CNN's Kurtz: Should Glenn Beck be Fired for Calling Obama Racist?

On CNN Sunday, Howard Kurtz asked his "Reliable Sources" guests if Fox News's Glenn Beck should be fired for calling President Obama a racist.

As he pressed the issue, Kurtz must have forgotten how much attention his own network gave to Kanye West's claim in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that "George Bush does not care about black people."

In fact, in the weeks following the destruction of New Orleans, CNN hosts, anchors, contributors, and guests spoke openly about West's remarks, as well as whether or not the government's response to that disaster was racist.

Despite this, Kurtz asked his guests the following questions Sunday (video embedded below the fold):

  • Is some of this cable commentary getting out of control? Shouldn't there be a line you can't cross without getting fired? 
  • Is calling the President a racist -- not saying that he made a racist statement, but that he hates white people -- is that simply out of bounds? 
  • Is it enough for Fox to say, "Oh, that's just Glenn's opinion?" Fox News gives him a platform.
  • I've interviewed Glenn Beck back when he worked for CNN's Headline News, and he, you ask him about his inflammatory statements, and he'll say, "I'm just a rodeo clown," portrays himself as an entertainer. So my question is: how does he get away with this? He doesn't seem to be paying any price. If anything he's getting more attention.   

Hmmm. Is calling the President a racist -- not saying that he made a racist statement, but that he hates white people -- is that simply out of bounds?

Well, consider what rapper Kanye West said on September 2, 2005, during a telethon to raise money for Katrina victims:

I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they're looting. See a white family, it says they're looking for food. And you know that it's been five days because most of the people are black. And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite because I've tried to turn away from the TV, because it's too hard to watch. I've even been shopping before I've even given a donation. So now I'm calling my business manager right now to see what is the biggest amount I can give, and just to imagine if I was down there, and those are my people down there. So anybody out there that wants to do anything that we can help with the set up the way America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off as slow as possible. I mean, the Red Cross is doing everything they can. We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way, and they have given them permission to go down and shoot us...George Bush doesn't care about black people.

Was that out of bounds?

Apparently not, for moments after it was uttered on live television, CNN's Larry King asked guest Jesse Jackson about it:

LARRY KING, CNN: Jesse, I understand that Kanye West, a rapper at the NBC telethon tonight, unscripted, said that President Bush, George Bush does not care about black people. Do you have that feeling?

JESSE JACKSON: Well, he responded mighty late and mighty slow. There was one response to the tsunami and some years ago to the -- a response to the Armenian earthquake crisis, but he came in five days late, with platitudes. And in the case of 9/11, he came in two days later and embraced all those who were involved. There's a sense of alienation, a sense of distance, and we don't feel good about it.

I hope that there will be renewed commitment, not to just involve Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton, but why not involve people like Congressman Bennie Thompson from Mississippi and Cynthia Cleo Fields (ph) and Senator Bigenfiggis (ph). We...

KING: But you don't...

JACKSON: ... ought to have a sense of being a part of this, and we're not.

KING: You don't think he doesn't care?

JACKSON: Well, he does not show it. And that's the -- that's the rub. And we need to know, we need to have access for dialogue, and we don't have it.

The following day, on CNN's "American Morning," Soledad O'Brien actually defended West's remarks, and debated her guest when he disagreed:

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN: Welcome back, everybody, to a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING on a Saturday morning.

There was a telethon on Friday evening. It was to raise money for some of the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath as well. And very clearly frustrated rapper Kanye West had this to say about what was going on here in New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KANYE WEST, RAPPER: We already realize a lot of the people that could help are at war right now fighting another way. And they've given them permission to go down and shoot us. George Bush doesn't care about black people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S. O'BRIEN: We're joined by Tom Joyner. He is a nationally syndicated radio host of the show of the same name.

Tom, good morning. Nice to talk to you as always. Is Kanye West right? He says that essentially black people are not perceived to be important, so therefore, why rush to save them, kind of in a nutshell?

TOM JOYNER, RADIO HOST: I think your pictures explain it all. And you know, I'm not here for the, you know, would have, could have, should haves. I think the time is for doing something. And that's what we're trying to do on this end, is to help -- is to try to do what we can to help the people that have been affected. And we see that most of the people that have been affected are poor African- Americans.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, clearly, in a lot of ways I understand your focus, which is let's not lay blame. Let's try to get something done that's productive.

