John Leo

    Racial agitators and entertainers played a big role. Randall Robinson, the former head of TransAfrica said, “This is what we have come to. This defining watershed moment in America's racial history." Jesse Jackson said, “Today I saw 5,000 African-Americans desperate, perishing, dehydrated, babies dying.” (That would be 5,000 blacks dying out of a total of 1,349 known dead of all races in all Gulf States combined.) The morning show host of a New York City rap station saw the New Orleans situation as “genocide.” Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics, said Katrina “disclosed our racism in multiple ways.” Comedian and activist Dick Gregory saw an anti-black conspiracy in New Orleans. And rapper Kanye West offered the opinion that “America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well off, as slow as possible,” adding his soon to be famous accusation, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” The media carried all the race chatter without much in the way or caution or evidence.

    Even now, mainstream media have done little to set the record straight. The numbers and percentages of death by race are easy to find among bloggers, very hard to find in mainstream reporting. On December 18, three days after the state of Louisiana delivered a breakdown of deaths by race, The New York Times ran a long analysis of Katrina that omitted the racial breakdown from the state report. By contrast, the Los Angeles Times ran an excellent article, also on December 18, that began this way: “The bodies of New Orleans residents killed by Hurricane Katrina were almost as likely to be recovered from middle-class neighborhoods as from the city’s poorer districts, such as the Lower 9th Ward.” The paper reported that its own analysis  “contradicts what swiftly became conventional wisdom in the days after the storm hit--that it was the city’s poorest African American residents who bore the brunt of the hurricane.” Good journalism. Will the rest of the media catch on?

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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