Last week, the Biden administration called on Congress to extend a federal ban on evictions that health officials implemented last year as a response to the pandemic, citing the White House’s view that a recent Supreme Court ruling prohibited it from taking unilateral action. On Friday—with the Delta variant of the coronavirus raging nationwide and the moratorium set to expire on Saturday—the House left town for recess without even taking a proper vote on the issue. Progressive lawmakers were furious, so much so that several of their number slept on the steps outside the Capitol in protest. Cori Bush, a Democratic Congresswoman from Missouri who has personal experience of being unhoused, is still there; reporters have taken notice, and Bush has called into cable shows for interviews. Eviction “is actual violence on a person,” she told Chris Hayes last night, on MSNBC. “I will not sit by and be quiet because we want to talk about procedure and protocol.”
The expiry of the moratorium has been a big story in recent days. News organizations, which generally seem to enjoy talking about procedure and protocol, have detailed the ins and outs of the legal and policy situation: the Biden administration still believes it can’t act alone, so is now urging local authorities to extend or implement eviction bans of their own; officials are also urging localities to speed up the disbursement of rental-assistance funds that Congress already legislated, much of which is sitting untouched. Journalists have also told the stories of some of the millions of Americans facing the risk of eviction. NPR spoke with Safiya Kitwana, a single mom in DeKalb County, Georgia, who was approved for financial assistance, but did not receive enough cash to pay her landlord in full. A judge just imposed a temporary local eviction ban and Kitwana should soon be eligible to get the remainder of the money she owes, but it’s been a close call. “I’ve seen it happen where they just throw your stuff out in the parking lot,” she said. “It hurts to even talk about that portion of it, as far as what my kids are gonna see.”
The eviction crisis didn’t suddenly become a big deal with the expiry of the moratorium; it was important before the pandemic, and, since COVID hit, has been a slow-moving story of various directives, deadlines, and delays. There has been some very good, ongoing coverage in that time, including on the local level. But the story has only rarely risen to the top of the national news cycle, and it’s arguably taken the crunch point of the expiry to focus the media conversation at its highest levels. (Speaking on CNN yesterday, Peter Hepburn, an academic involved with Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, noted that local officials have so far disbursed only three of the forty-six-billion dollars Congress allocated for rental assistance. Jim Sciutto, the host, cut in, sounding incredulous. “Three billion out of forty-six billion? Wow.”) The eviction story feels like yet another victim of the news peg, or the belief, sacrosanct within the media business, that coverage of a broader issue should hang on the “hook” of a specific event. As I wrote earlier this year, this dynamic privileges novelty (see: billionaires flying into space) while diluting the attention major outlets pay to deep, long-running societal problems.
Another recent example of this dynamic was the child tax credit—an unconditional cash benefit for most US parents that experts and campaigners have hailed as a historic, transformational step in the fight against child poverty. The policy received a flurry of national attention earlier this year when Biden passed it as part of his COVID relief package, and then again recently when checks started hitting bank accounts. In between times, it got much less attention; as The Atlantic’s Annie Lowrey noted, citing data maintained by Stanford University, the tax credit has barely been mentioned on cable news compared to, say, vaccines or Donald Trump—perhaps contributing, among other factors, to a lack of awareness of the policy among the small, yet significant, proportion of parents who are eligible to receive the tax credit but won’t get it automatically. (When I searched Stanford’s cable-news tool for “eviction moratorium” this morning, the results looked even worse, up until a coverage spike in the past few days.) Again, that’s not to say there’s been no good coverage—but on the whole, the scale of attention paid to the credit over time has not matched its historic nature, whatever you may think of it as a policy.
Maintaining a longer-term focus on the tax credit is important, too, because it is a temporary measure; many Democrats want to extend it, but will likely face a fight to do so. Coverage that picks up the story again only on the eve of that fight will do a disservice to the families affected, which is most families, as well as any news consumers who are interested in hearing evidence on the effectiveness of public policies in real time. The same is true of other anti-poverty measures. Appearing on The Takeaway last week, Sarah Beth Gehl, a researcher at the Southern Economic Advancement Project, noted that while the overall poverty rate in the US has trended down thanks to pandemic-era assistance programs, many of these programs have been “episodic,” with the result that “we see this kind of lurching… families could really benefit for a few months and then dip back down into poverty.” That lurching, Gehl said, is “an important part of the policy conversation.” The same is true of the media conversation, and its own tendency toward the episodic. It shouldn’t take a member of Congress sleeping on the steps of the Capitol building to grab our collective attention and make poverty a big story again.
Below, more on the eviction moratorium and the child tax credit:
- A deep dive: For a detailed look at the eviction moratorium and how the policy has developed over time, read Oliver Whang’s recent piece in the New Yorker, which focuses on the picture in Tennessee. Earlier this year, landlords around the country “began winning their cases challenging the moratorium. In West Tennessee, in March, a federal district judge, Mark Norris, struck it down, ruling that the CDC had overstepped its authority,” Whang reports. Vulnerable residents like Cara Grimes, the protagonist in Whang’s story, were affected; Grimes soon realized that she “couldn’t rely on the moratorium to protect her much longer.”
- From CJR, I: In November, CJR’s Savannah Jacobson spoke with Matthew Desmond, a sociologist and founder of Princeton’s Eviction Lab, about Evicted, his book on the eviction crisis, and the media’s wider coverage of the issue. “I think where we could be better is really to tell the story about who owns our cities—the real business dynamics on the ground,” Desmond told Jacobson. “If you ask me, What’s the best data that explains eviction, then I could explain, Race matters, if you live with kids that increases your odds, gender matters. But are people evicting themselves?”
