CBS Quick to Hype Report on 750,000 Homeless, Focus on Children as 'Faces of Despair'
Though the report, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), found that two-thirds of the homeless are men, Bowers focused on the minority, asking the mother: “What would you say to Americans who think the stereotypical homeless person is a guy on the streets with a bottle in his hands?” The woman ludicrously responded: “Most Americans are just a paycheck away from being on the streets or being in a shelter like this.” Bowers proceeded to relay how the report “suggests there are 300,000 more homeless people than beds in shelters and transitional housing, more than three-quarters of a million on any given night,” which is, Bowers helpfully illustrated, “nearly the population of South Dakota.”
The NBC Nightly News did not mention the new report and ABC's World News limited itself to a short item read by anchor Charles Gibson.
Evocative of the old joke about how the Washington Post would report the end of the world -- “World to End Tomorrow: Poor and Minorities Hit Hardest,” a Washington Post.com story posted Wednesday afternoon, and likely to appear in Thursday's paper, began: “An estimated 754,000 people -- most of them minorities -- are homeless on any given night in the United States, according to a government survey presented to Congress today.”
World News anchor Charles Gibson read this item:
“The federal government today released a sweeping new report on homelessness, a notoriously difficult problem to track. The latest estimate finds there are more than three-quarters of a million homeless people [754,000 on screen] either in temporary shelters or transitional housing or living on the street. On any given night, there are about 300,000 more homeless people than there are beds for the homeless.”The MRC's Brad Wilmouth provided this transcript for the February 28 CBS Evening News story which followed a piece on how investors reacted to Tuesday's stock market fall and Wednesday's rebound:
Katie Couric: "Meanwhile, a lot of Americans have much more basic financial concerns: They can't afford a place to live. And according to a new government report out today, the problem is worse than we knew. On any given day, as many as 754,000 people in this country are homeless. As Cynthia Bowers tells us, one-third of the homeless are families with children."
Cynthia Bowers, as camera showed a mother with kids: "This may be the most heartbreaking face of today's findings: the homeless children in America. Like six-month-old Mariah, or one-year-old Erin, innocent victims caught up in their parents' problems.”
Bowers to Melissa Zowaski: “What would you say to Americans who think the stereotypical homeless person is a guy on the streets with a bottle in his hands?"
Melissa Zowaski, mother: "Most Americans are just a paycheck away from being on the streets or being in a shelter like this."
Bowers: "Melissa Zowaski and her four kids learned that the hard way when she and her husband both lost their jobs at the same time. What's the hardest part of this for you?"
Yolanda DeNeal, mother: "I mean, I was being told that I could not get help."
Bowers: "Yolanda DeNeal says she was told help was available for her and her three kids if she was a recovering addict, alcoholic, or ex-con. But she was a college student who lost her job."
DeNeal: "That's not fair. What about the people who go to school every day, who work every day, and can't make ends meet?"
Bowers: "And finding shelter can be tough. The new government study, believed to be the most accurate yet, suggests there are 300,000 more homeless people than beds in shelters and transitional housing, more than three-quarters of a million on any given night. That's nearly the population of South Dakota. Melissa and Yolanda hope to get their names off the homeless rolls. Both are about to move into subsidized housing. DeNeal, who has been in this shelter for 15 long months, is still pinching herself-"
DeNeal: "I've been getting disappointed so many times."
Bowers: "-and praying that one day soon, she'll be able to tell her children we're going home. Cynthia Bowers, CBS News, Chicago."
Back on January 12, as recounted in my NewsBusters item, “CBS Evening News Ignores Lower Count and Hypes Most Dire Homeless Guesstimate,” the CBS Evening News highlighted an earlier report on homelessness, one with a similar number, but for how many experienced homelessness during a full month:
Two days after the National Alliance to End Homelessness released its survey which estimated that in January of 2005, “744,313 people experienced homelessness,” the CBS Evening News on Friday picked an earlier, more dire, guesstimate covering an entire year from the group with a self-interest in making homelessness seem as ominous as possible. Introducing an “Assignment America" piece from Steve Hartman on a homeless shelter in Gloucester, Massachusetts that “could be a museum, or at least a bed and breakfast” since it's “350 years old and beautifully restored,” fill-in anchor Russ Mitchell declared, “It's a sad truth: Too many Americans don't have a house to call their own. Over the course of any year, some 600,000 families find themselves homeless, and that includes more than 1.3 million children.” On screen, viewers saw matching numbers attributed to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, but in a study released on Wednesday, the group reported that its month-long survey located “98,452 homeless families."
A page on the group's Web site contends: “Most Americans underestimate how the problem of homelessness affects families. About 600,000 families and 1.35 million children experience homelessness in the United States.”
But for a report released on January 10, “Homeless Counts,” the group used “local point-in-time counts of homeless people to create an estimate of the number of homeless people nationwide. As with all data, the counts included in this report are not perfect and have numerous limitations, but they are the best data available at this time.” The organization determined that “in January 2005, an estimated 744,313 people experienced homelessness” as “59 percent of homeless people counted were single adults and 41 percent were persons living in families. In total, 98,452 homeless families were counted.”