But at the same time, there are people who say it's racist. Black people are not being helped because they're black. Here at this hospital, I've got to tell you walking through, there's a lot of white people here. In a lot of ways, it seems the common theme to me, at least Tom, is socioeconomic. There's a lot of poor people here.

JOYNER: And I think that that is the -- I think that it's poor people. And poor people come in all colors. When you're in New Orleans, most of the poor people are black. And so you're going get those attacks on the system as being racist and not responding because they're mostly black people.

But again, you know, pointing fingers and laying blame at a time like this is not productive. And there are a lot of people out will who have been displaced. And we need to do something about these people being displaced and their lives upside-down.

S. O'BRIEN: At the same time, Tom, let me ask you this question. Kanye West had this to say additionally about overall media and their attention to the blacks and the whites in this crisis. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WEST: I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family, it says they're looting. You see a white family, it says they're looking for food.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S. O'BRIEN: Hey, Tom, here's what I think he's talking about. This is a picture we'll show you right here of the Associated Press. And this shows a black man. And the caption underneath it says this, "A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans on Tuesday."

And then you have this picture. This was from the AFP media organization. And it says this -- shows two white people. "Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store after Hurricane Katrina came through the area in New Orleans."

The white people find the bread, huh, at a local grocery store. The black guy must be looting. You can sort of understand his frustration, even though these are two different media organizations. Does he have a point here?

Hours later, "CNN Live Saturday" aired the following:

TONY HARRIS, CNN: Have you heard this? Rapper Kanye West used a telethon to voice harsh criticism on the federal response to the storm. West was taking part in an NBC benefit for hurricane victims last night when he blasted President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KANYE WEST, RAPPER: We already realize a lot of the people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way, and they've given them permission to go down and shoot us.

George Bush doesn't care about black people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS: Mr. Bush has signed a $10.5 billion relief package for storm victims. NBC issued a statement after the telecast that said West's opinions in no way represent the views of the network.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN: Well, many people are asking why is it that most of the victims stranded in New Orleans crying for help are black. CNN's Beth Nissen explores that very question.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the face of this tragedy and this, and this. Poor people, poor black people facing race and class as elements of this tragedy raises questions, some hard, some ugly, few simple.

Why so many African-Americans among the stranded, the sick and wounded, the dead? This is one of the simple answers: Two-thirds of New Orleans residents are black, many of them poor and in poor health. Many of them crowded into parts of town where the rents were lowest and the water table highest. Why didn't they get out when so many others did before the storm? Some were surely careless, heedless, but many more had no car, no money for a ticket out, no were to go, except to the Superdome and the convention center where thousands sought refuge and found a hell on earth.

Their stories have emerged in a chaotic mass, stories of heat, stench, of down spiral of breakdowns in plumbing, emotions, resilience, morality. With tens of thousands of people living like animals, some small number began behaving like animals, preying on the week, foraging, some taking what they needed, some taking anything they could.

Millions of Americans watching from a distance shook their heads and asked how could people come to this, to mob and shoot at rescue helicopters, to invade hospitals. Those still stranded in the swamped city answered with desperate angry questions of their own. How could no one come for us for days? Why so long before the National Guard appeared, before the chartered buses came, before rescue? Would help have come sooner if they'd voted more often or differently? Had stronger leaders, better local government? If there wasn't a war on and National Guard troops were home? If this tragedy was different on the face of it?

Beth Nissen, CNN New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Would it be different? A question...

(UNINTELLIGIBLE)

HARRIS: A question for our next guest, Reverend we're on. Reverend good to see you, my friend.

REVEREND JOSEPH LOWERY, CO-FOUNDER OF SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE: Oh, I didn't know we were on. HARRIS: The Reverend Joseph lowery joins us now.

LOWERY: Good to see you.

HARRIS: The president of the SCLC. Good to see you, my friend.

LOWERY: Well, thank you. It's good to see you.

HARRIS: I need your perspective on this, we don't want to shy away from the question of race, here at CNN, but we want context and perspective. A lot of folks are asking if the face of this tragedy had been more white than black might the response have been different? Take it in whatever direction you'ld like to.

The following morning, Wolf Blitzer addressed this issue on "Late Edition":

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Listen to what Kanye West, the artist, said the other night on NBC at a fund raiser for relief victims. I'll read it to you, and I want your reaction.

"I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family -- it says they are looting. You see a white family -- it says they are looking for food. And you know, it has been five days because most of the people are black. George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Controversial remarks, but I'm anxious for your reaction.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-Mississippi): Well, I think the response from FEMA and the United States government was slow. I've heard that from a number of people, not just Cornell West.

BLITZER: That was Kanye West, not Cornell West -- Kanye West.

THOMPSON: Oh, OK. Well, I've heard it from a number of people.

The real problem associated with this is why did it take four days to amass the kind of response necessary to deal with the situation? We have all the assets necessary to do this.

We could have staged them in an area and said, as soon as the storm leaves we can move forward and assess this situation in a better matter. If CNN can get its news crews into New Orleans and Biloxi and Gulfport in a timely manner, why can't we get the assets of FEMA and the United States government there to help the people?

BLITZER: And what's the answer?

THOMPSON: Well, we failed on that test, so what we have to do is continue to support the men and women in the rescue, to make sure that we get people out. But at the end of the day, somebody has to be held accountable. The president was absolutely correct. FEMA and DHS failed in its adequate response to this dilemma.

BLITZER: Listen to what your colleague in the Congressional Black Caucus, the immediate past chairman, Elijah Cummings, said earlier this week on Friday here in Washington.

He said, "We cannot allow it to be said by history that the difference between those who lived and those who died in this great storm and flood of 2005 was nothing more than the poverty, age or skin color."

You know, a lot of people believe that if this had hit another area -- at least the accusation is -- perhaps the federal government would have been more attuned, would have been better prepared.

THOMPSON: Well, all the records indicated that every time we've had such a disaster as Katrina we've responded in a far superior manner than we responded in this point. So, Congressmen Cummings and my colleagues on the Congressional Black Caucus are absolutely correct.

The following morning on "CNN Daybreak," Carol Costello discussed this issue:

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN: I want to talk about race relations and how they're becoming strained. And I know you've heard what Kanye West said. Friday night there was a fund raiser given by NBC. And on the air, Kanye West, who was a rapper, said this. And I'll allow our viewers to listen.

VANESSA WILLIAMs, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF BLACK MAYORS: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KANYE WEST, RAPPER: George Bush doesn't care about black people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Seems to be a sweeping statement. Do you agree with his statement? Did he go too far?

WILLIAMS: Well, if I may, Dr. King once said that in times where we have great love, you can have great disappointment. And what you're seeing here is that a group of people, a nation of people that have great love for their people. And when they're watching them not receive help and they're watching images that will remind you of third world countries. And you know I've heard many say this is Rwanda here in America. You know that's hurtful.

But I do believe that we, as a people, as a nation, have the ability to bounce back from this. But we have to bring all parties to the table. I mean our organization has been inundated with calls. We've spoken with Mayor Nagin. There's a great deal of frustration that's going on within the African-American community, because their voices are not being heard. So we really just need to make sure that not only the mayors but the key leadership are able to come to the table, to be at the table to address these situations.

COSTELLO: But by making statements like that, doesn't that hurt rather than help?

WILLIAMS: Well you know you really can't -- I would say in some instances it may be looked upon as though it hurts, but that's his truth. You know unfortunately that's the way he feels at this moment. And unfortunately that's the way many of African-Americans feel at this moment. Many of us that are in key leadership feel that way at this moment. And that concern needs to be addressed.

When we're watching us rebuild Iraq and yet we're hearing on television very insensitive statements by key leadership within our government saying that maybe we should not rebuild New Orleans. Well you have a great deal of people who are saying well if we can rebuild third world countries, why can we not rebuild New Orleans?

And so there's a great deal of concern that this is not, and I've communicated this to our membership, as well as to those who we have been able to speak to, that this is not just a black issue, this has become a class issue. This is an issue about poor people and black people and people of color that are getting no representation whatsoever. And therefore we are trying to be that voice. And I just really want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to do that today.

COSTELLO: Any time. Vanessa Williams, Executive Director of the National Conference of Black Mayors, thank you for joining us this morning.

