"You can call me anything you want, but do not call me a racist," said an indignant President George Bush on Dec. 12, commenting on the despicable, opportunistic suggestion that any inadequacies in the federal response to Hurricane Katrina were due to racism.
But veteran network media giants Ted Koppel and Tom Brokaw don't quite see it that way. Indeed, they don't appear to see eye-to-eye with President Bush on much of anything if their joint interview with Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press" is any indication.
Russert was uncharacteristically tame toward these two, offering them repeated softballs concerning the past year's main stories. But the relaxed atmosphere gave us a clearer picture of the worldview these men share, which is doubtless representative of most of the Old Media players. From race and taxes to health care and Iraq, they spoke in a monolithic liberal voice, accented by its familiar air of moral superiority.
Koppel began by vigorously defending the media for introducing the issue of race into Katrina. "But the question had to be asked," said Koppel, "if that had been a section of a city that was populated by middle-class white people, would the response have been the same? … I think there was just a feeling that you didn't have to be as engaged as I think the federal government would have been."
Brokaw agreed. "I think Ted is correct when he says it was not overt or active racism." But it sure must have been subconscious racism, huh, Tom?
It bothers me deeply when race hucksters play the race card on Katrina for political gain, knowing it is outrageously unfair. But I think it troubles me more to hear these two supposed paragons of 20th-century journalism smugly level the charge and, apparently, really believe it.
Superficially distancing themselves from the allegation that racism was directly involved didn't mitigate it in the least. In fact, if President Bush's alleged bigotry were so deeply rooted as to affect his actions without even stirring his moral impulses, he would probably be a more consummate racist than the guy who consciously considers race while discriminating.
Isn't it ironic that in their sanctimony against perceived racism, presumably because of the evil of one group feeling superior to another, these two sermonizers reveal their absolute certitude of moral superiority over those who reject their liberal worldview? And their self-righteousness wasn't limited to race but included almost all other issues they discussed.
On Iraq, Brokaw talked about "this disconnect between those people who are in uniform and fighting this war over there and a large portion of our population because no sacrifice is being asked of anyone at home. The president is not asking us to conserve oil or to ration gasoline or to push hard for alternative sources of energy in this conflict."
Then Koppel eagerly chimed in, "Or to pay a nickel more in taxes."
Let's not allow the inanity of their analysis to obscure the thrust of their message: "We are better people than average Americans, especially conservatives, because we care more, even if we don't personally sacrifice more than they do."
On health care, Koppel observed, "You can get the best medical care in the world. … I can. Most Americans can't. And there are 43 million Americans who aren't getting any medical care at all. That is a scandal."
No, what is scandalous is that Koppel so glibly equates lack of insurance with no medical care. What is repulsive is his implication that we have so many uninsured simply because we don't care enough. And what is intolerably hypocritical is that he probably gave Bill Clinton a pass when he didn't put a dent in the number of uninsured despite campaigning on the issue. Clinton was excused because he pretended to care.
It was amusing to witness the elitist duo adopt the Democratic Party line on other issues as well, from President Bush's reputed refusal to admit his "mistakes" to his unwillingness to reach across party lines. And let's not forget his failure to give inspections "a little more time" and "to reach out more" to other nations before attacking Iraq.
But why all the fuss? These venerable heavyweights aren't liberal. They just see the world through clearer lenses and operate on a higher moral plane. Reporting, even editorializing, from this perspective doesn't betray a liberal bias but defines objectivity. And those who deviate from their worldview are simply flawed, and racist, sexist, homophobic, greedy, uncompassionate and -- oh, yes -- conservative.