Home Store In Memoriam Deborah Newsletter Forum Topics Blogfeed Blogroll Facebook MySpace Contact Us About

When Does "Looting" Become "Exploitation"? When the Color of the State Changes!

Reported by Marie Therese - September 1, 2005

As I predicted in an earlier post, FOX News is de-emphasizing bad news from the (red) state of Mississippi and harping incessantly on looting and chaos in New Orleans, a blue city in a blue-leaning state. Yesterday's O'Reilly Factor [August 31] was no exception.

Host Bill O'Reilly devoted the majority of his show to the devastation in New Orleans and barely mentioned Mississippi's plight, which by most accounts is astronomical and also includes rioting and great loss of life.

He began his show with a Talking Points Memo in which he blamed the Mississippi River for the levee breaches. As has been reported extensively, the damage was caused by breaks near Lake Pontchartrain.

Perhaps he focused on the Mississippi River because he knows that in this past fiscal year the Bush administration cut $27 million from the budget for the Army Corps of Engineers - money that had been allocated for hurricane protection projects around Lake Pontchartrain.

As reported in the Chicago Tribune [8/31/05]:

Because of the budget cuts, which were caused in part by the rising costs of the war in Iraq, the corps delayed seven contracts that included enlarging the levees, according to corps documents.

Much of the devastation in New Orleans was caused by breaches in the levees, which sent water from Lake Pontchartrain pouring into the city. Since much of the city is below sea level, the levee walls acted like the walls of a bowl that filled until as much as 80 percent of the city was under water.

Similarly, the Army Corps requested $78 million for this fiscal year for projects that would improve draining and prevent flooding in New Orleans. The Bush administration's budget provided $30 million for the projects, and Congress ultimately approved $36.5 million, according to Landrieu's office.

"I'm not saying it wouldn't still be flooded, but I do feel that if it had been totally funded, there would be less flooding than you have," said Michael Parker, a former Republican Mississippi congressman who headed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from October 2001 until March 2002, when he was ousted after publicly criticizing a Bush administration proposal to cut the corps' budget.

In a segment entiitled "How Should the Authorities Deal with Looters?" O'Reilly and his guests continued the smear campaign against the stranded people in New Orleans that started on Tuesday. New York Post reporter, Jeremy Olshan, reported by phone from Baton Rouge and sounded like a bad imitation of Mo Rocca, as he dutifully gave O'Reilly the answers he wanted to hear.

Mr. Olshan recounted how he witnessed a "scary situation" on Canal Street as the second wave of fear and panic gripped people.

He told his terrifying story of opening a bottle of water and being told by a police officer not to make a big show of drinking it because "it might be coveted" by somebody who, unlike Mr. Olshan, did not have a free ticket out of the disaster area!

This little toady with his simpering, self-conscious delivery and complete lack of empathy made me ill! Mr. Olshan obviously couldn't figure out that people were taking clothing and sneakers because they were thirsty and soaked to the bone with salt water that was mixed with sewage!! Salt water is hell on sneakers and clothing, especially when one has been in unbearable heat for days without benefit of a fresh-water shower or a nice air-conditioned company-owned SUV!

After Olshan recounted this story, O'Reilly referred to the people in New Orleans as "thugs."

While FOX aired photos of African-Americans taking food off of shelves, O'Reilly dug himself in deeper by saying" "Yeah. I mean, look. I'm tryin' to find out if a criminal element made a calculated decision to stay in town so they could loot. That's what I'm tryin' to figure out."

His next guest, New Orleans resident Lisa Cardon, a FOX News radio correspondent reporting from the Houston Astrodome, wasn't much better. It was clear from the segment that the FOX Memo of the Day instructed everyone to ratchet up the level of fear. Cardon dutifully upped the ante by reporting that prisoners were being released en masse from the jails and that the police warned her to get out so she could avoid being the victim of unmentionable crimes. However, yet again the clips shown by FOX during this segment were of peaceful people gathering up food and clothing.

However, the subtext of the interview was clear - there are a lot of desperate people in New Orleans who want to get out of the city so badly that they are willing to commandeer any form of transportation in order to escape.

O'REILLY : ... You were stayin' in a nice hotel on Canal Street - the Omni - and I've stayed there. Was that hotel functioning? Did they have their security guards? Could they protect you inside that hotel?

CARDON: They did throughout the storm but then things did begin to disintegrate and they told us they clearly can't protect us and we need to get out. There was literally no room for any sort of protection whatsoever and that is what we did and when we got out we were on Canal Street, people were banging on our windows. We saw looting. We saw people running in and out of stores, bending security bars and taking things.