Costello addressed this issue again the following morning:

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN: By now, it is a familiar refrain, the blame game. Don't play it now. Later is better.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's plenty of time for the blame game later on.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is not a time to get into any finger-pointing or politics or anything of that nature.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now is not the time to blame anyone. Now is the time to come together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's still too early to do too much finger- pointing. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Of course, there are two ways to look at that. One, it's true it is better, but for some it's a political diversion, directing attention away from what they see as a bitter truth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm calling for them to take care of Americans regardless of their color. Significant numbers of people in the Gulf are African-American. And we stand here because we are concerned about them.

REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I've said unequivocally that I feel race was a factor.

JESSE JACKSON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: There's a sense of alienation, a sense of distance, and we don't feel good about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Bush doesn't care about black people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: We know by the number of e-mails we have received the talk in your living room was hot about this issue, and we're going to talk about both sides of the issue.

We'll start with Callie Crossley, a media critic and social commentator.

Welcome, Callie.

CALLIE CROSSLEY, MEDIA CRITIC: Hi. How are you, Carol?

COSTELLO: I'm fine. When you hear it's not the right time to point the finger, doesn't that seem reasonable?

CROSSLEY: Yes. I don't -- I actually don't have a problem with that. I think that there are, however, some things that have to be raised as we go forward with coverage. And, in fact, by talking about it some changes have already been made. And I will point specifically to the use of the word "refugees" at the outset by journalists across the board, and now that word has been pretty much universally replaced with "evacuees."

Now, why does that make a difference? It makes a difference because refugees gives the impression that these people are "the other," somehow different, not American, where if you use the word "evacuees," you're really referencing the action and what has happened to them. And you are able to, I think, take an edge off of the perhaps stereotype about the people who were most affected here.

COSTELLO: But do you believe, as Kanye West said, that the president doesn't care about black people, and that's why the rescue effort didn't happen as fast as some people would have liked?

CROSSLEY: I can't think about Kanye West's comments in terms of what he may believe about President Bush. Here is what I can say about it. If you're looking from the outside, and not just from other Americans, but from around the world, nobody can understand why food and water could not be dropped to the population as the situation was getting increasingly desperate.

I mean, Carol, you know, the reporters were crying, saying to the government officials, food and water? Why can't we get food and water?

So, it's very hard for people to understand why that couldn't happen. And it leads you to think, well, if this was a different kind of population, if this population were not poor, if this population were not predominantly African-American, would something have happened faster?

You might be able to say the other response getting out to some of the other communities, bringing people out, some of the other response could be delayed. But not being able to do something as simple as getting food and water dropped, you know...

COSTELLO: But by saying that, Callie, aren't you saying -- and that's petty callous. Just because people are poor, you don't get aid there in time? I mean, on purpose?

CROSSLEY: I don't think that -- I don't think -- I'm saying, you asked me the question of why people would think that. And so, I'm saying this is the image that remains as the result of it, because you're looking to try to find a reason for it. You know that this is the most powerful nation in the world. And you can look and see what happened during the tsunami when food and water was dropped immediately by our people.

So, you have to ask the question, well, why is that not happening on our own shores, within our own country? What's the problem here?

COSTELLO: Well...

CROSSLEY: I think we're dealing with images that people can't shake. That they've been there for so long, they're so entrenched some of the stereotypes. And it's hard for people to respond positively when they don't see that the response was forthcoming.

COSTELLO: Right. I know that President Bush is trying to repair the damage, because he says he does car. His mother and father, Barbara Bush and George Bush, Sr., toured the Astrodome in Houston, visiting the evacuees.

Barbara Bush said on National Public Radio and I quote. She said: "Almost everyone we talked to said we're going to move to Houston, and so many of the people in the arenas here, you know, were underprivileged anyway. This is -- this is working very well for them."

What do you think she meant by that?

CROSSLEY: Again, I can't assess what she may or may not have meant. I'm going to, just looking at it and taking it at face value, I assume she means that this could be step up for people who were not doing well where they lived originally. But, you know, that's not for any of us to say.

Those were the homes of people. They had made their home there. And I think we have to understand -- somehow get to the point of understanding what is the population here and get a way to describe it.

I think the journalists really have been struggling with really how to describe using a language for poverty, because this is not an arena we cover. These are people who are mostly invisible to us. They do the service work, and they disappear.

I think it's really hard for people to understand folks without means, folks without ability to get themselves from one place to the next, because they don't have the financial wherewithal.

