For Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz the “message” of Katrina seems to be that until the hurricane blew away our complacency, we didn’t talk enough about race and poverty in America:

“The mounting problems of the urban poor, from unemployment to high infant mortality to family dysfunction, were long ago reduced to a blip on the media radar screen. Politicians rarely talked about them — John Edwards, with his ‘Two Americas’ speech in last year’s presidential campaign, was an exception — and reporters rarely prodded them on the subject. Bill Clinton spoke of publishing a book on race while he was president but never finished the project.

“Newspapers and magazines, meanwhile, have been chasing suburban readers who appeal to upscale advertisers. The poor, whether in New Orleans or Newark, were, well, very ’60s.”

Of course, we talk about race and poverty all the time. The problem is that the liberal media is still talking about them in a very 60s way, unaware or unable to face that the nostrums of that day (more assistance, a “war” on poverty) have proven disastrous. 

The press was almost uniformly giddy at the visuals of marooned New Orleanians, mostly African-Americans, because the sight gave them a chance to hurl 60s-style (and unsubstantiated) charges of racism at the president and the public.

“Evidence-free assertion of racism seemed everywhere,” writes columnist John Leo.

“The usual racemongers played their usual role. Jesse Jackson said the scene in New Orleans ‘looked like Africans in the hull of a slave ship.’ Carol Moseley Braun, the former Democratic senator from Illinois, said the scene in New Orleans was similar to the fatal neglect of blacks after Reconstruction. Morning show hosts at a New York City rap station detected ‘genocide’ in New Orleans. On a slightly more respectable level, black members of Congress, judges, and activists stoked racial polarization. ‘This is a racial story,’ said an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A black judge in Arkansas said Katrina revealed the ‘ugly, stinking, pus-filled sores’ of racism.

“A common charge was that aid would have come more quickly if New Orleans had been predominantly white. There is no evidence for this at all. Across-the-board incompetence at every level of government is a far more compelling explanation than racist intent or behavior. The hard-hit mostly white parishes around New Orleans waited just as long as the poorest wards of the city did for help….

“The media have been reporting on two tracks. One stresses the empathy and generosity of mainstream America, as reflected in the astonishing donations, the thousands of volunteers who poured into the area, the collection and shipping of tons of food and clothing, and the extraordinary efforts made by rescuers, often at the risk of their own lives. The other features the usual bitter denunciations of racist America. Which do you suppose is a better indication of where the nation wants to go?”