Welfare reform and the media: A content analysis of two newspapers
Lens, Vicki Arden
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This study examined the public debate that proceeded the elimination of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC) and its replacement with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), a time limited and more restrictive public assistance program. Data was gathered from the New York Times the Washington Post between 1994 and 1996 on how opinions and beliefs about welfare recipients, the welfare system, and dependency were molded and shaped in the media by various claims-makers, including politicians, advocates, experts, bureaucrats, and welfare recipients themselves. Qualitative content analysis was used to examine the language, symbols and rhetoric used to explain who recipients are, why they were on welfare, and how to help (or not help) them. Quantitative analysis was also used to determine the identity and frequency of the various participants in the debate. This study found that negative stereotypes about welfare recipients abound in the media, and that the voices of advocates were barely heard amidst a hyperbolic and dramatic debate that took place primarily among government officials. The social problem of welfare dependency was constructed so as to avoid structural changes, instead focusing on solutions aimed at changing the individual rather than changing institutional barriers to self-sufficiency. This study points to the need for advocates and others to cultivate a more sophisticated use of the media, employing a range of rhetorical devices and strategies to insure that they are heard in the policymaking arena.