I think some of the journalism that's been reported recently has been brilliant and really detailing, I mean detailing. For example, describing from one man, he said, I make $340 a month. I mean, how could I get myself out, you know?

COSTELLO: Yes. And I don't have a car or the means to get out.

CROSSLEY: Exactly.

COSTELLO: Callie Crossley, thank you for joining us this morning.

We want to get to the other perspective now. Bob Parks, a former Republican congressional candidate, who has written on this topic.

President Clinton, by the way, said exclusively on CNN, we failed these people.

So, Bob, it's your turn now. You wrote a column on americandaily.com. And you're very upset at the images of blacks looting. You write, and I quote: "Black people in New Orleans should be made to understand that the whole world is watching. Any racism people may have is being justified every time they turn on their televisions."

Some might say that statement is racist. Aren't you using a broad brush?

BOB PARKS, AMERICANDAILY.COM: Well, when the perception is given on worldwide television that the only people who are doing the looting are black, first of all, I just don't understand in a situation like that is over this need to loot. We have been through this before with the Rodney King riot. I mean, there's just times when you need to get everybody together. There are boneheads in the world that will do things. And, you know, the looting, the lawlessness in New Orleans set back any progress that could have been made to get initial relief in. Right now, there obviously is a concerted effort to make this look like -- it was planned as a racist thing in the first place, like the Bush administration just decided they were trying to try to exterminate black people on worldwide television. I think that whole notion is absurd.

And I think the real story, which a lot of people are being very careful to navigate around, is to find out what was the lack of response from the local and from the state.

COSTELLO: Well, Bob, why is the sentiment out there that many in the black community feel that this was the reason that the response was so slow, because these people were poor and black?

PARKS: Well, because that is the story that a lot of pundits are putting out right now. I think there's a lot of damage control going on as far as the people who were really on the ground there who could have made the decisions. They did not. And it is an attempt to -- and anytime the people who make money on race, whether they be civil rights activists, these people are always looking for a reason to play the race card and say that Republicans and conservatives really just want to kill all black people. And here was a perfect opportunity.

COSTELLO: Who are you specifically talking about?

PARKS: Oh, well, let's see. Jesse Jackson was in town, was in Baton Rouge, for example, making incendiary statements. Let's see, Kanye West said black people -- or that George Bush didn't care about black people. You know, and for public policy experts like Kanye West to say things like that, I would venture to say the people who were being -- the women who were being raped in the Superdome were probably more influenced by people like Kanye West and his peers than by George W. Bush.

But, you know, at the same time, he's now concerned about the media perception of blacks when you look at the kind of music he puts out.

But anyway, I'm sorry to get off the subject a little bit.

COSTELLO: Yes, we have to button this up, unfortunately.

PARKS: Sure. But, you know, I don't -- I guess sort of the main racist comments that were looked at were when black people were looting, it was called "looting." When white people were seen looting, it was called, "finding what they need to survive." If that's the case, then that's on the media. That has nothing to do with what black people were doing or what white people were doing. Those perceptions come back down to the media, and media has been known to play these kinds of games before.

That evening, "Showbiz Tonight" did a lengthy segment on this issue:

A.J. HAMMER, CO-HOST: I`m A.J. Hammer.

KARYN BRYANT, CO-HOST: And I`m Karyn Bryant. TV`s only live entertainment news show starts right now. [...]

HAMMER (voice-over): Race and the disaster. The aftershocks of rapper Kanye West`s explosive racial comments during the telethon for hurricane relief. A firestorm of controversy raging tonight. Was Kanye on the mark, or out of line? [...]

HAMMER: Welcome back to SHOWBIZ TONIGHT. I`m A.J. Hammer.

Our coverage of the fallout from Hurricane Katrina continues now with a very touchy and very explosive issue that has really come to the surface recently: the issue of race.

Tonight, the aftershock from the bombshell dropped by Kanye West during NBC`s live hurricane benefit. SHOWBIZ TONIGHT`s David Haffenreffer here now live with the latest.

DAVID HAFFENREFFER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, some controversy here, A.J. On live TV Friday night, Kanye West shocked the nation with an off- the-cuff slam on President Bush.

