CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Friday afternoon repeatedly prodded reluctant Congressional Black Caucus member Elijah Cummings to blame racism for delays in rescuing hurricane victims in New Orleans. Blitzer asked Cummings on The Situation Room: “Do you believe, if it was, in fact, a slow response, as many now believe it was, was it in part the result of racism?” When Cummings demurred from such a blanket accusation, Blitzer wouldn’t give up: “There are some critics who are saying, and I don't know if you're among those, but people have said to me, had this happened in a predominantly white community, the federal government would have responded much more quickly. Do you believe that?"
Later, on CNN’s NewsNight, Aaron Brown took up the same agenda with Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones: “What I'm wondering is, do you think black America's sitting there thinking, if these were middle class white people, there would be cruise ships in New Orleans?” When she wouldn’t take the bait, Brown lectured: “Now, look, here's the question, okay? And then we'll end this. Do you think the reason that they're not there or the food is not there or the cruise ships aren't there or all this stuff that you believe should be there, isn't there, is a matter of race and/or class?”
Opening the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams predicted that the "catastrophic hurricane strike, and the U.S. government response to it, will in the years or decades to come, perhaps necessitate a national discussion on race, on oil, politics, class, infrastructure, the environment and more.” ABC’s Ted Koppel charged on Nightline that “the slow response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina has led to questions about race, poverty and a seemingly indifferent government.”
# CNN’s The Situation Room, 4:21pm EDT on September 2, as provided by the MRC’s Brad Wilmouth. Blitzer interviewed Cummings on the show’s set by a big table with video screens in the background. The relevant exchanges:
Wolf Blitzer: “Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. You're looking at these pictures. As you know, many African-American members of Congress earlier today said they've been ashamed and outraged by the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina. Give us your thoughts as of right now."
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD): "Well, I'm feeling a little bit better, but I got to tell you that we were outraged, and many of us still are. The fact is, is that we believe the administration moved a little bit late and did not take this matter as urgently as they should have....”
Blitzer: "It's taken several days. This hurricane hit Monday morning, it is now Friday afternoon, and we saw just a couple of hours ago, U.S. troops move into that convention center in New Orleans, about 1,000 National Guard and Army personnel with supplies. There have been some that have suggested that race has been a factor because so many of the people in New Orleans who have been suffering, as you well know, are African-American."
Cummings: "Well, the Caucus, we took the position that it was the frail, the weak, and those that are sick that are suffering. Keep in mind, Wolf, you just talked about the troops marching in. A lot of people have died, and a lot of people will die, and sadly -- that's sad -- but the fact is that the President we would have hoped would have moved sooner. Governor Blanco even said the same thing. And certainly, Mayor Nagin. But I think that he's on the right track right now, but we are asking that people be helped immediately. I mean, when you've got people who can't even get formula for a baby or water for their children, and you've got elderly people lying in carts suffering from bone cancer, lying in an airport, somebody's got to speak up, and I'm glad the Caucus did speak up, and I think that we made a difference already."
Blitzer: "But do you believe, if it was, in fact, a slow response, as many now believe it was, was it in part the result of racism? Is that what you're suggesting?"
Cummings: "I'm not sure. All I know is that a number of the faces that I saw were African-American, but the Caucus has always stood for all Americans, particularly those who have been often left out of the system. And people that I've seen on your channel, by the way, are people who are the frail, the elderly, the sick, those people, children, people who, and people literally walking around in water for days in their own feces with dead bodies floating....”
Blitzer: "New Orleans, a very predominantly African-American city, as you well know. There are some critics who are saying, and I don't know if you're among those, but people have said to me, had this happened in a predominantly white community, the federal government would have responded much more quickly. Do you believe that?"
Cummings: "I think that that's a pretty good probability. The fact is, though, and keep in mind another thing, Wolf, we have not even seen emerge from all of this those people who have passed away. There's another wave coming over this thing. Number one, we have to bring relief. Number two, we have to reconstruct and reconstruct people's lives....”
# CNN’s NewsNight, September 2, about 10:45pm EDT.
Aaron Brown set up an interview Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus: “Numbers are part of the story. They are not the story. Two- thirds of the population of New Orleans is African-American, 30 percent of the city's residents -- 30 percent -- live below the poverty line. It's a difficult question to ask. Race is always a difficult thing to talk about in the country. But it certainly has become a part of the story.”
