While we cherish the right of all Americans to experience freedom of the press and freedom of speech, we nevertheless wince when nitwits such as Geraldo Rivera are given a national forum to pass judgment on New Orleans. Rivera caused a stir last month when, on Fox Network’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” he described New Orleans – outside of the French Quarter – as being a “vast wasteland.” Commentator Bill O’Reilly joined in the bashing, which was prompted by videotape of irregularities at Orleans Parish Prison, by pronouncing how corrupt the city is. Rivera also reached into his bag of clichés by labeling New Orleans “The Big Sleazy.”
New Orleans has been bashed before, and we’ve learned to take it. (Fortunately there are many more times when it’s glorified.)
Both Rivera and O’Reilly, of course, are unfair in their assessments of the city, by positing huge generalizations that could use a heavy dose of analysis. In the world of talk television though, that’s not how it works – generalities are scatter-shot with rapid fire.
We concede that it would be hard to make a defense of the association with corruption at a time when a former mayor is under indictment and the former chief executive of a neighboring parish is now in jail. Yet, there are same points that should be made. At the state level, since the last term of Edwin Edwards, there have been three governors: Mike Foster, Kathleen Blanco and Bobby Jindal. While there might have been an occasional bureaucratic misdeed, there hasn’t been a major scandal associated with any of those administrations. Eighteen years have passed.
In New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu will be ending his first term scandal-free. People may or may not like the Landrieus, but they’ve governed honestly.
Fox is targeted to a conservative audience, and we suspect that there’s an anti-city bias among its commentators. They might appreciate cities for their culture and history, but distrust them for their politics and people. Cities are generally havens for minorities, and they tend to form an electoral base that’s more in line with Democrats. Because cities take on such a burden of providing for the poor, they’re more likely to be corrupted by those who would exploit them. In modern times we had former congressman William Jefferson, who built a political base off of taking advantage of the less fortunate; in earlier days it was the old political machines that did the same with ethnic voters. In both cases though, the politicians also provided for and protected those whose votes they needed. Politics often dealt with problems that government avoided. If cites are a wasteland it’s partially because so much of their resources go to dealing with unsolvable social issues.
Rivera is a native of Brooklyn, a borough that was once controlled by political machines, and that in more recent years was a hotbed for violent mafia activity. Like New Orleans, Brooklyn is a port through which the world has sought entry. Like New Orleans, Brooklyn has been burdened to provide for the poor, but still in many ways manages to be great, partially because of those it has nurtured.
Geraldo Rivera has made a career out of sensationalizing the news. At this stage in his career it’s too late for him to change. Good journalism, by contrast, seeks the truth, no matter where it lands on the political spectrum – and the truth is that New Orleans is coming back strong.