Siegel kept asking Chertoff how long it would take to serve or rescue these people, and a couple times Chertoff answered that the government was doing a great job at the Superdome.
When he cautioned Siegel about the danger of relying on "anecdotal" "rumors" of people in dire straits, Siegel said, no—these are facts presented by reporters who have covered war zones. There are 2,000 people at the convention center in need, he said. Having finally broken through the steel plate that is Chertoff's skull, the secretary confessed he hadn't heard those reports—reports that the television networks were documenting, live, with their cameras. Chertoff promised he'd look into the matter.
Several readers directed me to CNN reporter Miles O'Brien's hard-boiled interview with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in which he repeatedly invited the governor to agree with him that the federal government had "dropped the ball." When Barbour demurred on this and other points of culpability, O'Brien came back at him without the politesse reporters usually extend to dissembling pols.
I recall Andrea Mitchell all but editorializing on NBC the other night about Congress taking its sweet time to reconvene and pass a hurricane-relief bill … Fox News Channel's Shepard Smith chasing after a mute police officer down the New Orleans freeway overpass and asking in outrage when the stranded would get help … and MSNBC's Joe Scarborough in Biloxi transforming himself into the voice of the disenfranchised to put in a good word for the looters:
You got to understand that these are people who have young babies who haven't had water in four days, in some cases, haven't had formula, haven't had basic necessities. I just wonder what you would do, what I would do if we were in a situation where our 15-month-old child or our 2-year-old baby needed something to stay alive. I don't know what you would do. I know I would do anything it took to get what they needed.
Now, I should be getting it from the federal government if I am in New Orleans, from the state government. But I will tell you what. It is amateur hour, and it has been amateur hour over the past four or five days. This is completely different, friends, from the way the crises were handled in Florida last year, four hurricanes, two of them major, it was handled with ruthless efficiency. I know. I was there. That is not happening tonight in New Orleans.
As you can tell, the situation clearly is deteriorating. You've got armed bandits roving the streets. They're heavily armed. You've got people living out on the streets with absolutely no protection, no help whatsoever, no food, no water. How many armed National Guardsmen do you have on the ground right now? …
How is it possible that we're getting better intel than you're getting? …
FEMA has been on the ground for four days, going into the fifth day. Why no massive airdrop of food and water? In Banda Aceh, in Indonesia, they got food dropped two days after the tsunami struck. …
It's five days that FEMA has been on the ground. The head of police says it's been five days that FEMA has been there. The mayor, the former mayor, putting out SOS's on Tuesday morning, crying on national television, saying please send in some troops. So the idea that, yes, I understand that you're feeding people and trying to get in there now, but it's Friday. It's Friday. …
CNN anchor Jack Cafferty growled about the media coverage of Katrina's victims yesterday on Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room, name-checking me and citing my Wednesday column about the broadcasters' failure to acknowledge the race and economic class of the hardest-hit.
We knew it was coming. And yet, the poorest and the neediest and the most helpless of those in New Orleans, well, they're still there, aren't they? Despite the many angles of this tragedy—and lord knows there've been a lot of them in New Orleans—there is a great big elephant in the living room that the media seems content to ignore.
That would be until now. Slate.com's Jack Shafer wrote today in his column that television coverage has shied away from talking about race and class. Shafer says that we in the media are ignoring the fact that almost all of the victims in New Orleans are black and poor. And he's right. Almost every person we've seen, from the families stranded on their rooftops waiting to be rescued, to the looters, to the people holed up in the Superdome, are black and poor.
Many of them didn't follow the evacuation orders because they didn't have the means to get out of town. They just couldn't do it. A lot of them are sick, a lot of them don't have cars, a lot of them just didn't have the means to leave "The Big Easy." And they're still there.
This gave the Washington-based Blitzer a perfect opening to comment on race and class, but he stumbled and fell into a "Campanis moment." While airing file footage of victims trudging through hip-deep water looking for help, Blitzer, no racist, said: