NY Times Shields Readers from Spike Lee's Katrina Conspiracy Allegation

August 3rd, 2006 12:21 PM

“From the beginning Spike Lee knew that Hurricane Katrina was a story he had to tell.”

That’s how The New York Times begins Agony of New Orleans, Through Spike Lee’s Eyes, on the director’s upcoming Katrina documentary. Times reporter Felicia R. Lee doesn’t tell readers of one of the reasons Lee was drawn to the story: he thinks the government may have deliberately flooded New Orleans.

That’s right. HBO wanted to make “the film of record” on America’s worst natural disaster, and entrusted the task to a man who thinks it may actually have been a government conspiracy. And it gave him $2 million to do it.

Could reporter Lee (no relation, I hope) simply have not been aware of director Lee’s conspiracy theories? They’re not hard to find. The director went on CNN and said: “I don't put anything past the United States government. I don't find it too far-fetched that they tried to displace all the black people out of New Orleans.”

He told Reuters the government could have deliberately flooded the city: “There is too much history ... going back to when the U.S. army gave smallpox-infested blankets to Native Americans." As with the Reuters interview, here he says that after the hurricane, “what I thought about automatically was Chinatown,” the 1974 film about high-level government corruption.

So it’s hard to believe reporter Lee didn’t know about the director’s conspiracy musings. She, and her editors, must simply have decided keep it out of the 1,438-word article. As for the film itself -- “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” to be shown on HBO this month -- there is no narration, so any conspiracy theories will have to be espoused by the people director Lee interviews. Of course, he could coach them. The article notes that:

On the set Mr. Lee asked all the questions from a typed list. (“You have to say the question in the answer,” he said to those he interviewed…)

Slick. So if a subject says, “Republicans tried to drown me,” it may be the person’s view. Or, the subject may have been asked, “Do you think Republicans tried to drown me?” with orders to repeat the question in the answer.

While the article makes several references to Malcolm X (the man and the movie) its subject sounds more like Louis Farrakhan, who also believes the levees “may have been blown up to destroy the black part of town and keep the white part dry.”

The article quotes Douglas Brinkley, author of a book on the hurricane, who says Lee is “grappling with the larger question of why so many African-Americans distrust government.” Maybe, just maybe, the lack of trust has something to do with the fact that one of the nation’s most influential directors -- with the implied support of two of the nation’s most influential media outlets -- is telling them their government is trying to kill them. Just a thought.