Katrina commentaries reflect, elicit strong emotions

September 18, 2005|By Paul Moore

EVEN THOUGH Hurricane Katrina's aftermath will be a major story for months, the urgent rush of news has begun to slow. In a week when Michael Brown resigned as FEMA's chief and the recovery of the dead intensified, other stories from the region, nation and world returned to share space on the nation's front pages.

Now, "commentary" on the Katrina story, highlighted by newspaper op-ed opinion pieces, is generating the most reader reaction.

Some believe the harsh tone and the sheer number of articles published blasting the federal response represent ideological grandstanding and a rush to judgment. Others see it as needed return to critical thinking and journalistic integrity.

If nothing else, the torrent of commentary reflects an enormous emotional reaction to the worst national disaster in our history.

The two main areas of discussion are the level of response by government to the Katrina disaster and the fact that most of those who have suffered the most are poor and black.

No recent article published in The Sun has received more feedback than the Sept. 8 Opinion/Commentary piece, "After Katrina fiasco, time for Bush to go." Written by Gordon Adams, who teaches at George Washington University and was a senior White House official in the Clinton administration, this straightforward and unabashedly liberal diatribe hit readers like a bolt of lightning.

Myra Mendible's comments represent the many favorable reactions. "Thank you, Gordon Adams, for your straight shootin', pull no punches op-ed piece this week. ... Only the loudest voices will be heard above the din - may yours be one of those. May it help reawaken a dormant U.S. press."

Harriet Harper wrote: "Kudos to Gordon Adams for this article and to the Baltimore Sun for publishing it. We the people need the press more than ever before."

Bethany Henry was one of a number with a different view: "After reading this article, I can't decide if Mr. Adams is simply a grossly misinformed writer who should have done a much better job researching his subject matter or if he is just another Bush administration hater. ... "

Opinion/Commentary page editor Richard C. Gross placed the Adams piece next to conservative Thomas Sowell's weekly column. Sowell, an African-American, blamed a lack of personal responsibility and emphasized the "moral devastation of our times" in assessing the causes of the chaos.

Other commentaries saw it differently.

"We failed the poor in New Orleans long before the hurricane hit," wrote C. Fraser Smith in his Sept. 11 op-ed piece. "We failed them by pretending they don't exist, by marginalizing them, by making them expendable. Now our failure is out there for the world to see."

Metro columnist Michael Olesker's Sept. 9 piece went further. "You want to know why there are black people crying racism in the wake of the government response to Hurricane Katrina? It all feels like the natural extension of an endless pattern." Olesker linked the fears of blacks to the policies and attitudes of GOP presidents, including George W. Bush.

Some angry readers lashed back at Olesker.

Barry Cohen noted that President Bush has had Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice in his Cabinet. "Are these choices of a racist? In this case, Olesker is putting his own spin on the race issue without mentioning what Bush II has done to improve race relations. ..."

Victoria Price said: "I don't think this is a racial situation. Comments like these are unfair to President Bush and only make the racial divide in this country worse."

For these and other readers, the media, politicians and celebrities are perpetuating the false idea that the response to Katrina was a conscious conspiracy of neglect.

In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of African-Americans nationwide believe the federal government would have responded faster if most of the hurricane victims had been white. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 70 percent of blacks believe the slow response was based on race, while only 30 percent of whites believe race was a factor.

Some readers also think the media has unfairly blamed the Bush administration for what they believe was primarily the responsibility of local and state agencies. In my view, the Bush administration's intrinsic mistrust of government and its reduced commitment to FEMA and many federal agencies played a big role in its slow response to Katrina.

A few commentaries have touched on this. I hope that more do in the future.

Paul Moore's column appears Sundays.

The public editor

Readers who have concerns or comments may contact The Sun's public editor at 410-332-6364 or toll-free at 800-829-8000, ext. 6364; by fax at 410-783-2502; or by e-mail at publiceditor@balt sun.com.

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