- From CJR, II: In May, Ko Bragg reported for CJR on the problem of media “casting calls,” or journalists asking grassroots organizations to connect them to sources who fit “a specific profile of suffering,” including during the eviction crisis. Reporters have sometimes wanted “to tell a story of a really immense tragedy,” rather than “the story of the policy that could have saved that person, rent and mortgage cancellation,” Tara Raghuveer, the director of a housing-justice group in Missouri, told Bragg. “They wanted to get pictures of someone being moved out of their home by the sheriff.”
- The child tax credit: Writing for The Hill, Daniel Schneider and Peter Tufano, academics at Harvard and Oxford universities, respectively, assessed the recent conversation around the implementation of the child tax credit. “Politicians, policy analysts, commentators, pundits and journalists have reported widely on the structure of the program—and their opinions of it,” Schneider and Tufano argue, but the voices of parents themselves have been less audible, a problem the academics set out to resolve by conducting a national survey. The debate around extending the credit, they write, must be informed by both evidence and parents’ voices.
Some news from the home front: Today, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, in partnership with CJR, will release the first episodes of How We Got Here, a new podcast for journalists exploring how history and identity shape narrative. In the podcast, six Columbia journalism professors will examine how race, gender, class, immigration, and American empire impact the stories we cover and how we tell them. First up, Jelani Cobb discusses race, crime, criminal justice, and violence with Dr. Khalil Muhammad, a historian at Harvard, and Sam Freedman talks with Nell Irvin Painter and Eric Goldstein, two scholars in the field of Whiteness Studies. You can find out more, and listen, here.
Other notable stories:
- For CJR, Danny Funt explores how gambling swallowed sports media—a tie-up with big ethical implications. “The opportunity for journalists to capitalize on behind-the-scenes access would seem irresistible,” Funt writes. “Reporters covering Wall Street would, in theory, find themselves in the same ethical mud, except that mainstream outlets strictly prohibit their employees from investing in the companies they cover… By contrast, some two dozen prominent sports journalists told me, gambling in the press box is common.”
- Yesterday, the State Department extended its refugee program for at-risk Afghans as US troops withdraw from the country and the Taliban surges; as well as those who worked directly for the US government, Afghan employees of US-based media organizations and NGOs will now be eligible for resettlement. According to Reuters, the “senior-most US citizen employee” of a qualifying organization will be responsible for referring people into the program; once registered, they will have to wait for approval in a third country.
- Later this month, the Census Bureau will release the first major findings from the 2020 census. The published results, the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Overberg reports, will contain small, deliberate errors aimed at “preventing someone from recombining them in a way that would disclose information about an individual respondent.” Researchers have expressed concern that the privacy changes could “severely compromise” their analysis of the data; the bureau made adjustments in response to some such concerns.
- In May, Cathy Merrill, the CEO of Washingtonian, wrote an op-ed about the importance of workers returning to the office post-pandemic; staffers at Washingtonian, perceiving the op-ed as a threat, called a publishing strike, and soon announced their intention to unionize. Management declined to recognize the effort, forcing it to a ballot; now Merrill is personally lobbying staffers to vote no. HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson has more.
- In his newsletter, Popular Information, Judd Legum takes major news organizations to task for “lionizing” the reckless pandemic policies of Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, earlier this year, when his state appeared to be doing well. “DeSantis was heralded as a savvy political operator with the inside track to the 2024 Republican presidential nomination,” Legum notes. COVID is now hammering Florida again.
- Fox News announced that it has parted ways with Andrew Napolitano, a legal analyst, after John Fawcett, a production assistant, filed a lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment and Fox of doing nothing to investigate. (Fox denies this.) Two other men have accused Napolitano of sexual assault. (He denies this.) Fawcett also accused Larry Kudlow, a Trump adviser turned Fox Business host, of sexist and racist behavior at work. (Fox denies this, too.)
- In other Fox News news, Tucker Carlson met with Viktor Orbán, the far-right prime minister of Hungary. Carlson is broadcasting his show from Budapest this week ahead of a planned appearance at a far-right conference in the city on Saturday. Orbán has aggressively eroded Hungary’s democracy, including press freedom; in recent years, the country has plummeted down Reporters Without Borders’s World Press Freedom Index.
- For the Daily Beast, Robert Silverman profiles Tim Pool, a Vice journalist turned popular YouTuber whose current work “dangerously whitewashes” the far right. “‘Totally full of shit,’ ‘not smart,’ and ‘a bumbling doofus’ are a representative sample of how those who worked with Pool at digital media companies described him,” Silverman writes—but on YouTube, his lack of “journalistic skills might not prove an impediment to success.”
- And GETTR—a social network that Trump advisers recently founded as a “free speech” rival to big tech—has been infiltrated by ISIS propagandists. According to an analysis by Politico’s Mark Scott and Tina Nguyen, GETTR is now home to “reams of jihadi-related material, including graphic videos of beheadings, viral memes that promote violence against the West, and even memes of a militant executing Trump in an orange jumpsuit.”
Correction: This post has been updated to clarify that Fox News announced that it has parted ways with Andrew Napolitano after John Fawcett filed his lawsuit.