The Tuesday broadcast network evening newscasts jumped on an inconsequential House hearing, which the AP reported was attended by just seven Members of Congress, where five residents of New Orleans hurled charges that racism limited help after Hurricane Katrina. ABC actually led with the hearing as anchor Elizabeth Vargas teased: "On World News Tonight, the angry voices from inside the storm. The victims of Katrina tell Congress they're still not getting help because they are poor and black." Vargas trumpeted the charges: “They were brought in front of Congress today so that the voiceless could be heard. Five people whose lives were torn apart by Hurricane Katrina. Five black people who say that when the hurricane came, for so many like them, race did matter.” One woman asserted: “When we stepped outside, guns were pointed on us. I felt like we were being told to go outside in order to be killed. No one's going to tell me it wasn't a race issue." ABC reporter Linda Douglass acknowledged believability was in question: "Members listened intently but were skeptical of some of the more extreme charges. Like this one, from [Dyan] French [Cole], who insisted someone deliberately flooded poor neighborhoods." She ludicrously alleged: "I have witnesses that they bombed the walls of the levee." Ridiculously, Vargas characterized the hearing as "extraordinary.”
CBS anchor Bob Schieffer championed Dyan French Cole, affectionately known to CBS News as “Mama D,” as he described her as a “key witness” and reminded viewers that CBS’s “John Roberts first reported on her from New Orleans right after the hurricane. And now Congress isn't likely to forget her, either. She gave them an earful today.” CBS viewers won’t have her wackiest and most insidious charge to forget since in nearly an entire story devoted to her rants, Roberts avoided discrediting her by never mentioning her claim about how the levees were “bombed.” Instead, he personally interviewed her and took her allegations seriously: "She came...to testify on whether race played a role in the Hurricane Katrina response." NBC anchor Brian Williams touted how “a special House committee heard emotional testimony from Katrina survivors who insisted racism was a big factor in the government's slow response to the disaster.” Kerry Sanders, who showcased Dyan French Cole, also skipped over her levee “bombing” charge, began: "In New Orleans, according to a Gallup poll, six in ten blacks said if most of Katrina's victims were white, the rescues would have come faster." (Transcripts follow.)
That theme matched what Williams expressed on Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart back on September 8. My NewsBusters posting recounted: “After insisting that ‘I don’t do opinions,’ on Thursday’s Daily Show on Comedy Central, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams seemed to come dangerously close to endorsing the view that racism was behind the slow rescue of residents in New Orleans as he approvingly relayed how, a ‘refrain’ he heard from ‘everyone watching the coverage all week,’ was ‘had this been Nantucket, had this been Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, how many choppers would have-‘ At that point, audience applause caused him to cut off his sentence as he gestured toward the audience to cite affirmation of his point.” See the NewsBusters posting for a complete transcript and video.
Full transcripts, provided by the MRC’s Brad Wilmouth, of the December 6 stories:
ABC’s World News Tonight:
Elizabeth Vargas teased: "On World News Tonight, the angry voices from inside the storm. The victims of Katrina tell Congress they're still not getting help because they are poor and black."
Dyan French Cole, New Orleans community leader: "The hurricane happened in August! Somebody needs to hear!"
Vargas opened her broadcast: "Good evening. They were brought in front of Congress today so that the voiceless could be heard. Five people whose lives were torn apart by Hurricane Katrina. Five black people who say that when the hurricane came, for so many like them, race did matter. And they told Congress today that three months after Katrina, they are still not getting the help they need. ABC's Linda Douglass was on Capitol Hill to hear them testifying."
Linda Douglass: "The House committee investigating the government's handling of Katrina tried to wade carefully into the issue of race, inviting five African-Americans from New Orleans to tell their stories. Some trembled with outrage."
Dyan French Cole, New Orleans community leader: "I came representing the people sitting on Dorset Street right now, around a brick-made fireplace because that's the only heat we have in December!"
Douglass: "Patricia Thompson described her terrifying search for shelter."
Patricia Thompson, New Orleans evacuee: "We were abandoned. City officials did nothing to protect us. We were told to go to the Superdome, the convention center, the interstate bridge for safety. We saw buses, helicopters and FEMA trucks, but no one stopped to help us. We had never felt so cut off in our lives."
Douglass: "Leah Hodges said her brother, now missing, was pushed away by police as he looked for medical help."
Leah Hodges, New Orleans evacuee: "My brother flagged down a police car and asked for help. They used racial slurs and dirty obscenity. They cursed him and threatened to blow his brains out."
Douglass: "Hodges echoed the charge, heard often today, that the government did not seem to care."
Hodges: "The military, which has the great capability of moving entire cities, failed to move in and move out the people the way the dogs and the fish had been moved out. And people were left to die, mostly poor, mostly people of color."
Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA): "What role, if any, do you think race or class played?"
Thompson: "When we stepped outside, guns were pointed on us. I felt like we were being told to go outside in order to be killed. No one's going to tell me it wasn't a race issue."
Douglass: "Members listened intently but were skeptical of some of the more extreme charges. Like this one, from French, who insisted someone deliberately flooded poor neighborhoods."
