If you want a clue about why media consolidation is among the very worst things happening in America, a living lesson unfolds each day at Peachtree and Pine streets. There, the City Too Busy to Hate has focused a lot of raw venom on a homeless shelter run by Anita Beaty. The warped magnifying glass doing the focusing is the city's monopoly-owned media.
If you're a conservative and need a less bleeding-heart reason to worry about Atlanta's Coxopoly, think about how Sonny Perdue could have lost last year's election if we had had just a tad bit more media consolidation.
Homeless people don't make a pretty sight. They just wouldn't fit in at the Piedmont Driving Club. Homelessness has many causes. And there never seems to be a solution. It's the type of issue that deserves vigorous and multisided debate in the media.
But what happens when all "the media" are owned by the same monopoly, and that company's decades-long record is one of obsequiously carrying water for downtown landlords and business owners -- including itself?
The answer is: You get the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's incredibly callous, corrosive and dead-wrong depictions of the city's homeless. Jesus might have commended compassion for the poor, but at the AJC, the program is the brutal bum's rush.
Media around the world were stunned at Atlanta's Gestapo-like roundups of 10,000 homeless before the 1996 Olympic Games. The AJC gave the purge scant attention amid a tidal wave of Olympic gush and, editorially, urged more repression. When the city concocted its awful "Project Homeward Bound," which gave the homeless one-way tickets out of town, the AJC dissembled on its editorial page: "This program is not hostile to the homeless. In fact, it helps them."
"The Cox media?" muses Beaty. "Oh, my gosh. Their coverage ranges from vicious to prejudicial. And it does nothing to help find solutions to homelessness."
The AJC toots the party line of the downtown boosters and their political pawns. Its heartless coverage has sinister, even deadly, ramifications. Consider: From 1999 to 2001, 110 street folk were murdered across the nation. Many of the perps were "scapegoat offenders" whose hatred came from their warped perception that homeless people were getting unfair breaks. Other killers were propelled by a mission to cleanse the streets.
Where do people find intellectual ammunition for such twisted thinking? Open your daily newspaper or turn on the intellectual vacuum called TV. Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps told me last month, "People understand better each day that every problem in America is made worse by the media."
My point isn't to declare what's right or wrong in the homelessness debate. The issue is the media. There's no competition and no debate when Big Media has its own interest, or those of its business allies, at stake. Evidence: Beaty, a nationally recognized expert on homelessness, doesn't even rate a phone call from AJC pundits before they belittle her as a "fanatic" and accuse her of having "sabotaged" the city.
The AJC's news coverage is limited to diffident reports on government process. Articles about Mayor Shirley Franklin forming a committee are fine for filling the space between ads, but they do nothing to help readers understand homelessness or to see what's worked or hasn't worked in other cities.
Moreover, the AJC and its broadcast siblings are never going to point fingers at Cox pals -- the rich guys, for example, who made bundles off the 1996 Olympic Games, while condemning as many as 10,000 people to the streets through the destruction of Techwood Homes and other low-income housing.
The news coverage, while uninspired, doesn't begin to sink to the depths of what the newspaper classifies as commentary. Since bidness is a lot more important than truth over at the AJC, even the ersatz liberals there, notably editorial page editor Cynthia Tucker, lead the screeching to run the bums out of town. To hell with the U.S. Constitution, religious teachings, decency and common sense.
Part of the propaganda is to demonize the homeless. Without citing a whiff of evidence, Tucker this month told us that most of the homeless aren't victims of poverty, but are on the streets because of "drug and alcohol addiction and/or mental illness. If you handed most of them a $10,000 check, they'd be back on the streets two months from now."
Maybe Tucker is incapable in her "eat cake" editorial of understanding the relationship between joblessness and homelessness. Real people know that as the unemployment ranks swell, so do the number of street dwellers. Moreover, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has pegged addiction problems among the homeless at 34 percent, and mental illness at 22 percent. There's a great overlap between the two -- certainly combined, the two groups are less than "most." More important statistics are that 40 percent of the homeless are family groups, and 39 percent of the population are children.