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FOX News Reprises Its Katrina Coverage: With Thinly Veiled Racism, Blames The People Of New Orleans, Gives The Bush Administration A Free Pass

Reported by Ellen - August 29, 2006 -

Shepard Smith was back in New Orleans to give a one-year-later report on Hannity & Colmes last night (8/28/06). Smith woefully reported the lack of progress as he described neighborhoods without electricity, drug stores and supermarkets. However, it wasn’t just New Orleans that hadn’t changed much in the aftermath of Katrina. FOX News’ coverage was pretty much a re-hash of the same talking points they used last year: All government failures belong to the state and local governments, everything else is the fault of the (poor, black) residents of New Orleans and don’t even discuss the role of the federal government. Meanwhile, talk about how well Mississippi is doing. But don’t show any individual hardships or struggles.

Surprisingly, Hannity was very low-key in his comments and never made any direct attacks on either the Louisiana local government or its residents. That was just about the only difference from last year. And I don’t expect Hannity will be able to keep from assailing them for too long: A blue city with a black mayor is just too enticing a target for him. But for the time being, his discretion is appreciated.

Smith knocked Nagin early in his remarks to Hannity and kept up the disdain throughout. “460,000 people lived here before the storm. Despite what the mayor’s office estimates, the Postal Service says there are 171,000 people here now. Half the doctors are gone, 4 out of 5 of the psychiatrists are gone. Much of the business of the professional class of this town has left and in large part the reason for that may be (my emphasis) that there is no master plan. A year later, no master plan for redevelopment here, no master plan for infrastructure. They have a number of problems and fixing things up has been really slow in coming, Sean and Alan.”

Smith continued, “A professional planner will tell you have to have a plan for a place to begin. As a show of contrast, Mississippi has a master redevelopment plan. Developers are flocking in there. They seem to be coming up with sort of a grand coast scheme that may make south Mississippi someday a real showplace, not just for this region but for the whole nation. And there’s a stark contrast between that and what’s happened here.” Comment: Maybe from a business perspective. But for a lot of citizens, things don’t sound so terrific. For example, Reuters reports “Biloxi struggles to rebound,” and The Denver Post says, “Scars left by the fury of Hurricane Katrina are etched along U.S. Highway 90, Mississippi's once-scenic coastal roadway. Only foundation slabs of homes, condos and beachfront shops remain just off the highway. The coast is deserted, and the few inhabitants are volunteers, random beachgoers and a smattering of residents living in temporary trailers.”

Smith went on to blame the residents (and we know what kind of demographics they make up!) for wanting to come home. “The master plan according to the professional planners, would have included a smaller footprint for the city. Some of the more blighted areas that are going to be more difficult to repopulate would not have been included in that but Mayor Nagin stepped up and said, ‘No, we want to allow everyone to come back in every neighborhood.’ And as a result there’s just stagnation in so many neighborhoods.”

I’m sorry to report that even Alan Colmes joined in the theme. “Shep, you just put your finger on it. Mayor Nagin today, we saw him on the FOX News Channel saying, ‘You know, we’re going to make it bigger and better,’ and that’s the opposite of what, as you just pointed out, many of the planners are saying. They’re not all on the same page about the direction of New Orleans. Isn’t that the key problem here?”

Smith responded, “It seems to be. And there are those in this town who will suggest, people on both sides of the political aisle, and people who are professional planners and the like, who will say Mayor Ray Nagin’s plan – at least to observers here, not speaking for me here (no, of course not, just your bosses at FOX News), but it seems to many here to have just a political calculation (unlike, say, all the trips President Bush has taken to the region in the past year or the kind of reporting that overlooks any and all missteps by the federal government). Talk about chocolate city and you allow people from all over the place to come back into neighborhoods that can’t sustain themselves – as a result you get votes from those areas (yes, and maybe you could call it listening to your constituents!)… They had hoped to upgrade to a system now where the planners took over instead of the politicians. But that has not been the reality. And quite frankly large parts of city are a real mess. And it’s very sad, very sad."

Colmes asked, “Will it ever come back to life in places like that, where it’s so depressed?”

“They say they’ll figure out a way,” Smith said, without trying to hide the skepticism in his voice. “The idea is for each of (73) individual districts across town to come up with its own plan and then meld that into a bigger plan and then somehow get development. It sounds like pipe dreams. And so far, they’re not coming true.”

It's quite likely that local officials are playing an important part in delaying the clean up and reconstruction efforts in Louisiana. But it's quite definite that the federal government bears a share of the responsibility, too. Think Progress has an excellent, inclusive timeline of Katrina events, including, for example, FEMA's decision last May to close camps for volunteers, despite the fact that there was still a need, that there was nowhere else for the volunteers to go and despite allegations by local officials that they could run the camps for a fraction of the cost.