12 October

Media And Morals: Kanye West And Hurricane Victims

by Jon Katz
Kanye West And Hurricane Victims

Our President and the media often like to pretend they are enemies, each accusing the other of dishonesty, corruption and the erosion of our values.

The journalists (I was one for a long time) like to see themselves as unfair targets, as righteous warriors fighting to protect freedom and decency.

But yesterday, my heart sank to see how far much of the media has sunk from a high moral ground. As hundreds of thousands of Americans woke up stunned and frightened to survey the awful damage from a hurricane named Michael, the press corps gathered in mass in the Oval Office to hear the sad and incoherent ramblings of Kayne West, one of my favorite musicians, and a disturbed man suffering from  serious and acknowledged mental illness.

He was all over the news, much more than any homeless trailer survivor in a town called Panacea Florida.

This is a person I would never have interviewed a serious policy expert out of an ethical concern it would be irresponsible, even cruel to present him that way. We never interviewed or quoted from people known to be mentally ill.

While the news channels were filled with commentary and bizarre, rambling and profane imagery about West and his meeting with an obviously uncomfortable President to talk about “black” issues, many thousands of people awoke to find their homes and lives and work destroyed after the brutal storm in the Florida Panhandle.

The photos from Florida were wrenching and urgent, the photos from the White House were pathetic and disturbing in a completely different way. The scientists all tell us yet another time, that the ferocity of the storms are tied to climate change, and this is the future for us and our children.

One might think that would be a much bigger story than Kanye West, but it isn’t. It is gone already, the people in Florida already left behind and forgotten.

Why was the room flooded with cameras and reporters, why was anybody in there while so many of our fellow citizens were bearing the brunt of one of the worst storms in American history.

Why wasn’t everyone in that room in Florida talking to the people there, figuring out how to help them, so many numbed and in shock?

There was no discussion of climate change, of how to protect our Mother the Earth, or are children or grandchildren from storms like Michael. They are their future, our time to protect them is running out.  My heart was broken to see those poor people staggering around numb in the literal wreckage of their lives.

I kept thinking all day of Nero, fiddling while his city burned. I can’t blame this on any one man, we are all Nero, sitting in our hands. I hope my granddaughter can forgive me down the road.

What moral journalist would rather be in the White House recording Kanye West’s humiliation, what media executive would pair this creepy promotional White House political meeting with a genuine disaster and tragedy?

Platoons of commentators rushed to condemn West and ridicule his painful ranting. I felt badly for him, everyone around him failed him.

I have never bought into the notion that President Trump and the media are enemies, the opposite is quite true. The people jeering at CNN during those campaign rallies have no idea how much Trump and the cable channels do for one another – The President gets all of the air space any politician could ever dream of and the media gets new viewers, subscribers and money.

They are not at odds, each makes the other possible, they dance together every day. Enemies don’t do that. Yesterday gave the wood to that myth.

The media loves to posit itself as a moral entity, yesterday it bared its corrupt and amoral soul. Makes me sad. I loved being a journalist, I was proud of that every day.

I wouldn’t be proud now.


  1. No one could have said it better, Jon. Thank you. I was once proud to be a journalist…now, I have many moments of wondering.

  2. Entertainment and celebrities have replaced reality, work, and leadership in the West. People do not want to watch homeless trailer survivors in Florida, they want to see their celebrities pontificate on “real” issues. And in Florida itself, reality will be pushed aside again. Instead of putting a boundary around the leveled area, leveling everything still standing, and turning the area into a public beach and park, the taxpayers will again subsidize rebuilding with about a 99% chance it will all be leveled again in a few years.

  3. Totally agree. Yesterday pointed out how low we have gone morally as a country. Climate change is one of the many issues along with immigrant children still separated from their parents that there is minimal coverage on. The daily reality show has superseded what is actually important. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  4. It was truly a sad day for we,the American people. I was one sitting watching all news chanels for hopeful signs from Panama City Fl. I sat over 400 miles away hoping a Niece on duty with an ambulance service was not out in those winds, I was also hoping her brother still had a roof over his head, as well as another family members business was not taken out by storm surge. Later that night I saw footage of the painfull “talk” in the Oval office. I do not understand what is concidered news these days. I do not know who is or is not advising #45. I do not enjoy watching what looks like a manic episode, and the exploitation of the same. Yesterday was not a good day, except seeing signs of life in devistation.

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