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The Media, Katrina & African Americans

As journalists, the number one dictum is to be unbiased, objective and accurate. It is with a heavy heart that I watch TV as the nation is in turmoil as a result of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. What is becoming increasingly frustrating and infuriating is the biased coverage that news organizations, including the Associated Presss (AP) are presenting to the world. It is irresponsible and incorrigible to characterize the behavior of people desperately trying to survive in unimaginable circumstances to be labeled as "looters." If you have a photograph or footage of people with TV’s on their backs crossing through neck high water, then it is fair to call them looters. But to say that people with bags of food, water or clothes are looters is ridiculous. It seems to me that nuances and word choices are being used to characterize an entire race. Additionally it seems that once again, black people who are the majority of the Americans suffering in New Orleans are automatically being characterized as criminals and thugs. Yes, there are a small percentage of people who are misbehaving. But the majority of people down there stuck with no resources are law-abiding, family-oriented, hard-working Americans in a dire situation–with no help in sight.

Instead of focusing on looting, why not have use some courage and journalistic integrity and focus on your journalistic duty–which is investigating and reporting the real story–the American government has failed it’s citizens. Why? Is it because the majority of the people are of low-income and of color? Is there a feeling somewhere deep in the subconcious of the powers that be, that because of this, their lives are worth less? Why after four days hasn’t more transportation from all over the country been sent to evacuate these citizens? To feed them? To save them? Why are people only being sent to Houston when there are 49 other states and millions of people willing to physically help? Why won’t they let private citizens in to help if they’re not going to?

By tomorrow–I fear that thousands of people will be dead of hunger and dehydration. Then America will truly have a riot on their hands. Why not use your power as media to initiate change instead of denigrating a people that are already down? (Think Woodward & Bernstein) You can help change things before it’s too late.

I’m tired of this–and so are the American people. We deserve answers, we deserve journalists that fairly cover our community instead of constantly labeling them. In the 1970s, my mother was at the AP as a reporter and was discriminated against and vilified because she was black. She sued the AP and won–opening the door for intern and editorial programs specifically for minorities and women! As a trained journalist I too have experienced bias in the newsroom–the double standard that black journalists can’t cover objectively because we are biased, or simply that we’re not cut out to be journalists. And most of you guys think you’re liberals–but the reality is that even in 2005 the same bias continue to frame your work. It is simply disgusting. Don’t pretend to be an objective and unbiased news providing organization if you can’t really achieve that.

MSNBC seems to be the only news organization that is covering this from an honest point of view–from a human point of view. This is not about race, except for the human race, and it is heartbreaking, disappointing and utterly disheartening to think that this is how America treats its own citizens. It is not about why people didn’t leave–at this point it’s about how do we get them out. That should be the number one priority of the government and THEN they can focus on the pipelines and the flooding.

So now I say, if there was anytime to be SUBJECTIVE and emotional as reporters–the time is now. You should be angry as U.S. citizens that our country and our leaders–who have put so much money into the military and into protecting America and the world is behaving like the Keystone cops, unable to properly organize the rescue of thousands of people in their own country. This is the essence of what Homeland security should be–and yet you tip toe around the issues when this comes up. If you don’t do your jobs, the American people are going to. We are going to march and protest until somebody saves those people. Even if we have to march in front of the White House or down to New Orleans ourselves.

I implore you to skip the melodrama and the hype, to put aside whatever prejudices you may have–to even acknowledge that you may be slanting stories because of bias you may not even be aware you have– and report the real story. Take these officials to task, don’t let them off the hook in the interviews until you have real answers about a plan of action—make them accountable, and use your power to help evoke immediate change.

This could happen to any of us, put yourselves in the survivor’s shoes–you wouldn’t want to be in them, and they shouldn’t be in that situation now.

Signed sincerely,

Morenike Efuntade

An Activist and concerned & pissed off U.S. citizen

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