Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.


Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Nov 23, 2012


by Rosemary Reeves

When I was a kid in the 1960s newspapers claimed to bring us all the news, not just one version of it.  Public opinion characterized reporters as benevolent caretakers of information and noble disseminators of impartial truth.  Noam Chomsky challenged that assertion in the book he co-wrote with Edward S. Herman entitled, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, published in 1988.  Chomsky, a political critic, activist and Professor Emeritus at MIT, contends that mainstream media is biased in its coverage due to being profit driven, dependent on advertisers for income, needing access to privileged sources and the fear of readership backlash for covering unpopular or controversial issues.

Before the Bush administration allowed tax credits for corporations outsourcing American jobs overseas, resulting in high unemployment rates and the birth of the Occupy Movement, the existence of class distinctions was America’s dirty little secret which the mainstream press was complicit in keeping.  Missing from the pages of the average newspaper was the subject of social class conflict between the poor and the middle-class as well as between the white-collar and blue-collar classes.  This omission occurred in spite of, or perhaps because of, the fact that social class affects our neighborhoods, our voting habits, our economy and our commerce.

For the majority of my lifetime, few people in the U.S. wanted to talk about social class.   Most considered it to be an embarrassing and impolite subject.  How much money a person made was considered to be a private affair and many Americans actually believed there were no social class distinctions in this country.  Poverty was generally thought to be an aberration limited to minority groups or not thought of at all.   

In this post-Bush era we’re finally talking about it and we’re discovering just how much in conflict we have been all along.  The media has broken its silence on the subject of social class and the result is a flood of Fox News type vitriol against low-income Americans and anyone with liberal ideas.  Some newspapers which formerly centered on investigative journalism have jumped on the low-income bashing bandwagon.  Corporate ownership and control of the media has resulted in businessmen in board rooms deciding what the public reads and how stories should be tailored toward a specific political agenda or reflect the opinion of the journalists who write them.

Gone is the myth of the impartial journalist.  Case in point: The Philadelphia Daily News.  According to Greg Master’s article, Verve and Attitude, which was published in the March 2011 issue of American Journalism Review, Daily News Editor Larry Platt urged his reporters to “not be afraid to have a point of view about what you report.”

Some American journalists have become strutting peacocks for the right-wing with their written assertions of moral superiority as white-collar heroes over the supposedly undeserving and irresponsible hoards on public assistance.  This is very telling in terms of whether the mainstream media has been biased all along in their news coverage of low-income people and simply switched from subtle methods of news bias to overt right-wing pandering.

Bloggers and alternative presses have attempted to balance the scales by covering issues ignored by the mainstream press and expressing opposing viewpoints.  These alternative sources of information are meant to favor a specific agenda.  That is their function.  It is the reason they exist, but the public expects balanced reporting from traditional publications and Chomsky claims that has never been the case. 

I have to agree.  Most journalists are from middle-class backgrounds and as products of such, are likely to consciously or subconsciously lean toward middle-class perceptions when reporting (or omitting) the news. 

To find evidence supporting Chomsky’s theory, one need only examine reporting patterns in the mainstream media on public housing issues, for instance.  News articles on public housing have traditionally focused on crime and drugs, while ignoring the issue of how project tenants are treated by the larger society, their marginalization and the stigma they carry.  In the few news stories that centered on the actual tenants, the focus was still on – what else – how crime and drugs affect them.  The middle-class upbringing of most journalists can result in having blinders on when it comes to covering the low-income community.  How public housing tenants are affected by society’s contempt doesn’t come to mind as a news story, even though it may be a significant factor in how well they transition from public housing into the mainstream.  Subconsciously or consciously, journalists may also avoid criticizing the middle-class due to their own social conditioning, political views and fear of readership backlash.

This brings us to Northeast Philadelphia’s mainstream media - in particular, that media which serves the area above the neighborhood of Mayfair and which includes Holmesburg, Upper Holmesburg, Torresdale and Pennypack, to name a few places. For the purposes of this article, the two main news publications I will be referring to that serve this area are the Northeast Times and NEast  How impartial are they in terms of covering news about Liddonfield Public Housing Development, post-demolition?

If you ever suspected the Northeast Times was a right-wing conservative publication, its November 14, 2012 editorial, Party of Just a Few, should serve to remove all doubt.  The editorial waxes nostalgic over a bygone past when there used to be a lot more Republican office holders representing Northeast Philadelphians, calling it “The good old days.”  Aside from its bold admission of Republican leaning conservatism, consider what is missing from Northeast Times content in its articles about ongoing Liddonfield events and issues. 

LOCAL NEWS:  LIDDONFIELD HISTORIC MARKER PROPOSAL.  Northeast Times reporter William Kenny wrote a lengthy article entitled, Holy Family Could Take Over Liddonfield in which he covered the January 19, 2012 meeting of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association.  The focus of the meeting was Holy Family University’s plans for the former site of Liddonfield Homes Public Housing Development, which was demolished in 2011.  I was at that meeting.  A proposal for a Liddonfield historic marker on the site that was submitted previously, was discussed at the meeting and received a favorable response from members of the civic association and from President Onley of Holy Family University.  However, that information was conspicuously missing from Kenny’s article.

By contrast, Shannon McDonald, Editor of NEast, used a more balanced approach when reporting on the same January meeting of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association by mentioning the Liddonfield historic marker proposal in her article, Holy Family’s Plan for Liddonfield Property Receives Applause, Cheers From Upper Holmesburg Residents. 

LOCAL NEWS:  HISTORY OF THE LIDDONFIELD NAME IN NORTHEAST PHILADELPHIA EXHIBIT.  William Kenny’s lengthy article on the Pennypack Creek Bridge Historic Marker Celebration on October 13, 2012, Span of the Centuries, made no mention of the inclusion of a Liddonfield Exhibit.  The History of the Liddonfield Name in Northeast Philadelphia Exhibit, which made its debut at the event, was inexplicably ignored by both the Northeast Times and NEast  However, Kenny did take time to interview someone sitting outside an auto repair shop who had no idea of the bridge’s historical significance; nor was the person aware of the event taking place that day.  When Kenny filled her in on the subject, the gist of the interview was the person saying something like, “Gee, I didn’t know that.  Really?”  How that fluff of an interview took precedence over a public housing history exhibit, only Kenny and the Northeast Times could justify.

Northeast Times reporter Tom Waring is equally remiss as Kenny when it comes to balanced reporting on Liddonfield Housing Project post-demolition.  In his article, A Game Changer for Old Liddonfield Site, Waring describes Upper Holmesburg residents as having spent “decades of living in the shadow of Liddonfield.” 

Clearly, Waring is influenced by his own perceptions of low-income people.  If Waring had interviewed Liddonfield’s former residents about their struggles, they might have called their experience, “Decades of Living With Social Class Prejudice in Upper Holmesburg.”  However, it is unlikely the conservative Northeast Times will ever present their point of view.

When it comes to balanced reporting on post-demolition Liddonfield, NEast is the better of the two local mainstream publications. Take for instance, Shannon McDonald’s January 4, 2012 article, Groups Focus on Liddonfield’s Past and Future.  The Northeast Times is trailing far behind, with a lot of catching up to do, if its conservative agenda will allow it.  Until then, the residents of Philadelphia’s Far Northeast will have to settle for the morsels they are given.  Their news will be sifted and refined like processed sugar unless they demand more from journalists William Kenny and Tom Waring, or seek out the liberal media for the complete story.


Liddonfield Project History Debuts at Pennypack Creek Historic Marker Celebration

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