America via train and finding economic misery and despair along the way. During the three special shows that have aired so far, which ABC has dubbed the "Whistle-Stop Tour '08," the program traveled to struggling towns in Massachusetts, Ohio and New York. On Monday, while talking with an elderly man who had lived through he Great Depression, co-host Diane Sawyer described him as someone who had survived "another time of economic crisis." (As a comparison, a quarter of the population was unemployed during the Great Depression. Unemployment today stands at just over six percent.)
On Tuesday, co-host Robin Roberts mentioned the people of Rome, New York and their "tough times." "...Some of them are feeling hard times," she added. On Wednesday, near Gustavus, Ohio, Roberts reported from a small town that "is not booming." While visiting the "suffering town" of Niagara New York on Tuesday, Sawyer talked to parents at a high school hockey game and lamented, "There were moms up in the bleachers, who say they have to look across the river [to Canada] too and wonder about American leadership."
Now, of course, some Americans are going through tough economic times, but the U.S. is not in a recession. (That requires to quarters of negative growth.) Further, where are the segments on American entrepreneurs and those actively living the American dream?
Instead, GMA repeatedly featured stories of extreme desperation and sadness. On Tuesday, an unidentified husband in New York told Roberts, "My mother called and asked when we are going to visit? We've had to put a visit aside. It's only a five hour drive. But just taking the time off from work and the fuel money, we just had to postpone it."
Paul Cantrell, the 89-year-old who Sawyer said remembered "another time of economic crisis," despondently told the host, "I owe a oil bill from last year. My taxes are not completely paid up. This never happened to me before. And I really don't know what I'm going to do about it. It's just not -- it's not the same life as I've always had."
Now, his pain and suffering is obviously real. But is this what GMA's train tour is going to exclusively focus on? Despair? At the very end of Wednesday's segment on "economic misery," Roberts proved that it is possible to highlight bright spots. Speaking of Eerie, Pennsylvania, she observed, "When those jobs disappeared, the city government shifted its focus from industry to tourism investing in promoting its sparkling late, a state park and a casino. Today, over four million people a year visit the Gem City." During this week long trip, it would be nice if GMA could devote full segments, not just asides, to such American success stories.
A transcript of one of the economic misery segments, which aired at 7:31am on September 16, follows:
DIANE SAWYER: You know, we've been talking so much about the fact, all day yesterday, you and I kept hearing from people, their plea, just jobs for this area. Please, jobs for this area. They want to work. And here's a cautionary tale. If you look at the American side, used to be 100,000 people here about 50 years ago. And so many jobs from left, even since 2000. Look at the Canadian side. I thought I was in Brunei for a moment. What is the cautionary tale? Last night, when we got in, we went out to take a tour to give a tale of two cities.
ROBIN ROBERTS: Quite a contrast. We're in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Rockwell country. Rich in culture, art and theater. And as we were making the train ride here, we saw quite a difference.
CHRIS CUOMO: Boy oh boy. You know, in the '90s, when Wall Street was peaking, the manufacturing jobs were leaving this country, in a town like Niagara, New York, you really. see it.
ROBERTS: They lost a huge chunk of the population, especially in the '90s.
[Touring the city and abandoned buildings.]
CUOMO: Look at it. It's just totally fallen into disuse. They say that this used to be the big avenue to shop.
SAWYER: I, too, first visited the U.S. Side of Niagara, where the average income, $27,000. Look at these places. My gosh. Just imagine, turning a corner. Looking across the water and seeing this. Is it Las Vegas? No. Is it Oz? No. Welcome to Canada. Same river. Same falls. Same mist. But the average household income here in Canada is almost double. The average home on the New York side, about $61,000. But on the Canadian side, worth more than $100,000. Here it is, dark, dark, dark, dark. One casino, and voila, the Canadian side, all lit up like this. What's the lesson here? That's what we keep asking? What is the lesson for the U.S. economy and for jobs? [On the Canadian side of the border.] I wonder how many jobs there are on this side of the border, just right here. Jobs, teeming. Up four percent in the last year alone. And we'd even heard that, on a Monday night, in September, these hotels, these massive hotels, were full? [Walks into a hotel.] Hi. Nice to see you. I'm with "Good Morning America." Want to say hello to you. I just wondering, how full are you right now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are sold out, almost. We only have a couple rooms left.
SAWYER: You're almost sold out? I head back over to the American side. And we decide on a spur of the moment, to visit my first town hockey game. It looks like some rough hockey out there. There were moms up in the bleachers, who say they have to look across the river too and wonder about American leadership.
UNIDENTIFIED MOM: Right. I can't figure out why our government doesn't see what's going on there to bring it over here. And the tourism.
SAWYER: These moms also worry that their children will not only leave the nest, they're going to leave town.
SECOND UNIDENTIFIED MOM: We have great universities. Great state colleges, to educate your child here is wonderful. But to go beyond that, they have to relocate.
SAWYER: And the young fans down front, told me the options are, really, fast food, a bit of construction, even though they would love to stay at home. Why not go some place you know there's a lot of work?
UNIDENTIFIED TEEN: Just home spirit. I like staying at home.
SECOND UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to leave.
THIRD UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm thinking about it.
SAWYER: Readiness to work and pride in their suffering town. We heard it all over. Whistle stop GMA 2008.