Cole: "I was on my front porch. I have witnesses that they bombed the walls of the levee."
Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT): "Can you see the levee breach from your house?"
Cole: "I haven't looked for it. I'm still looking for dead people."
Shays: "I'm asking you a question."
Cole: "You can't see from one street to the other if you got two-story houses and trees. I live on a tree-lined street."
Shays: "The first question was how far away-"
Cole: "Can I see? No, I can't see you. I wear glasses, and I can't afford to buy any. I heard-"
Shays: "Ma'am, we don't need to speak in tongues. We just need to speak in honest answers."
Douglass: "Hodges compared the New Orleans causeway to a concentration camp."
Miller: "If I respectfully asked you not to call the causeway area a concentration camp-"
Hodges: "I'm going to call it what it is. If I put a dress on a pig, a pig is still a pig."
Douglass: "Now, the House investigation into how the government handled Katrina will continue. But Elizabeth, there are no plans to reopen the issue of race."
Vargas: "Extraordinary hearings. Linda Douglass, thank you."
CBS Evening News:
Anchor Bob Schieffer: "Congress, of course, is still investigating FEMA's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, and one key witness today was Mama D. That name may ring a bell. Our John Roberts first reported on her from New Orleans right after the hurricane. And now Congress isn't likely to forget her, either. She gave them an earful today, and here's the 'Inside Story.'"
John Roberts walking with her: "It's a thousand miles and almost a hundred days from where we first met Mama D., who swore she'd die before she abandoned her New Orleans neighborhood. On Capitol Hill today, the emotions were just as raw."
Dyan “Mama D” French, with Capitol in background: "We need to send a message, 'Not like this! You will not treat human beings like this!'"
Roberts: "She came, along with several of her New Orleans neighbors, to testify on whether race played a role in the Hurricane Katrina response."
French, at hearing: "And I came because the 'ism' that's really bothering me the most is racism."
Roberts: "They cited familiar stories -- the disastrous response, the nightmares of the Superdome and Convention Center, no evacuation plan for the poor."
French: "Why would you get in the public media and ask a city where 80 percent of its citizens ride public transit to evacuate? What were they supposed to do, fly? Get on a broom?"
Roberts: "The extent to which the government was unprepared for the aftermath of Katrina became more clear with another release of FEMA e-mails this week. One official in Mississippi writes: 'This is unlike what we have seen before.' Another predicts 'serious riots' if more supplies aren't found. A third complains, 'The system appears to be broken.' That was obvious to today's witnesses."
Leah Hodges, New Orleans resident: "FEMA has created a nightmare inside of a nightmare for some people."
Roberts: "In the once-flooded seventh ward, there are signs of recovery these days, much of it from neighborhood volunteers. But there are also new complaints about outsiders coming in to tell lifelong residents what they need, about the fact so many neighborhoods are still empty of their lifeblood, their people."
French, outside of Capitol, to Roberts: "They need to come home. Nobody can build, rebuild, 're-nothing' New Orleans without us."
Roberts: "You want people to come home?"
French: "They need to come home."
Roberts: "And amid all the anger, the blame and the bitterness, Mama D. says that is the message that needs to be heard. John Roberts, CBS News, Washington."
NBC Nightly News:
Anchor Brian Williams: "On Capitol Hill today, Hurricane Katrina and the subject of race. A special House committee heard emotional testimony from Katrina survivors who insisted racism was a big factor in the government's slow response to the disaster. Here with that, NBC's Kerry Sanders."
Kerry Sanders: "In New Orleans, according to a Gallup poll, six in 10 blacks said if most of Katrina's victims were white, the rescues would have come faster."
Leah Hodges, New Orleans resident: "The people of New Orleans were stranded in a flood and were allowed to die. What happened to us was foreseeable, and it was preventable."
Sanders: "Today, in Washington, before a bipartisan congressional committee, heated testimony from New Orleans residents. Question one:"
Dyan French, New Orleans resident: "Who comes to rescue with guns, no life vests?"
Sanders: "To these victims, it was all about race."
Doreen Keeler, New Orleans evacuee: "If it was not poor African-Americans who would be most affected by this, there would have been a plan in place, there would have been equipment in place, there would have been everything needed in place."
Sanders: "Those perceptions were apparent to the White House almost immediately."
George W. Bush, in September: "The storm didn't discriminate, and neither will the recovery effort."
Sanders: "But 100 days later, New Orleans residents are still furious."
Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA): "You fault equally all levels?"
Keeler: "I blame local, I blame state, I blame federal, I think we got disappointed by every branch of government that exists."
Sanders: "Those feelings remain strong here in the lower ninth ward where a lack of any progress is blamed on racial politics."
French: "I came representing the people sitting an Dersot Street right now around a brick-made fireplace because that's the only heat we have in December! The hurricane happened in August!"
Sanders: "Meanwhile, in neighboring Mississippi, more FEMA emails just released. They show top officials recognized their inability to get water and ice to victims. This email, three days after the storm, says, 'If only limited supplies arrive, we will have serious riots.' Kerry Sanders, NBC News, New Orleans."