He also had blunt words about an even hotter topic: the black victims of Hurricane Katrina. He suggested race had something to do with why so many people went without help in the days after the hurricane. His comment revealed the divisive undercurrent to the media coverage of the Katrina catastrophe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KANYE WEST, RAPPER: George Bush doesn`t care about black people.

HAFFENREFFER (voice-over): Days after rapper Kanye West rapped President Bush on live TV with those seven strong words, a fiery debate is now engulfing the platinum-selling rapper, the president of the United States, a former president of the United States and a major TV network.

It`s all about one of the most divisive questions to come from the Katrina aftermath: did race play a role in the rescue efforts and media coverage?

During NBC`s live telecast of its Concert for Hurricane Relief Friday night, West and actor Mike Myers were paired up to read prewritten remarks on the Katrina disaster. Myers stayed with what was on the teleprompter. West did not.

WEST: I hate the way they portray us in the media. We see a black family, it says they`re looting. You see a white family; it says they`re looking for food.

With the setup the way America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well off as slow as possible.

HAFFENREFFER: A few seconds later, West launched his broadside.

WEST: George Bush doesn`t care about black people.

HAFFENREFFER: And NBC then pulled the plug on West, and while West`s Bush bash aired live on the East Coast, NBC cut it out of the West Coast replay three hours later.

The network quickly defended its decision saying, quote, "It would be most unfortunate if the efforts of the artists who participated tonight and the generosity of millions of Americans who are helping those in need are overshadowed by one person`s opinion."

ROBERT HILBURN, "L.A. TIMES": I think that was the one true and honest and meaningful moment in the whole telecast.

HAFFENREFFER: Robert Hilburn of "The Los Angeles Times" is criticizing NBC`s decision.

HILBURN: We shouldn`t disenfranchise people because the network thinks it`s not polite.

HAFFENREFFER: but even though viewers on the West Coast may have not seen West`s comments, plenty of people did, and it led some to defend the president, like his father did on "LARRY KING LIVE" this weekend.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was one particularly vicious comment that was insensitive on ethnicity...

KING: Yes.

BUSH: ... insensitive about race. And that one hurt, because I know this president and I know he does care.

HAFFENREFFER: West is the latest person to address the racial component of the Katrina disaster, a debate that has been slowly building on the airwaves.

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: I`ve said unequivocally that I feel race was a factor.

NAGIN: I think it`s more a class issue than race.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN COMMENTATOR: Despite the many angles of this tragedy, and lord knows there have been a lot on Orleans, there is a great big elephant in the living room that the media seems content to ignore.

HAFFENREFFER: But now that it`s been taken up by West, a very popular rapper with a new CD that`s just released last week, it appears certain that the great, big elephant in the room, Katrina and race, is not being ignored any longer.

HILBURN: I think Kanye West is a great artist, and I think he said something that millions of people are debating in their mind. Is -- was the federal government -- would this have been done differently if this had been the heart of Los Angeles or Beverly Hills? Would there have been FEMA and all these people in there faster or not?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAFFENREFFER: That debate continues. Kanye West`s controversial comments won`t keep him off the airways. ABC says West will perform as scheduled Thursday during the network`s NFL season opener pre-game show. But don`t expect much from him other than music. He said today he doesn`t want anything to take away from the show -- Karyn.

BRYANT: David Haffenreffer, thank you very much.

And Kanye`s comments have sparked fierce debate, begging the question, has race played a factor in the rescue efforts and also the media coverage?

Joining us live to talk about that, from Washington, D.C., president and CEO of the Black Entertainment Network, Deborah Lee.

Hi, Deborah. Thanks for joining us.

DEBORAH LEE, PRESIDENT/CEO, BET: Hi, Karyn.

BRYANT: I want to know your thoughts on the fact that NBC edited what Kanye said. He said that President Bush does not care about black people. If you were on the West Coast, you didn`t hear that. What are your thoughts on NBC taking those words out?

LEE: Well, I think Kanye had a right to say what he did. Unfortunately, he said it in a show that was heavily scripted and not something that NBC was prepared for, but I regret that NBC edited it out on the West Coast.

Last I heard, this was a nation that believed in First Amendment rights and freedom of speech. And Kanye is a well-known artist, and he had the right to express his opinion.

BRYANT: And BET will have a telethon this Friday. Had this happened on your show, what would you have done?

