WNYC Studios’ “On The Media” Presents “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths”

WNYC Studios’ “On The Media” Presents “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths”

A Five-Part Series Exploring the Distorted View of Poverty in America
and the Media’s Role in Framing the Issue

Presented in Partnership with WNET’s Chasing the Dream Initiative

“BUSTED: Americas’s Poverty Myths” Premieres Today with the Debut Podcast Episode and Video

Series Will Also Broadcast Nationally on “On the Media” Every Weekend Through October 30

(New York, NY – September 28, 2016) – Today, more than 45 million Americans live in poverty. The problem has been addressed countless times since the nation’s founding, but it persists, and for the poorest among us, it gets worse. America has not been able to find its way to a sustainable solution, because most of its citizens see the problem of poverty from a distance, through a distorted lens.

Starting today, WNYC Studios’ On the Media presents “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths, a five-part series exploring  how our understanding of the causes of poverty are formed not by facts, but by myths, media, and the tales of the American dream. Host Brooke Gladstone traveled to Ohio, a state that encompasses all types of poverty – rural, inner city, and rust belt – to hear from individuals who are poor how they got that way, and to understand, under current policies, why they are likely to stay that way. The series is presented in partnership with WNET’s Chasing the Dream initiative.

The series also features scholars who have studied the phenomenon including Kathryn Edin, author of $2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America; Nancy Isenberg, author of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America; and Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

“Data is important, but it’s abstract,” Gladstone observes. “When we hear the stories of poor people, in their own voices, we can’t ignore them. They make us confront our illusions and prejudices – our national ideals – and see things as they really are.”

“Busted: America’s Poverty Myths” premieres today on www.onthemedia.org, iTunes, and all other places where podcasts may be downloaded. The series will also broadcast this weekend and every weekend through October 30 as part of On The Media’s weekly show, which airs nationally on 450 radio stations.

The episode descriptions are as follows:

  • Episode 1 – “The Poverty Tour” – Brooke Gladstone takes the Appalachian “Poverty Tour” with activist Jack Frech, who’s escorted countless journalists –including Peter Jennings, Connie Chung, and Charles Kuralt – on the same tour for more than 40 years,  and seen nothing come of it. The question: Can any story truly dislodge America’s entrenched myths about the poor?

    A compelling companion video to the first episode takes viewers into Frech’s world: how “the tour” and his hopes for its impact waned over the years as little changed. The video is produced in partnership with WNET’s Chasing the Dream and is available at www.onthemedia.org and at www.pbs.org/chasingthedream.
  •  Episode 2 – “Personal Responsibility – This episode scrutinizes one of America’s prevailing poverty myths: that the cure lies in instilling a sense of personal responsibility in the poor. This goal has spawned efforts at “reforming” welfare, culminating in the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. We review the legacy of Reagan’s “welfare queen” in shaping policy, and present the story of Carla Scott, who, though skilled and employable, found her life overturned by the birth of a severely premature daughter.
  • Episode 3 – “Dissecting Horatio Alger” – Novelist Horatio Alger codified the notions of upward mobility for the “deserving” poor. For a hint of how that plays out in real life, we offer the case of Natasha Boyer, a young and ambitious girl from Appalachia, striving toward her goal of managing a pizza shop. In a random act of kindness, a local church gives her a $1,000 tip, saving her from eviction. But despite her best efforts, her dream proves impossible, and she winds up back where she started, in poverty.
  •  Episode 4 – “The Safety Net Myth” – In this episode, On The Media goes to a Columbus shelter to illustrate the fragility and accessibility of the nation’s “safety net.” Brooke speaks to Carma Bell and Margaret Smith, who worked long and hard to keep a roof over their families’ heads.  But their margin of safety was razor thin, and when bad luck struck and they lost their homes, there was no safety net to help get them back on their feet. There was no place to go but the shelter.
  • Episode 5 – “The Breaking News Consumer Handbook – Poverty Edition”On The Media takes its award-winning guide to the media’s most common and egregious mistakes, and applies it to the coverage of poverty. The “BNCH: Poverty Edition” will dissect junk statistics, dubious terminology, and narrative frames that exclude, obscure, or mislead, and will include a single, printable page of bullet points, for easy reviewing, now, and most likely, forever.



WNYC Studios is the premier producer of on-demand and broadcast audio. Born from the team that created some of the most critically acclaimed and popular podcasts of the last decade, WNYC Studios is leading the new golden age in audio with high-quality storytelling that informs, inspires, and delights millions of intellectually curious and highly engaged listeners across digital, mobile, and broadcast platforms. WNYC Studios creates some of the most beloved audio series, including Radiolab, 2 Dope Queens, The New Yorker Radio Hour, Freakonomics Radio, Death, Sex & Money, Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, Note to Self, On the Media, The Takeaway, and Studio 360. Their programs include personal narratives, deep journalism, interviews that reveal, and smart entertainment as varied and intimate as the human voice itself. For more information, visit http://wnycstudios.wnyc.org.


Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a coordinated, multi-platform public media initiative from WNET that provides breadth, depth, context and a deeper understanding of both the causes of poverty and the creation of jobs and opportunities at all levels and institutions of our society. Since the beginning of 2015, it has produced close to 100 reports and segments across all platforms of public media – national documentaries on PBS, news reports on the PBS NewsHour and PBS NewsHour Weekend, dozens of segments on THIRTEEN’s daily public affairs and issues program, MetroFocus, Long Island Business Report and NJTV News, as well as digital and online reports, partnerships with public radio, and companion pieces on PBS member stations across the country.


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