Farai Chideya is a multimedia journalist who has worked in print, television, online, and radio. Prior to joining NPR’s “News & Notes with Ed Gordon,” Chideya hosted “Your Call,” a call-in show on San Francisco’s KALW 91.7 FM. She has also been a correspondent for ABC News, anchored the prime time program Pure Oxygen on the Oxygen women’s channel, and contributed commentaries to CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and BET. She got her start as a researcher and reporter at Newsweek magazine, is the founder of the award-winning online journal www.PopandPolitics.com, and is the author of three books, including her latest, Trust: Reaching the 100 Million Missing Voters (Soft Skull, 2004). Farai was on the ground in New Orleans reporting for NPR after the Katrina devastation.
The Death Toll from Katrina is already over 1,000 and we are not finished counting bodies yet. We have been keeping a Katrina scorecard, which says Katrina has displaced an estimated 1 million people, dislodging approximately 375,000 children from school. Customers in Louisiana and Mississippi without electricity hit 2.7 million at the height of the disaster. Despite these numbers it’s the after events of Katrina that have left many aghast and shocked.
Bruce Banter caught up with the busy information specialist who cleared up a few of the questions about the many media reports we have received.
Farai Chideya - On the Front Line
Playahata.com: By now everybody has seen the racist news comparison of those depicted as “finding food” vs. those depicted as “looting food” that appeared on Yahoo News. Did you go to New Orleans because you did not like the bias reporting coming out of mainstream corporate news?
Farai Chideya: Right now I’m working for mainstream, if not corporate, news. (NPR is a non-profit.) Of course there was bias in some reporting–as there is in the media in general. But I went not to copy or to contradict what other people were saying. I went to see for myself, and report directly for our audience (NPR’s “News and Notes with Ed Gordon”). Compared to the peaceful response of most evacuees, the violence was overplayed by the media. Nonetheless, there were real tragedies, like the raping of children in the Superdome and Convention Center. My uncle was one of the evacuees in the Convention Center, and he said it got pretty rough.
Playahata.com: Being on the ground in New Orleans and speaking to 'Nawlins' folk, do they feel that Bush's Policies doomed them? Do they feel Bush does not care about Black people? What’s the general conception and attitude of black and white 'Nawlins' residents?
Chideya: To be honest, I think a lot of the people who were hardest hit were so disenfranchised already they didn’t expect more from the government, which is sad in and of itself.
Playahata.com: Can you tell us why Blackwater mercenaries are prowling the streets of NOLA and what has been the reaction from New Orleans citizens from seeing professional killers coming in before they even sent food in?
Chideya: Most of the citizens were evacuated, or at least sent to evacuation centers, before Blackwater and some of the other security forces went in. So the people seeing these private forces are people like me–reporters–plus some of the wealthy residents whose neighborhoods they’re policing.
Playahata.com: What do the people on the ground say about New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin? It seems that initially he was being looked at as an outspoken hero who blasted the Governor and The President but now we hear much criticism of him
Chideya: I heard different opinions…some people thought he was effective; others that he spent too much time trying to cozy to power.
Playahata.com: FEMA is blocking Photos of Katrina’s Dead victims in the same way the Pentagon blocks photos of dead G.I.’s do the citizens of NAWLIN’s feel anyway about that?
Chideya: Can’t answer that one, I didn’t hear from any 'Nawlins' residents on this
Playahata.com: There has been a lot of Grassroots reporting that tells a different story than the mainstream reporting - Malik Zulu Shabazz was on "Like It Is" with Gil Noble in New York and the story he told along with the video was very unique, we also heard Pacifica affiliates (KPFA, WBAI) reports with Amy Goodman, Rosa Clemente, Malik Rahim and others being interviewed which paints a totally different picture. As a voice for corporate but not for profit media like NPR what story can you tell us?
Chideya: Well, at this point I can tell you that we are still covering this story, and we’ll continue to cover this story in the months to come. It’s not just about the people who’ve been displaced; this is a long-term crisis for the black and urban communities, and we need to keep looking at real estate deals; Federal aid; and the resettlement of these families. I applaud everyone who’s made a commitment to covering this story from the perspective of people who are usually voiceless
Playahata.com: Last but not least, your work studying pop and politics qualifies you to discuss the role of rappers being very outspoken, Kanye West, Mos Def, Chuck D, David Banner, and KRS-1 just to name a few. Could you elaborate on why rappers have come out the flood gates with Bush criticism but other art forms have been more subdued in their approach?
Chideya: Kanye definitely flipped the script on the NBC telethon, much to the delight of many hip hop generation viewers. There’s even been a Katrina remix of one of his songs. Despite the rise of bling, hip-hop still has the ability to be political, and Katrina provided a perfect change for rappers to show where their loyalties lay. But my question is: why is consciousness considered corny except when there’s a tragedy? We have to wrap our brains, as hip hop consumers, about why we let the art form off the hook and got satisfied with cartoon lyrics instead of substance. Maybe Katrina will give us a chance to refocus on what KRS-1 called “edutainment”…but only if we buy the records and listen to the rappers that have something to say.
Farai Chideya also blogs at http://www.faraichideya.com/
On a final Note the Katrina story is one that is continually developing and changing each day and we will stay with it but Playahata.com is with the status quo when it comes to Katrina criticism and that means we feel like the majority of people polled. The majority of people polled feel “The President, FEMA, HOMELAND Security, The Governor and The Mayor all fell short on preparation and response”. Nobody should pat themselves on the back or think they did a adequate job. They should all hold their heads in shame.