A major news event follows a very routine pattern. First, we get the hard news phase, where reporters relate the unfolding dramatic facts. In the second phase, those same reporters become analysts, commentators passing moral and political judgment on the story. By its nature, the first phase tends to be devoid of bias. But the second phase often comes loaded with politicized gotchas and predictable liberal editorializing.
Hurricane Katrina and its flooding aftermath in New Orleans is a good example. No one can fault reporters’ emotional statements as they eyewitness the tragedy. Nor is it inappropriate for them to ask the tough questions about the government’s — local, state and federal — wholly inadequate preparation and response. But viewers should be tiring of the Monday morning grandstanding, particularly the rush to judgment when so many facts are still as murky as the standing water in New Orleans.
But a truly deplorable aftermath of Katrina is the far left’s attempts to stir up racial divisions and the news media’s fanning of those flames. Both should be roundly condemned.
Friday’s Washington Post had a front-page headline quoting a woman saying, "To Me, It Just Seems Like Black People Are Marked," as if even weather systems are members of the Klan. (Do tornadoes in Kansas have a "racial dimension," a racial animus? Would the Washington Post ever dream up a headline for that?) Apparently, America is so stacked with racism in the air that it’s in the gale-force winds.
Stirring up racial anger was a common theme by week’s end. On NBC, anchor Brian Williams lectured that the hurricane would "necessitate a national discussion on race, on oil, politics, class, infrastructure, the environment, and more." On ABC, Ted Koppel began by orating that New Orleans is 67 percent black, and "The slow response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina has led to questions about race, poverty, and a seemingly indifferent government." On CNN, Wolf Blitzer, who raised eyebrows by calling the hurricane victims "so poor and so black," prodded Rep. Elijah Cummings not once, but twice, to find racism in the slow response.
But perhaps the strongest news pitchman for the Vast Racist Conspiracy — you know the one, like the skit on "Saturday Night Live" where Eddie Murphy paints himself white and they hand him free money at the bank — was CNN anchor Aaron Brown. Brown baited Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones: "Do you think black America’s sitting there thinking, if these were middle-class white people, there would be cruise ships in New Orleans, not the Superdome?"
Jones tried to put race aside, focusing her outrage on charging "the government has not allocated the resources." But Brown went back to his Love Boat for Whites theme: "Now, look, here’s the question, OK? And then we’ll end this. Do you think the reason that they’re not there or the food is not there or the cruise ships aren’t there or all this stuff that you believe should be there, isn’t this a matter of race and/or class?"
But given that Louisiana is one of the least affluent states in the nation, and two-thirds of the residents of New Orleans are black, is it any surprise that most of the people left behind were poor and black? There’s a difference between citing racial and class realities and goosing black politicians to endorse the poisonous idea of a conscious conspiracy of neglect against poor minorities.
The media attitude was quickly mirrored with fervor by black celebrities and commentators. During NBC’s concert for hurricane relief, rapper Kanye West abused that network’s generosity by going on an unscripted verbal rampage ending with the sentence "President Bush doesn’t care about black people." That, sadly, is what one expects from some elements of the entertainment community.
What was unconscionable, however, was watching CBS "Sunday Morning" commentator Nancy Giles carry the same vicious message, saying President Bush failed to come to the Superdome to show poor, black victims "that he gave a damn." Giles declared if the majority of Katrina’s victims were white, "they would not have gone for days without food and water, forcing many to steal for mere survival. Their bodies would not have been left to float in putrid water. They would have been rescued and relocated a hell of a lot faster than this. Period."
Conservatives who have followed politics for a while remember having seen this before, with the race card used against its leaders personally, and in attempts to undermine its policy prescriptions. (Remember Willie Horton?) But what liberals have done in the last few days is worse. They have taken a human tragedy for Gulf Coast residents of all colors and turned it into a Caucasian-kicking sideshow.
The networks have not taught the world to sing in perfect harmony. They are Pied Piper-ing for the likes of Al Sharpton, matching stride for stride his disregard for dignity and truth.