Brown’s first allegation in the form of a question: “I don't know if it's race or class, to be honest. But I was just thinking about that hospital evacuation you were talking about earlier. You do get the feeling that poor people in the country get shafted.”
Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio, from CNN’s Washington bureau: “It's no question that poor people in this country get shafted....”
Brown: “Let me -- I want to talk about -- I want to go right at the heart of this in some ways. How do you think white America will react -- has -- is reacting, to all of these images? These images of black people living in these giant shelters, and all of the problems that are being reported out of them, the stories and the pictures of looting? How do you think white America will process that?”
Jones: “Well, you know what? I have been in public office for 24 years, and the only African-American elected official in almost every office that I've held. And there are people of good will in America, regardless of their color. But there are going to be some who will say, yeah, those black folks, they were looting over there in New Orleans, or those black folks just didn't know how to live, and they're living in squalor anyway, so it's not any different....And I'm hoping that most of America, either white, black, brown, will say, this is a shame that we're allowing this to happen in the land of the free, the home of the brave, the greatest democracy in the world, that we will allow this to happen, and allow it to happen based on race.”
Brown: “That's how you hope white people look at it. Now, tell me how you think black people in the country, outside of New Orleans, are seeing this story? Then maybe -- through a different set of eyes, a different set of life experiences?”
Jones: “Black people across America have all types of life experiences. But I guarantee each and every one of them, their hearts are going out, because you have to keep in mind that the people, African-American people of America, migrated from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas and Florida. And all of those that are in Detroit, New York, these are their relatives that they're seeing on that picture. Though they may not be blood.”
Brown: “Congresswoman, of course their hearts go out to them. In many respects, all of our hearts go out to them. But-”
Jones: “Oh, they're affected.”
Brown: “But I think the question -- I think what I'm wondering is, do you think black America's sitting there thinking, if these were middle class white people, there would be cruise ships in New Orleans, not the Superdome?”
Jones: “Let me say it to you like this, Aaron. We are offended. We are outraged that America, the democracy, is not living up to its calling. We are offended that so many African-American folk -- I'm offended that there are black, brown, whatever color they are, they are sitting in the Astrodome somewhere, not being taken care of. I'm offended that the government has not allocated the resources. It wasn't yesterday that they knew this was going to happen. It was six days ago....Let me show -- give you one more example. I've been to military alliances across this world, and the Red Horse -- and I strongly talk about Red Horse, which are National Guard. They go in and build a hospital in two days. They go in and put cement roads in two to three days. They go in and put housing in. Where is Red Horse? Why aren't the Red Horse down in Mississippi, Alabama and New Orleans?”
Brown: “Now, look, here's the question, okay? And then we'll end this. Do you think the reason that they're not there or the food is not there or the cruise ships aren't there or all this stuff that you believe should be there, isn't this a matter of race and/or class?”
Jones: “I think it's mostly a matter of class, but clearly, race is a factor in the areas in which we're operating in southern America. And that were it different, were I the President, it wouldn't be happening.”
# ABC’s World News Tonight, September 2.
The MRC’s Brad Wilmouth caught how Bob Woodruff asserted from a New Orleans sidewalk: "Many of these evacuees believe they're being ignored because they're black. They feel officials may be more sympathetic if they knew some victims are white."
Man yelling as he pointed at a woman laying on the concrete: "This is not an Afro-American. Look at this, look at this, it's a Caucasian."
Woman: "We are American. This is terrible!"
# From Baton Rouge, Brian Williams opened the September 2 NBC Nightly News with a grandiose prediction and some denigration of President Bush: “Good evening. Tonight it has become apparent, at the risk of stating the obvious, that a catastrophic hurricane strike, and the U.S. government response to it, will in the years or decades to come, perhaps necessitate a national discussion on race, on oil, politics, class, infrastructure, the environment and more. Today the President of the United States visited this region, and while he was here, one of the major radio stations still broadcasting chose not to broadcast his remarks, saying at one point, nothing he could say could ever help them deal with the dire situation unfolding live in the streets of New Orleans, where people were still dying during his visit.”
# ABC’s Nightline, September 2. Ted Koppel introduced a story: “The population of New Orleans is 67 percent black, so it’s not surprising that the face of suffering in that city this week has been largely African-American. The slow response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina has led to questions about race, poverty and a seemingly indifferent government. At least Nightline’s Michel Martin has been hearing some of those accusations at Houston’s Astrodome where thousands of the New Orleans evacuees hve found temporary shelter.”