"You simply get chills every time you see these poor individuals, as Jack Cafferty just pointed out, so tragically, so many of these people, almost all of them that we see, are so poor and they are so black, and this is going to raise lots of questions for people who are watching this story unfold."Clearly, he meant to say "so many of these people are so poor and so many of them are black," and his instinct for poetic parallelism led him to bumble into an extra "so." But perhaps some people do think his mistake let racism show.
Blitzer's quote mentions Jack Cafferty, and throughout the afternoon, Cafferty had been drawing attention to the way the media has not been talking about the plainly visible fact that nearly all the stranded victims of the flooding in New Orleans are black. Cafferty was discussing Jack Shafer's Slate article. Shafer wrote:
My guess is that Caucasian broadcasters refrain from extemporizing about race on the air mostly because they fear having an Al Campanis moment....Blitzer's type of error was far different from Campanis's. He didn't express a specific prejudiced belief about race. He just got tangled up in his own news-prose.
Race remains largely untouchable for TV because broadcasters sense that they can't make an error without destroying careers. That's a true pity. If the subject were a little less taboo, one of last night's anchors could have asked a reporter, "Can you explain to our viewers, who by now have surely noticed, why 99 percent of the New Orleans evacuees we're seeing are African-American?
But what were Shafer and Cafferty driving at? What should a reporter be saying about race beyond what the viewer can see for himself, that the victims are mostly black? Shafer writes:
What I wouldn't pay to hear a Fox anchor ask, "Say, Bob, why are these African-Americans so poor to begin with?"I don't think that is the most obvious question of the day, though. Consider these: Were the provisions for flood prevention and for evacuation and shelter so inadequate because mostly black people were affected? Would the rescues have come more quickly if the victims were white? Would viewers and reporters express more outrage at the pace of relief if we were seeing white victims?
When one network took time from its Katrina coverage to provide a bogus "update" on the search for Natalie Holloway, all those questions sprang to my mind.