News next: a journalism teacher's diary

July 8, 2011

Another reason to distrust the news

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 10:28 am
Tags: , , ,

Many readers see journalists as living a more privileged life than they do. That’s one reason for the growing distrust of big media. An off-hand characterization in a recent story in The New York Times demonstrates that readers are right to detect a gap between their lives and the lives of those who bring them the news.

Anthony Weiner's Congressional portrait

For his story on the resignation of Rep. Anthony Weiner, the New York Congressman caught in a lurid internet sex scandal, Metro reporter Raymond Hernandez spoke to friends of Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin, who described her as worried about the couple’s financial future, since she is pregnant and he has never held a job outside of government.

Reintroducing the subject later in the story, Hernandez writes:

“Neither Ms. Abedin nor Mr. Weiner earn lucrative salaries.”

The silence of the editors gives consent to this description. Would you, or most New Yorkers, agree?

As a member of Congress, Weiner earned $174,000. According to the Plum Book of federal jobs, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff Abedin, who is 35, would be paid at the GS 15 level, which would make her salary somewhere between $123,827 and $160,886.

A public school teacher in New York City earns $45,530-$100,049; full-time faculty at the City University’s senior colleges are paid from $42,837 to 116,364.

Weiner represented Brooklyn and Queens where the median household income is $42,932 and $54,671, respectively, and per capita income is $22,959 and $25,268, according to the census. The couple reside in Washington, DC, where the comparable figures are household income $58,906 and per capita income $40,846. Nationally, household income is $50,221 and per capita income is $27,041.

I don’t know what a reporter at the New York Times is paid. I think journalists should be well compensated, so I’m glad that at a relatively junior level, a reporter can regard people who earn six times the median per capita income as people of modest means. But a reporter shouldn’t be so far divorced from the life of his audience that he forgets that many would envy this young couple’s wealth.

That thoughtless lack of empathy poisons–if only by a drop–the relationship between reporter and reader.

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