O'REILLY: Yeah. But that's been goin' on not only in New Orleans but almost every other place where these people can do it.

[Here O'Reilly didn't dare use the word "Mississippi" even in a context where it was clearly called for! As for his use of the words "these people" - well, we all know who "they" are, now, don't we? Wink. Wink.]

O'REILLY (continuing): In fact, Jeremy, we hear that there are some gangs roaming with AK-47s on the street of New Orleans tonight, this is so out of control because a lot of the gun stores were looted ...

OLSHAN: Right!

O'REILLY: .. and they got, you know, pretty heavy-duty weaponry. We also hear reports that some of the police have been looting. That is posted on the New Orleans Picayune's website, the newspaper in town. So, I don't know whether this situation is totally out of control or not. It's hard to ascertain that but what's your best guess?

[COMMENT: Bill should have done a slo-mo on the looting clips FOX aired on August 30th. As I noted in an earlier post, their very own clips clearly showed evidence of police looting. However, that scoop was missed by the FOX team. During Scott McClellen's press briefing this morning, one of the reporters quizzed him about FEMA's decision to halt rescue operations because they feared for the safety of their rescue crews. She questioned the accuracy of reports of gunfire and violence, claiming that there's mounting evidence that many of these accounts are "urban legends." ]

OLSHAN: It seems clear to me the police had no control of the situation. There was very poor communication between them. They weren't getting word from their superior officers about what they should be doing. They looked scared too.

O'REILLY: What about the National Guard?

CARDON: Yeah, and, Jeremy, I agree with that.

O'REILLY: Is the Guard in there yet? We've seen the helicopters and we know there are some military but the National Guard should be down there soon, shouldn't they?

OLSHAN: They're in there but they weren't - I think their efforts were focused more on - you know - where the breach was than where the people were - still need to be rescued.

O'REILLY: Uh-huh.

OLSHAN: I think the parts of the city where the water was less of an issue were just completely unprotected.

O'REILLY: Lisa, do you feel - I mean, you said there were people banging on the windows of your car as you - and you were able to drive out of town through the water and get out of there. You're obviously in Houston now.

CARDON: It took - yeah! - It took us a while but we had l- believe me, we had lots of distractions. People running across the front of our car, telling us to stop. People banging on our windows, telling us to roll them down.

O'REILLY: So you felt like you were in danger?

CARDON: I did. I thought they were gonna commandeer the car!


CARDON: I really did! And - uh...

O'REILLY: Now, Jeremy, did you feel you were in danger?

OLSHAN: I absolutely did. I was far less concerned with the rising water level than the - uh - this inability of - you know - the police or anyone else to keep the state safe.

O'REILLY: Yeah. Well we need to get the National Guard down in New Orleans and find - you know, get things under control. If there are people roamin' around with AK-47s, they gotta be disarmed.

The segment that followed covered the effects of Katrina on the Gulf shore of Mississippi. O'Reilly's whole tone changed. The clips showed the physical devastation - downed trees and homes that had been reduced to rubble, etc. When O'Reilly interviewed Kris Axtman of the Christian Science Monitor, she was positioned ina large, well-lighted, clean gym with the constant drone of a woman on a loudspeaker who gave the impression of orderliness.

O'Reilly asked if she'd seen any signs of "exploitation" (he did not use the word "looting") and she responded that they "did see people who were going into open stores ... and gathering whatever they could, whether it be sodas or chips. The Wal-Mart right on the beach had been blown entirely out and all the contents had been strewn out the back and people were coming with trucks and backing up to that lot and taking whatever they could from the Wal-Mart."

She went on to explain (twice, because O'Reilly didn't catch it the first time) that the police in that section of Mississippi had 12 of their 19 squad cars destroyed and were literally unable to respond to very many emergencies and that the police department had lost 97% of its equipment.

O'Reilly made no editorial comments about "thugs" in Mississippi. Here's how he approached the Mississippi looting - er - "exploitation" situation:

O'REILLY: ...We have to basically secure these areas, I think, because there is no shortage of people who would go in and steal stuff and break stuff and make a bad situation even worse. Did you ever feel like our reporters in New Orleans did, in any jeopardy at all, Kris?

AXTMAN: Not - not at all. We - we found it very safe down there and I mean we had a big vehicle that we were in, and so we didn't - we didn't - we never felt like we were in danger at all. Everybody was very nice. Everyone was really in - just in shock, looking through their personal belongings ...

O'REILLY: So you didn't have - you didn't have the urban menace that we're experiencing in New Orleans?

AXTMAN: Absolutely not.


