Spike Lee took his cameras and crew to New Orleans to film a documentary about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The four-hour production, which aired on HBO, is, unfortunately, about as destructive as was the disaster it depicts.
At a time when we need light and understanding, Lee has delivered darkness, anger and hatred. Those who will be hurt the most by the distorted and untruthful picture that Lee has concocted are the poor blacks he purports to want to help.
It's clear that Lee did not go to Louisiana in search of truth. He went to Louisiana to carefully construct a documentary that would support the conclusion he had already reached. That conclusion: poor blacks suffered and died as result of the indifference of a detached and racist Bush administration in general and President Bush in particular.
The film commits egregious journalistic sins of commission and omission, carefully selecting and editing footage to indict Bush, including only commentators who support the conclusions that Lee had already reached, and selectively omitting reams of information relevant to the complex truth of what actually happened.
Since Lee already knew the truth, he didn't have much need to examine material such as "A Failure of Initiative," Congress' investigation into Katrina, which shows failure and breakdown at all levels of government _ local, state and federal. It also was of little interest to Lee that primary responsibility for disaster preparation and management is at the level of local and state government, not federal.
But New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin comes off in the production as just one cool dude. He shows up at regular intervals over the four-hour production, talking New Orleans jive and being one straightforward sincere guy who was trying to do his job.
No mention is made of the hurricane simulations and emergency evacuation plans that he totally ignored. No reference is made to the famous picture of the parking lot filled with flooded school buses that Nagin chose not to use to evacuate residents in poor areas.
Central to the Katrina story is the failure of the levees. Indeed, Lee's film is called "When the Levees Broke."
But who is responsible for ignoring the warnings over the years that the levees protecting New Orleans were inadequate? Bush? Of course not.
It was Louisiana's congressional delegation that was responsible to ensure that their constituents' interests were being represented and that funds were being appropriated to fix sub-standard levees. But not a single Louisiana senator or congressman is ever mentioned or appears in "When the Levees Broke."
William Jefferson, New Orleans' congressman for the last 16 years, has been under FBI investigation over the last year under bribery charges. However, Jefferson is a Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. To shine a light on his possible, and likely, neglect of representing his constituents' interests would have distracted from the single message that Bush was the evil genius behind this tragedy.
Of course, no mention is made of Jefferson's trip home, when he commandeered a National Guard truck in the middle of rescue efforts to take him to his house to retrieve personal property.
Given what Lee leaves out, it's particularly cheap and sick that he felt it relevant to include footage of Condoleezza Rice supposedly shopping for designer shoes at the time the disaster was sweeping New Orleans. As we know, Condi is our secretary of state, who has no responsibility for any of these matters.
After showing what appears to be a disengaged Bush, assuring that help is on the way, Lee pans, in contrast, to Harry Belafonte, who talks about the generous offers of help that came from President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
I have written previously of the love of affair of the black left, particularly the Rev. Jesse Jackson, with Third World dictators. There is virtually no freedom of the press and speech in Venezuela. If Lee were a citizen of Venezuela and made a similar film attacking Chavez, he would disappear forever after the first showing.
Perhaps most sad is that in four hours Lee has nothing positive to say about America and Americans. No mention is made of the $700 million from private citizens and churches that were committed in the first few days of the tragedy. No mention is made of the thousands of homes across the nation that welcomed evacuees. No mention is made of the tens of thousands who have successfully rebuilt their lives.
Spike Lee clearly has little affection for the country that gives him free expression and has made him wealthy. He has produced a self-indulgent, deceitful and exploitive film about a tragedy. His message will give poor blacks more reasons to feel powerless, to feel lost, to feel that others bear responsibility for their lives, to hate, and to stay poor.