MediaWatch: May 1996

Vol. Ten No. 5

NBC: Tough on Criminals?

Any suggested link between crime and welfare dependency is usually dismissed by the media as Willie Horton redux. However, Elizabeth Vargas' March 26 Dateline report showed that current welfare rules pay scofflaws while keeping them safe from cops.

Vargas noted there are "more than 415,000 fugitives on the lam across the country, men and women wanted by the law for serious crimes." After a fruitless morning with an Ohio Sheriff’s department, knocking on doors searching for fugitives, she noted that "just a few blocks away from the sheriff's department is all the information those officers say they need. Here in this office are the names, addresses, phone numbers, even photographs, of some of those fugitives from justice. People fleeing from the law but not from the welfare department."

Vargas found the irony: "So, while one government agency spends your tax dollars to find fugitives from the law, another govern-ment agency gives more of your tax dollars, welfare, to fugitives in hiding." After local welfare director Joseph Garcia told Vargas the police were on a "fishing expedition" targeting the poor, Vargas noted that after the sheriff went public with his battle against privacy laws preventing welfare agents from sharing names and addresses, "deputies are getting some information."

Robert Hager probed the same politically incorrect line in his "Fleecing of America" report on the April 24 Nightly News, reporting the General Accounting Office findings of prisoners calling the Agriculture Department -- collect: "652 collect calls accepted from 18 prisons in all, in just the four months auditors sampled." Hager explained, "The prisoners had found dishonest employees at the Agricultural Department's Washington head-quarters, willing to forward on their calls long-distance to whomever the prisoners wanted to talk to, private individuals, anywhere, at taxpayers expense," -- even calls to sex lines in the Dominican Republic.

Davis-Bacon Discriminates

In 1931, Congress passed the Davis-Bacon Act, prompted by white laborers who were upset that blacks were underbidding them on government contracts. Davis-Bacon sets a high wage level for contractors that build government buildings. On the April 12 20/20, ABC's John Stossel looked at how this regulation continues to cost taxpayers millions while benefitting unions.

Stossel started at the Labor Department, the agency that enforces Davis-Bacon: "Dozens of them [employees] here, and others in state and city labor departments, spend their time deciding what construction workers on government projects must be paid. The result? Government buildings cost more and poor people who want to work can't."

Stossel explained:"A side effect of fixing wages is that some workers end up being excluded." At Cabrini Green in Chicago, one of the nation's poorest housing projects, the government is doing repairs. Cabrini Green residents would like to do the work, but as Stossel learned: "They can't get hired because when contractors are forced to pay high Davis Bacon salaries even for the simplest jobs, they're not going to take a chance on inexperienced strangers."