Black Leaders Spin While Black Journalists Listen
C. Ray Nagin wasn't taking the bait.
Already, the mayor of New Orleans had accused the media of missing the ongoing story of his citizens' struggle to rebuild in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. Because of racism, neglect, general cluelessness and a willingness to let developers take over the rebuild, he said, the nation's media weren't getting the story.
Facing a packed meeting room at the National Association of Black Journalists' national convention in Indianapolis Friday, Nagin blasted those who would make his citizens be fingerprinted and interviewed for hours before getting relief funds (of course, he glosses over the hit federal officials have taken for handing out relief funds to people who didn't need it in Florida). And he blamed a needlessly complicated state bureaucracy for slowing down his city's access to funds.
Wait a minute. Was he accusing Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco -- who he is known to have problems with -- of holding up his access to funds?
"The dollars flow from the governor's office," Nagin said, just before i asked him if he was fingering Blanco as the source of his money problems. "Don't be hoodwinked...into thinking the eople in new Orleans can't get the job done."
Nagin was a slick, charismatic presence, blaming the media for inaccurate coverage -- without acknowledging that he and former police chief Eddie Compass were passing along a fair amount of misinformation during the crisis. He claimed journalists still weren't telling all the stories out there -- even though news outlets such as National Public Radio and NBC have bureaus in the city, and Anderson Cooper has been aggressively targeting Katrina rebuilding problems through a regular feature called "Keeping Them Honest."
"It's a a city that is being strangled," said Nagin, tapping into the natural empathy many NABJ members have for the black, poor victims of Katrina-caused flooding. "Very few of the dollars have gotten to the local governments or the residents themselves."
Moderated by Michelle Norris of NPR's All Things Considered, Nagin's appearance was the kind of thing which happens often during the NABJ convention -- which this year has attracted everyone from NPR's ed Gordon and CNN's Suzanne Malveux to civil rights leader Al Sharpton, acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., and, um, me.
It would take too long to explain why this convention means so much to me and other black journalists. instead, i suggest you read a column I pulled together this morning for the Poynter Institute's Web site here.
Besides seeing friends you never encounter elsewhere, NABJ's convention usually provides some news. This year:
Ed Gordon announced a new TV venture, a nationally syndicated TV show called One World With Black Enterprise, which will air at 5:30 a.m. Fridays on WTVT-Ch. 13 in Tampa. Lots of folks were buzzing about Gordon's future, thanks to my story on monday about NPR's problems with his radio show, News & Notes.
I appeared Thursday on Mitch Albom's radio show from Detroit, talking about the renewed hysteria regarding Jon Benet Ramsey
Al Sharpton complained Thursday about those who criticize the lack of cohesive leadership among black civil rights leaders, but also insist that black people have wide-ranging opinions and are not monolithic.
"We're enterting this debate longing for something we never had," he bellowed. "Weve always had multiple leaders and lots of ego. Why can't we do what we do, hope to help people and hope we'll be remembered, too?"
It's tiring and filled with lots of distraction. But the NABJ conference is also a major battery recharge for many journalists of color who feel isolated and neglected in jobs at mainstream news outlets. And it doesn't even end until Sunday...