Journalism (or the lack thereof)

Posted: March 7, 2009 in Compassion, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Hunger, Misconceptions, Stupidity

First Lady Michelle Obama’s surprise visit on Thursday morning to a local Washington, D.C. soup kitchen for the homeless was in the headlines yesterday.

The First Lady, who arrived at Miriam’s Kitchen with food donated by White House staff, stood at the end of the serving line, greeting and serving risotto with mushrooms to about 50 homeless men and women.  

As I read through a number of different media accounts of the event, I found the comments left by other readers ranged far and wide. Some praised the First Lady. Others criticized her, asserting that it was nothing more than a political "photo op."

As for myself – I don’t know enough about the First Lady to offer an opinion. Besides, regardless of whether or not there was some "hidden political agenda," her visit helped to bring attention to the plight of the nation’s homeless. And, to me, that’s a good thing.

One photo, which made its rounds in the media, showed a gentleman in the serving line using his cell phone to take a picture of the First Lady. And wouldn’t you know it? A number of "journalists" criticized that gentleman for having a cell phone.

A blog post by Andrew Malcolm on the L.A. Times website, Michelle Obama serves food to D.C. poor and homeless, but…, said this:

"It doesn’t detract from the first lady’s generous gesture or the real needs she seeks to highlight to ask two bothersome journalistic questions about these news photos:

If this unidentified meal recipient is too poor to buy his own food, how does he afford a cellphone?

And if he is homeless, where do they send the cellphone bills?"

When I read that, I literally rolled my eyes and shook my head.

A homeless person with a cell phone stirs up "two bothersome journalistic questions"?

Oh, puh-leeze! Get real.

I’m not sure if Mr. Malcolm is actually a journalist or not, but even Clark Kent’s sidekick, Jimmy Olson, could have answered the "two bothersome journalistic questions" without even putting on his thinking cap: Pre-pay cell phone service. All the wireless carriers offer that type of service.

It seems to the me that the "two bothersome journalistic questions" which should have been stirred up are: "Why have the numbers of homeless in our nation continued to rise?" and "What can we do to remedy the situation and help these folks?"

Had Mr. Malcolm done what journalists are supposed to do – research things out before they write – perhaps he would have learned that quite a number of homeless have pre-pay cell phone service. It comes in handy to have a telephone number which prospective employers can call. Or maybe, Mr. Malcolm has the same skewed mindset which seems so pervasive among many in the general public: that the homeless are just too lazy to work.

Had he done even the most rudimentary of Google searches, he would have probably come across the U.S. Conference of Mayors 2007 Hunger and Homelessness Survey.

On page 20 of the report, he would have found Exhibit 2.4, Demographic Characteristics of Sheltered Homeless Persons as Reported by Cities.

He would have seen the entry titled: Homeless Employment Percentages. It would have told him that 17.4 percent of homeless Members of Households with Children are employed. Additionally, it would have shown that 13 percent of homeless Single and Accompanied Youth are also employed.

I can understand the majority of regular folks not going out of their way to research the whys and wherefores of homelessness. However, for someone like Mr. Malcolm, who obviously considers himself a journalist, to forego doing even minor research prior to committing something to print, is irresponsible.

Moreover, it is Mr. Malcolm’s brand of pseudo-journalism – and those like him – who are too lazy to engage in the proper research which continue to perpetuate the homeless stereotypes and subsequently create ill-will toward the homeless.

It seems that he forgot one simple guideline: "Engage brain before opening mouth" – or, as in Mr. Malcolm’s case: before writing.

The reality is this: there are homeless who are employed but aren’t earning enough to afford housing. There are also those homeless who are actively seeking employment. It seems like common sense to me that these folks would have a need for a telephone number of their own.

It’s more than possible that the gentleman in the news photo was one of America’s working homeless – something which it appears Mr. Malcolm failed to consider. And, if he did consider it, he seemingly did nothing to verify the situation one way or another.

Pretty sloppy journalism, if you ask me.

Oh yes. Before I forget…

Contrary to Mr. Malcolm’s claim that his "two bothersome journalistic questions" did nothing to detract from First Lady’s visit to Miriam’s Kitchen, that’s exactly the effect it had. By using those two questions to end his post, he shifted the focus from the importance Mrs. Obama’s visit to something trivial.

And for that, Mr. Malcolm has earned himself the SLO Homeless Stuck On Stupid Award.

  1. ~B~ says:

    Huzzah! Exactly my thoughts; although admittedly far more articulate and in-depth than my post – I tend to get a bit hot-headed and go off on tangents :)

  2. D.T. says:

    If that guy with the cell phone camera is working then why is he eating in a homeless shelter? Maybe if he didn’t spend all his money on cell phones he could get his own place to live. Your the one stuck on stupid!!!!

  3. ~B~ says:


    You are an ignorant jackass.

    First of all, there is no evidence that the man taking the photo IS homeless (he may be a volunteer at the shelter, or just someone who wanted a photo of the first lady). It says a lot, the conclusions that people jump to.

    Second of all, who knows whether he is working or not? Maybe he recently became homeless and still has a phone. Maybe he uses it to search for a job (I’d like to see you receive offers without the benefit of a phone – not so easy, is it?)

    Third of all, even if he is working, it takes time to save up first and last months’ rent, plus deposit. Even if you do that, you need to make sure you still have stable income, so that you can KEEP paying rent each month. A cell phone plan costs far less than rent does. A cell phone is an item that I believe is hugely helpful (if not almost entirely necessary) to reversing a homeless person’s circumstances.

    I am homeless and I work full time. Furthermore, I made one hell of a salary before this economic collapse (I have since been rehired and am doing decently for myself). As well as being more informed than you, I’m willing to bet that I’m also more educated; reread your last sentence: it should be “you’re”. “YOU’RE the one stuck on stupid”. “Your” is incorrect in this context.

    Belligerent much?

  4. Rev. Cynthia says:

    Let me also make the observation here that according to the U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services, “…more than 40% of homeless people qualify for disability benefits.” A huge percentage of folks who are experiencing homelessness are disabled. Senior citizens are also represented among the homeless population. Both seniors and those who are disabled typically get monthly government checks. But these checks are not high enough to pay for market rents, meaning that people would need to have subsidized housing. But, Section 8 waiting lists from New York to California have been closed for years unil their current lists are reduced.
    PS- Hi “B”, nice to see you here. Like Michael, I live in SLO – Rev. Cynthia

  5. ForexTeacher says:

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