Media Fails as Fourth Estate

Commentary by Steve Cagan

 On Tuesday, July 6th, I decided to attend the demonstration demanding changes in the Project HEAT program to take some photographs. I’m doing a photo project about how homeless people in Cleveland find and/ or create their own shelters. For me the struggle to win better conditions in places like the HEAT shelters is part of creating better conditions, so I thought I’d take some pictures there.

After a rally outside the Welfare Department office at East 16th and Superior (the location of on of the deplorable shelters), the group of homeless activists and their supporters walked the two blocks to the Plain Dealer, to protest the terrible ways that homeless people have been characterized by PD editorial writers.

I thought the action was very creative, responding to Beth Barber’s argument that it’s OK for homeless people in shelters to be required to clean toilets, the demonstrators brought toilet brushes and offered to clean all the toilets in the PD building in exchange for a place to sleep-a place that would certainly be better than the terrible conditions in the HEAT shelters.

At the door to the PD, Beth Barber herself was waiting along with Brent Larkin and a bunch of Burns security guards and city police, both in uniform and in plain cloths. For a minute, it seemed that Barber was actually going to listen to what the people has to say.

She seemed to be going through the motions. But then she became Beth Barber, and instead of listening with her ears and eyes and mind open, she began to argue with the folks. In the process, she showed that she was more interested in confirming her cold, heartless, vision of the homeless than she was in learning anything. Meanwhile, Brent Larkin pointed out individual people and it seemed to me that he was laughing at them.

It was another shocking reminder that the editorial staff of the PD is interested in defending the interests of Cleveland’s power structure rather than really getting to the heart of the issues that are important in the community.

The next day, the PD had an article that made it sound like Barber wanted a real exchange with people, though that was clearly very far from her mind. Well, we can expect them to defend themselves. And WCPN radio did their usual "He said, they said," story. But no one from the Cleveland Media did what the people at the rally asked for. No one went to examine the conditions at the HEAT shelters before writing their stories.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine July 1999 Issue 36 Cleveland Ohio.