Tampa shock jock Bubba Clem "Haiti-ed out" while local broadcasters raise hundreds of thousands for disaster relief
And not just for those unfortunates caught in the middle. When the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina turned New Orleans into a flooded wasteland, trapping thousands in their homes and at ill-prepared emergency shelters, the awful spectacle of the governments' lackluster response became a Rorschach test for us all.
And now the earthquake in Haiti is providing the same lessons.
Witness the difference between Tampa shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem's reaction and other local broadcasters. As I write in today's St. Petersburg Times, Clem is busy explaining and apologizing for his harsh reaction to the flood of Haiti disaster coverage and relief fundraising last week -- he sent a post on Twitter that said "f--- Haiti" -- while area TV and radio stations are publicizing raising more than $275,000 for charity, with more efforts to come.
Clem, who points to a foundation he established to help the families of first responders such as police and firefights as evidence of his charitable spirit, says the money going to Haiti could be better spent in America. On his show Thursday, he drew a pointed line between Americans who needed help in New Orleans and the hundreds of thousands of Haitian left homeless injured or dead in the earthquake's aftermath.
Broadcasters involved in raising money for Haiti relief point out that America has a long, proud history of helping those who need it around the world, and it's possible to do two things at once as a society -- help people in our own backyards and spread that helping hand across the globe.
"Our listeners found this a compelling tragedy, right in our own backyard," said Rob Lorei, director of news and public affairs at WMNF-FM, which raised $105,000 in days for four different relief organizations. "We have a lot of people living here who emigrated from Haiti..they felt they had to do something."
It's easy to shrug off those at the center of Haiti's emergency; they're poor, they're black, they're led by a corrupt government, they've been mired in dysfunction since before declaring their independence from France. In some parts of America, they are the Ultimate Other.
But it seems to me that the kind of heroism we see as the American ideal really counts when you do something to help, even if it hurts you a little. Doing the right thing when times are good is fine; doing the right thing when times are hard -- that's real heroism.
I think it comes to down to a simple question: What kind of nation do we want to be when we grow up?
And how will we respond when the next disaster hits?