LEE: Had this happened on our show we would have let Kanye continue, and Kanye is going to appear on our telethon on Friday. We look forward to hearing his opinions.

You know, as someone earlier said race it is an issue no one wants to address, but if you look at all of the images that have been shown this week, most of them have been of African-Americans. And there`s no question that African-Americans were affected more than others in this tragedy.

BRYANT: Well, here`s the thing. Orleans is a city that is almost 70 percent black; 30 percent of the people live below the poverty line. So some have argued that by simply showing the folks that live there, you are going to be showing more black faces.

I do want to know your thoughts on the idea, though, that the coverage has been, you know -- that, for example, the comments on the A.P. photos, calling black people looters, calling white people finders of food. I just kind of want to know your thoughts on the media`s tone of racism in this and whether you think it`s there.

LEE: Well, I think it was unfortunate this so early on that everyone was classified as a looter. We didn`t know the stories behind those people.

Wolf Blitzer discussed the issue again just two days later on the "Situation Room":

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Despite the devastation Hurricane Katrina has caused, also a political firestorm here in Washington. There are new criticisms of harsh comments from Howard Dean, and new comments on Vice President Dick Cheney's first visit to the disaster zone.

Here with me two guests, CNN political analyst Paul Begala, a former Bill Clinton adviser, and CNN contributor, president of American Cause, Bay Buchanan. Let's listen to what Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, said last night, among other things.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: Survivors are being evacuated. And as order is restored and the water recedes, and we sort through the rubble, we have to come to terms with ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Paul, is he right? Specifically skin color played a role...

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He didn't say that. He said skin color, and age and economics.

BLITZER: Skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not.

BEGALA: And that's just not Howard Dean saying that, or you know, some irresponsible rap artist who apparently said that last week. Don Imus, nobody's idea of a liberal -- he's a radio talk show host based in New York -- he's been saying all along that President Bush -- maybe it's not that he doesn't care about black people, Imus says, he doesn't care enough.

And when that sort of conversation gets going -- I happen to think it's not just race, that it's more class than race. I think that President Bush would have been just as neglectful of poor white people in say, rural Vermont. I think it's more about class than race. But these racial tensions are there. And I think both parties need to be very careful about that.

BLITZER: Bay, what do you think?

BAY BUCHANAN, AMERICAN CAUSE: And those racial tensions are there. And they should not be stroked by people in a position like Howard Dean who knows better. It's clear that the people who are poor in New Orleans were overwhelmingly African-American. We can't change that fact. It's also true that the poor and the elderly and the sick should have been taken out of that city before Katrina, because we all knew they would be the least likely to get out on their own. So, there was a mistake made whoever's fault it was, we should understand. But it wasn't anything to do with their black, it was their circumstances.

So, I agree with Paul. And I think that leaders in this country should be very careful before they're throwing out that race card, because that is not beneficial to either party. It's certainly not to the nation.

BLITZER: I think you agree with Bay on that, right?

BEGALA: Right. I'm not a great Howard Dean fan, I have to say. But I think he was not playing the race card here the way that that rap artist was. I think he was saying something that's inarguably true -- at least, I guess it's arguably true. But I think he's right about -- that race was one of many factors that disadvantaged these folks.

"Showbiz Tonight" did another segment on this issue that night:

KARYN BRYANT, CNN: Was race a factor in how the victims of Hurricane Katrina were treated? 

The following day, Wolf Blitzer invited DNC Chairman Howard Dean on the "Situation Room" to discuss the issue:

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Many Democrats have been quick to pounce on the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina, with some suggesting relief might have come more quickly if so many victims had not been black and poor. [...]

BLITZER: Do you believe the response from the federal government, the Bush administration specifically, the president of the United States, that there were racist or racial overtones in that response? [...]

BLITZER: Some, as you know, critics of the president, Kanye West, the rap artist, for example, have accused him of being a racist.

Later that evening, "Showbiz Tonight" aired a segment about West's appearance on the "Ellen Degeneres Show":

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kyra.

And Kanye West speaking about the issue for the first time since he made his comments last week, and a response from the first lady of the United States. It`s issue that many, including an overwhelming amount of SHOWBIZ TONIGHT viewers, have passionate feelings and opinions about.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WEST: You know, I`ve been brutally honest since I was a little kid and I think I was made to do this.

