It was a perfect moment for the media to use President Bush's speech from New Orleans against him.
ABC correspondent Dean Reynolds corralled about 10 evacuees and put them in chairs in the parking lot of Houston's Astrodome where they watched the president's nationally televised address. Afterward, they were asked to comment.
All of the evacuees were black and apparently poor. Given the template of news coverage - a majority of blacks are said to believe aid was slow in coming because white people like George Bush don't like them - one might have expected a unanimously negative verdict to the president's address.
The verdict was unanimous, but it was unanimously positive. One by one, the evacuees replied to Reynolds' questions. "What did you think of what the president said tonight?" he asked one woman. She replied, "I think the speech was wonderful." Did she find anything hard to believe? "No, I didn't," she answered.
Reynolds put his microphone in front of another evacuee. Surely the previous one must have been a fluke. What did the next person think of the president's promises? "I really believe what he said. I believe. I got faith," she said.
A slight note of desperation seemed to creep into Reynolds' voice. Quickly, the microphone went to another evacuee. Reynolds tried another tactic. Would the woman like to criticize the slow response of the federal government (meaning the Bush Administration) to the carnage left in Katrina's wake? The woman blamed state and local officials for their slow response, not the president.
A question to all: Wasn't there anything that anyone could object to in the speech? Apparently not. Back to you Ted Koppel.
This delicious moment, which came after the other broadcast networks had quickly returned to regularly scheduled programs, speaks volumes about the media coverage of Katrina and the edited messages they have tried to shove down the public's throat.
Those messages are: White Republicans hate blacks; big business and big Republican government are evil and won't help blacks; Democrats are good and are the only ones who care for black people.
Reynolds' interviews were live, so no one could edit the content. Viewers saw and heard for themselves what at least these black people felt and believed. The ABC guest booker must have had his or her own assumptions about how such an interview would go. Surely the assemblage of black evacuees would mean unfettered criticism of President Bush. Who's racist now?
Houston's predominately Southern Baptist, but also diverse religious community has united to help the hurricane victims. Members of the mostly-white and prosperous Second Baptist Church - whose pastor, Dr. Ed Young, was asked by Houston's mayor to head the faith-based assistance effort - defied stereotypes about rich, white evangelical Christians. They applied the teaching of their Master by getting down and dirty with the poor. The Houston Chronicle also carried ads from people in many states offering help to people in need of a place to stay and assistance in finding a job.
Politicians, race-baiters and the media have an interest in keeping the racial pot boiling. For the media, it provides conflict (and ratings) so that race hustlers can blather on about a pre-voting rights, pre-open housing America.
For the politicians, mostly Democrats, it affords them the opportunity to stir the class warfare pot and claim that only by voting for Democrats will blacks who are poor ever escape poverty. But the political and humanitarian realities are quite different from these templates.
True compassion is not demonstrated by government, but individuals. The fundamental cause of poverty is not race, otherwise how to explain the vast and growing black middle and upper classes? A child may be born into poverty, but if he makes decisions to stay in school and study, not produce children outside marriage, refrain from taking or selling drugs and committing other crimes, there is a strong likelihood he will escape poverty.
These are the messages the government and media should be sending instead of relying on the race-class liberal Democrat templates through which it filters most contemporary issues.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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