O'Reilly wound up this segment by saying: "The southern Mississippi situation is a little less intense than the New Orleans situation and right now they're busy - you know - figurin' out how they're gonna clean this thing up. Looting is not as intense as it is in the Crescent City. And you're over in - now how are these refugees in Baton Rouge behind you? Are they stoic about the situation? Things look pretty calm there.

Axtman explained that she was surprised when she got to Baton Rouge that things were so peaceful.

O'Reilly's next segment was an ode to the city of Houston which has opened their Astrodome to the refugees from the Superdome. Houston Judge Robert Eckles explained that the displaced New Orleans residents would have hot showers, water, food, medical care and a bed and then would be processed through to other shelters. Judge Eckles pointed out that they even had counselors to help with drug abuse problems and would provide cell phones and computers to facilitate contact with loved ones and friends. Eckles noted that "We're trying to be good neighbors."

O'REILLY: But I have to applaud you and the state of Texas - to put all that all together in 48 hours ...

ECKLES: We have contingency plans in place for this kind of storm here. We've drilled this for years. We know that but for the grace of God this could be comin' up through Galveston. We had Carla in the 60s. We had Galveston wiped out ...

O'REILLY (overtalked last 5 words): But that was still an amazing situation. On paper, it's one thing, but to put it into action ... and to be able to serve 50,000. And I understand in Dallas in the Reunion Center they're doing [it] on a lesser scale ...

The rest of the show was 100% New Orleans disaster stories. Bill did a phone interview with 77-year-old Shirley Washington and arranged for a boat to rescue her and her 98-year-old mother.

Shepard Smith conducted a series of spot interviews of various people in New Orleans. Unlike O'Reilly's dramatic rescue clip, in this montage Smith merely asked questions. There was no on-camera indication that he had any intention of actually HELPING the people he was interviewing. Perhaps that occurred off-camera. I would hate to think that he just left them there - the woman with the feverish child. The man who had spent the night rescuing others. The man who just wanted a bed to sleep in and food to eat. The outraged woman asking repeatedly for help for the sick in the projects. The man who told about a human chain that was almost run over by a vehicle that wouldn't stop. (I wonder if that car belonged to either Jeremy Olshan or Lisa Cardon?)

Earlier Bill O'Reilly referred to the lawless "Urban Menace" wandering throughout New Orleans. Yet here in this set of clips, Shepard Smith clearly wasn't in the least worried about his personal safety. He did seem eager, however, to create an impression - through these clips - of a city in despair, a city in ruin, a city on the edge, a city crying out for salvation, a city run by incompetent toads who obviously didn't have an effective emergency plan in place.

If my local county is any indication of the effects of the Bush administration policy of slashing funds for first responders, long before Katrina arrived, New Orleans may have been underfunded and its police and fire departments stretched to the limit because Bush had to have money for his tax cuts for the wealthy and - more importantly - his preemptive, illegal, immoral and hugely costly war in Iraq.

As for the differences between New Orleans and the Gulf shore, there's a difference between being trapped in a city full of salt water and not being trapped at all. The people in Biloxi and Baton Rouge can WALK or HITCH or RIDE anywhere they want to go. Many of the people in New Orleans cannot because of the water.

Texas is all Republican.

Mississippi's Senator is that Grand Old Republican Trent Lott.

Lousiana's Senator is freshman Democrat Mary Landrieu, who took the state in a hotly contested and bitter run-off election.

Baton Rouge is represented by Republican Congressman Richard Baker.

New Orleans is represented by Democratic Congressman William J. Jefferson.

Most noticeable about the sole Factor segment on Mississippi's damage was the complete absence of any footage of "exploiters" hauling away loot from the Wal-Mart. FOX's utter and complete hypocrisy astounds me. When are their viewers going to wake up and smell the propaganda?

As for the disaster relief efforts,everyone is asking (even Bill O'Reilly): Where's the military? This has got to be the slowest federal response to a national disaster ever.

Where is the Coast Guard?

The Merchant Marine?

The Navy with its pontoon boats, amphibious planes and helicopters?

By now, shouldn't there be oodles of armed National Guard troops scooting up and down the watery recesses of New Orleans, rescuing stranded people?

At least the President had lunch today with Alan Greenspan.

That makes me feel much better.

Post a comment

Remember Me?

We welcome your opinions and viewpoints. Comments must remain civil, on-topic and must not violate any copyright or other laws. We reserve the right to delete any comments we deem inappropriate or non-constructive to the discussion for any reason, and to block any commenter for repeated violations.

Your email address is required to post, but it will not be published on the site.