VARGAS (voice-over): Appearing on the "Ellen DeGeneres Show" just today, multi-platinum rapper Kanye West spoke about the seven strong words he spoke live at an NBC telethon last week...

WEST: George Bush doesn`t care about black people.

VARGAS: ... words that sparked a heated an emotional debate that has only escalated over the past week.

DEGENERES: Good for you for saying it. And it shocked people because we don`t know what to do with that; it`s hard to listen to that.

WEST: I was on the brink of tears, and maybe I did start crying. I don`t remember, it was just so emotional that I just felt like it was so many things that I had been hearing and bullet points that I`d been hearing that weren`t on those teleprompters.

So my goal was to go in there. And I told Mike, I was like, "Yo," I told Mike Myers, "I`m going to ad lib a little bit, so just" -- and I remember going up to Chris, Chris Tucker and saying, "Get ready for live TV."

So I just went up there, and I just wanted to bullet point these things that just disturbed me so much.

VARGAS: His comments and the reverberations from them reached the White House, and the first lady, Laura Bush, responded just last night in an interview with American Urban Radio Networks.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: I think all of those remarks were disgusting, to be perfectly frank because, of course, President Bush cares about everyone in our country. And I know that. I mean, I`m the person who lives with him.

VARGAS: The top selling artist`s words were quickly becoming one of the top topics in Washington. Here`s Democratic chairman Howard Dean on Wednesday.

HOWARD DEAN, CHAIR, DNC: ... that skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not.

VARGAS: And taking it up a notch on CNN`s "THE SITUATION ROOM," former Clinton aid Paul Begala responded to Dean`s comments with a strong accusation.

PAUL BEGALA, FORMER CLINTON AID: I think he was not playing a race card here the way that that rap artist was.

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": That rap artist being Kanye West.

VARGAS: That rap artist is now thrust into the center of an emotional and politically charged issue that has everyone talking.

SHOWBIZ TONIGHT has been covering the issue from the start. Your viewer e-mails on Kanye`s comments have been overwhelming our in-boxes.

Writing from New Jersey, Joel says, "I congratulate Kanye for speaking the truth. Let`s be real; if a natural disaster would`ve hit Beverly Hills, food, shelter and anything and everything else needed would have been provided the same day."

But Josh in Pennsylvania took a different view: "For someone in Kanye West`s position of the public eye to suggest that our lack of swift response to this natural disaster was racially related is absurd. Regardless of whether you are or aren`t a supporter of Bush (and I`m not), to use race as the reasoning for this is truly sad."

So, Ellen congratulated West for making this remark, and CNN shared it with its viewers.

When you add it all up, in the week following West saying "George Bush doesn`t care about black people," CNN practically treated the rapper like a national hero, covering him and his words on a daily basis.

BUT, four years later, when a white talk show host said that President Obama was racist for the way he handled the Henry Louis Gates-Sgt. James Crowley affair, a CNN host wants to know why the talker wasn't fired?

Why the double standard? 

If West's comments were compelling enough for CNN -- and virtually every other media outlet for that matter -- to explore whether or not former President Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina was impacted by his view of black people, why shouldn't CNN et al find Beck's comments compelling enough to question whether or not President Obama's response to the Gates-Crowley affair was impacted by his view of white people?

At the very least, given CNN's reaction to West and his remarks, it seems absurd for Kurtz or any CNNer to call for Beck's termination. The network established a precedent in 2005 that calling a president racist isn't over the line or out of bounds. 

Maybe the double standard here is an ironic vindication of what Attorney General Eric Holder said in February about America being a nation of cowards when it comes to openly discussing racial issues.

After all, if a black rapper is practically applauded by media for calling a white president a racist, but a white talk show host is lambasted for calling a black president the same thing, it certainly makes an honest discussion concerning racial issues rather scary, don't you think?

In fact, I will likely be attacked by folks on the left for having the nerve to write this piece. I almost guarantee it.

Doesn't make for a very open discussion when one side isn't allowed to say anything, does it?

In the end, maybe Holder was right, but I doubt very highly he looked at Beck's words as being an important part of this "teachable moment."

But how can't they be? If a black rapper calling a white president racist four years ago was a teachable moment, shouldn't a white talk show host calling a black president racist four years later be just as important a part of the discussion?

If the answer isn't "Yes," we really ARE all cowards.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.