Facts On PBS's 'NewsHour' Refute Byron Pitts Hyperbole on '60 Minutes'

August 30th, 2006 4:39 PM

This past Sunday on "60 Minutes," CBS correspondent Byron Pitts interviewed New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin, about New Orleans’ recovery since hurricane Katrina. Pitts’ hit Nagin with statements full of hyperbole, claiming there are "few visible signs of recovery" in New Orleans, and that there is "tons of debris still scattered about," yet, Pitts offered little in the way of facts and figures to back up his claims. However, a anyone viewing Tuesday’s "NewsHour" on PBS would have heard hard facts that contradict Pitts’ gloomy assertions. For example, Pitts claimed:

"Today, in one of the few visible signs of recovery, the 220 miles of levees damaged by the storm have been repaired by the Army Corps of Engineers."

A few seconds later Pitts stated:

"One year later, parts of New Orleans look the way they did days after the hurricane, tons of debris scattered about...Today, neighborhoods are still deserted, block after block of deafening silence"

However, Pitts ignored key figures in his report. On Tuesday’s "NewsHour," PBS’s Ray Suarez talked with Paul Singer from "The National Journal" and Donald Powell the Federal Coordinator for the Office of Gulf Coast Rebuilding. Both of these men offered specific signs of progress in New Orleans’ recovery.

Mr. Singer noted that the Superdome, which was badly damaged during Hurricane Katrina, will be reopening September 25th, when the New Orleans Saints host the Atlanta Falcons:

"I mean if you can get the Superdome after what it went through built up and ready for a football game on the, what is it, 25th of September, that seems to be a model of something. That’s a building that was destroyed and has been rebuilt and is up and running."

That seems like a major sign of progress, that not only is the Superdome reopening, but the NFL is returning as well. If the NFL is returning to New Orleans, there must be people in the city to buy tickets, so it would seem not all neighborhoods are in the dire situation Pitts conveys.

Later in the segment, Mr. Powell offered facts on how federal money has been spent, and how debris removal is progressing while putting the removal progress into context:

"The taxpayers have spent about $3 billion just on debris removal. That was very important, and very, very important to the long term rebuilding. In just three counties in Mississippi, there was more debris than all of Hurricane Andrew and the World Trade Center. And that took two years to clean up. And here we are, one year, and 100% of the debris in Mississippi is gone, 75% of the debris in Louisiana is gone. So I think that’s remarkable."

Instead of pointing out this fact, Byron Pitts on "60 Minutes" chose to just refer to the "tons of debris" still laying around in New Orleans.

Powell, continued his statement on ‘The NewsHour," noting progress in other areas:

"Plus there has been allocated about $6 billion just for levee enhancement. There’s been a $1.8 billion dollars for education, $3 billion for healthcare. So the federal government in every department, every way of life, has made a contribution to the rebuilding. Just rebuilding roads, rebuilding bridges, getting airports up and going took a tremendous amount of effort. And they’re up and going."

Airports are up and running, roads and bridges are repaired, wouldn’t these be more signs of visible progress?

Along with Pitts hammering Nagin over the slow process of rebuilding New Orleans, Pitts’ piece contains racially motivated charges by New Orleans political consultant Jim Carvin and Leonard Moore, a professor of African American History at Louisiana State University currently writing a book critical of Ray Nagin entitled "An Oreo in Chocolate City." For instance, Mr. Carvin implied whites were ecstatic that African Americans were leaving New Orleans:

"With all the catastrophe the debutante parties went on. They didn’t miss a beat. Every day you picked up the paper and there was the debutante ball, as though there had never been a Katrina. That’s why the white establishment looked at the exodus of the black community and said, ‘we could make this a white city again.’"

While Moore asserted that white people have all the advantages as New Orleans rebuilds:

"I look at the post-Katrina piece as a game of musical chairs. The music is going, everybody's dancing, everybody's having a good time. But once the music gets turned off, the white folks have a place to sit down, a place to sleep, a place for their children to go to school. We're going back to a trailer."

Yet it’s not just African Americans who are suffering and living in trailers. Many white folks face the same difficulties Mr. Moore describes, as viewers of CBS’s "Early Show" have seen both on Tuesday’s edition as well as Wednesday’s. It would seem Mr. Pitts’ piece wasn’t just an effort to complain about the recovery process, but also an attempt to revitalize charges of racism that surfaced in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.