Pilgrims and Ingrates
Despite America's strong hurricane
recovery, media find little to be thankful for this Thanksgiving
Free Market Project
Nov. 23, 2005
This holiday season is a bittersweet one for the entire country. For
most people, the theme for this Thanksgiving will certainly be
strength in the face of adversity. America has weathered a season of
violent hurricanes that cast a once vibrant city into emptiness and
despair. In response, individuals opened their wallets as businesses
cleaned out their inventories with the goal of helping hurricane
victims, and the economy, back on their feet. However, the media are
having a difficult time absorbing the spirit of the season.
When the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that it would
stop paying for hurricane evacuees' hotel rooms (not to be confused
with rent or housing arrangements for more permanent residents), the
media frenetically reported on the displaced who were "wondering
where they'll go." In four stories about the suspension of hotel
rooms by FEMA, the three networks described in narrow brush strokes
how those displaced families won't have much of a Christmas.
Astonishingly, the j-word did not appear in any of those network
This situation brings to mind an old William Faulkner quote:
"Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced
and discharged and used up in order to exist at all." By focusing on
the misfortunes of hurricane evacuees, the media have used up all of
the "electricity." There is sparse coverage of plummeting gas
prices, little to no news about the fact that economic growth has
remained firm despite the tumultuous summer, and nary a word about
the abundant job opportunities for displaced New Orleanians in "New
South" economic powerhouses like Atlanta and Houston.
There are two clear options for hurricane evacuees still in hotels:
return to New Orleans and begin the difficult endeavor of rebuilding
more than just home, but an entire city, or undertake the equally
daunting task of starting anew in an unfamiliar place. Both are
steep challenges, but surmountable in a country of boundless
opportunity and demonstrable charity. In an economic environment of
dwindling gas prices, growing wealth, and an expanding job market,
there is no wrong answer to the age-old question: "Should I stay or
should I go?"
The first and most important step should be to find a job. In places
like Atlanta and Birmingham, low-skilled workers have explored all
sorts of opportunities through job fairs and recruiting seminars.
Internet job banks have devoted entire Web pages to Katrina victims.
Incidentally, should an evacuee want to return home and start anew
in New Orleans, he would find a city starving for residents and
laborers. A local Burger King franchise is offering a $6,000 bonus
to employees who stay on for a year.
However, from the media's coverage one would get the impression that
employment is not high on the list of priorities for recovery. A
Bush administration initiative to repeal an old racist wage law, the
Davis-Bacon Act, met shrill opposition from union groups and the
media. Even though the repeal of the statute would have opened up
the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort to low-skilled workers, an
all-too-abundant demographic in New Orleans, the media chose
union-endorsed talking points over more jobs for those willing to
Another component the media are failing to remember is the lesson of
welfare reform, something that is especially relevant to this
tragedy. That step, taken in 1996, proved that the best way to get
the underclass off of welfare was to inform them that they only had
a limited time before they were on their own. As a result, today's
welfare rolls are half what they were in 1996. And countless former
welfare dependents are gaining valuable work experience and a
paycheck. No matter how heartening this trend might be for Katrina
victims, it hasn't resonated much with the mainstream media. For the
media, compassion is reliance on the charitable whims of government,
not temporary support with the ultimate goal of self-sufficiency.
In the most cynical context, the media are doing evacuees a terrible
disservice by enabling them to lean idly on a government crutch.
This manipulation is regretful, given that there are many reasons to
be especially thankful this holiday season: the charity of good
people, a healthy economy, abundant opportunity, and for many,
simply surviving the storm. Because they are too busy dwelling on
negativity, the media are missing the trappings of a true American
success story. And ignoring a theme of overcoming adversity that has
been recognized at many Thanksgivings past.
Charles Simpson is the research analyst for the Media Research
Center's Free Market Project.