Carol Platt Liebau: More Press Criticism

Sunday, September 04, 2005

More Press Criticism

As has been noted here before, in my view, the press response to the hurricane has not been unequivocally fabulous.

The press has done a good job of reporting on events as they unfold, bringing the story of the suffering and the sick to the country's attention, as it should. But its analysis (as opposed to the reporting) has been hysterical, flawed and lacking in context. It's as though an elite and privileged segment of society has been exposed for the first time to real devastation -- and can't believe what it sees. The response is human and it's understandable . . . but the hyperemotionalism and righteous indignation is wearing a bit thin.

And amidst the press' seeming eagerness to heap blame and denunciation on the federal government's shoulders, there's been virtually no discussion of how the obvious lack of state and local planning exacerbated the disaster. This is worth a lot of serious discussion -- as the telling contrast between the situation in Mississippi and Louisiana indicates. Again -- most of the national press corps is used to cover the president and the federal government. It's what they're interested in, and it's what they know, so their tendency to ignore the state and local angles is understandable. But it's also lazy and, above all, poor journalism.

Even more pernicious is the press' willingness to play up a class and race angle to the story for which there is precious little evidence. The sad truth is that whenever tragedy strikes, the poor, the sick, the old and the very young will suffer most -- those without insurance, in poor health, dependent. And whatever the weaknesses in the government's response, it's downright irresponsible to start attributing them to racism or indifference to the poor.

The simple fact that some harbor these conspiratorial suspicions -- and that the airing of them leads to controversy, which in turn leads to entertaining coverage -- is no excuse for simply going ahead and presenting them, without a scintilla of evidence or context.

Yet, this morning, Wolf Blitzer is interviewing Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who is African-American. Blitzer begins by quoting some of the outrageous accusations made by "hip hop artist" Kanye West (that "George Bush doesn't care about black people") and then says to Thompson, "Controversial remarks, but I'm anxious for your reaction to them."

Blitzer then goes on to state, "A lot of people believe that if this storm had hit another area -- at least the accusation is -- perhaps the federal government would have been more attuned [and] better prepared."

Since when did the fact that "many people believe" some charge (for which there's no evidence) constitute a reason for airing and discussing it? Many people might "believe" that Wolf Blitzer is on the payroll of the Democratic National Committee. But, in fairness, there's no evidence for it -- and so it would be unworthy of serious discussion.

As is this. With hurricane donations on track to surpass those of the tsunami and even 9/11 -- and with government officials falling all over each other to help, sympathize and explain -- where, exactly, is the first scintilla of evidence that racism or indifference to the poor is involved in either the private or public response?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you. The first thing I think of when I hear someone claim racism is this: "Are you blind to the tons of people of every color giving everything they can to help?" Claims of racism are a slap in the face to everyone who is giving to the relief efforts. Not to mention those charges can seriously hurt donations and add more depth to an already deeper wound. Is Mayor Nagin racist because he didn't enact an evacuation plan? Can you imagine Rudy Guliani complaining about the fed response while 9/11 is going on? Did one NYPD or NYFD official walk off the job? No they jumped into danger. The real story here is the local government of NOLA. They were unfortunately inept in every way. It is also clear that many people in this country need a lesson in how our government works. Does this mean the feds scored a 10 out of 10? No, but to heap the entire blame on them is ridiculous and a scandal. Why do we even have a local government then? To fix potholes?

3:40 PM  

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