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September 4, 2005
Katrina: More Race, No Class

Jason DeParle gives his assessment of the true story of the destruction of the Gulf coast -- the race card. His editorial in the New York Times doesn't wait for any scholarly analysis or dispassionate research for his conclusions to meet the Paper of Record's standards for publication, either:

THE white people got out. Most of them, anyway. If television and newspaper images can be deemed a statistical sample, it was mostly black people who were left behind. Poor black people, growing more hungry, sick and frightened by the hour as faraway officials counseled patience and warned that rescues take time.

What a shocked world saw exposed in New Orleans last week wasn't just a broken levee. It was a cleavage of race and class, at once familiar and startlingly new, laid bare in a setting where they suddenly amounted to matters of life and death. Hydrology joined sociology throughout the story line, from the settling of the flood-prone city, where well-to-do white people lived on the high ground, to its frantic abandonment.

The pictures of the suffering vied with reports of marauding, of gunshots fired at rescue vehicles and armed bands taking over the streets. The city of quaint eccentricity - of King Cakes, Mardi Gras beads and nice neighbors named Tookie - had taken a Conradian turn.

In the middle of the delayed rescue, the New Orleans mayor, C.Ray Nagin, a local boy made good from a poor, black ward, burst into tears of frustration as he denounced slow moving federal officials and called for martial law.

If the opening paragraph of this screed didn't cause the editors at the New York Times to spike this column, they have apparently given up any pretense of editorial standards at the Gray Lady. "If television and newspaper images can be deemed a statistical sample"? Since when does that ever apply? Perhaps the Times can abandon its polling contracts in the next election and simply scan for TV coverage of political events to determine racial demographics in politics, too. What utter rubbish, and unfortunately for the Times and its readers, this intellectually famished assumption forms the basis of the entire editorial.

We don't know the racial composition of the people left behind. We don't know the racial composition of the people who evacuated. We do know that African-Americans comprised over two-thirds of New Orleans, and we can expect them to have high representation in both groups. Almost two-thirds of the population drive themselves to work alone, so clearly the opportunity to evacuate didn't just remain with the "white people".

That research took me less time than it would have to turn on CNN and watch for thirty seconds and count up the white people I saw.

DeParle's "analysis" fails to take into account any of this data, but also ignores the notion that the media might have its own agenda in the images and stories selected for publication and broadcast. He doesn't even consider the idea that, like himself, the media has taken advantage of the widespread devastation to punch up its reporting on the racial divide in America.

Unfortunately for DeParle, the problem of the people left behind squarely falls into the incompetence of local government to follow its own emergency response plan -- a local government headed up by the "local boy made good from a poor, black ward," Mayor Ray Nagin. Certainly he of all people would have known that an evacuation order might disproportionately affect the poorer citizens of his city. Yet Nagin and his office never engaged the EOC, never got the buses out of the yards, and never attempted to rescue those who wanted to leave New Orleans but lacked the means to do so.

Does DeParle claim that Mayor Nagin acted out of racial animosity rather than incompetence?

DeParle provides an unfortunately excellent example of the kind of tripe that gets produced when hysteria meets bias during a crisis. It's the kind of hate-mongering that diminishes all it touches. That the New York Times considered it acceptable for its publication speaks volumes about the kind of media outlet the Times wants to be and has become.

UPDATE: Bruce Kesler at Democracy Project agrees with me on this despicable kind of commentary, as does Baldilocks.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 4, 2005 8:40 AM

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