Does Class Matter? Does Taste?

On Monday we noted that the press, in reporting on the people left behind in New Orleans, for the most part failed to acknowledge that these people were, by an overwhelming margin, the area’s have-nots.

But to hear Jonah Goldberg tell it on the National Review’s blog, The Corner, this morning, the press is actually focusing too much attention on the poor in its hurricane coverage. Goldberg points to an ABC News story with the headline, “Poorest Hit Hardest by Hurricane Katrina. Disaster Disproportionately Affects Those Who Can Least Afford It,” and later objects to what he calls the “reflexive playing of the class card.” “Whatever happened,” Goldberg wonders, “to the idea that unity in the face of a calamity is an important value? We’re all in it together, I guess, except for the poor who are extra-special.”

Well, not as “extra-special” as the Kogan family of suburban Chicago which, the Chicago Tribune reports today, was surprised to find it “had become the media ‘get’ of the day” on Monday, having fielded 80 interview requests — from CBS, CNN, and NBC, among others.

On the off chance that you haven’t heard the Kogans’ tale, here it is in a nutshell: The family, in New Orleans to settle their 18-year-old son in at Tulane University, couldn’t find a rental car to get them the hell out of town as Katrina bore down. So they paid a limo driver $3,700 early Monday morning to whisk them (son included) out of harm’s way and home to Chicago.

Surely a press that “reflexively plays the class card,” as Goldberg claims, would take a moment to note the obvious: that the Kogans, unlike tens of thousands of others, were fortunate enough to have the resources to hire a limousine to shuttle them to safety.

Well, actually, no.

Let’s take a look:

Tucker Carlson, who landed a live interview with the Kogan family for Monday night’s “The Situation” on MSNBC, twice remarked how the family escaped the disaster “in style” and noted that it “sounds like [the limo ride was] a good time, better certainly than the other option which apparently was to get on a … bus and drive to Jackson, Mississippi, to spend an unknown period of time in a shelter there.” Carlson ended the interview by asking Kyle Kogan whether he would be “tak[ing] a limo back” to Tulane once the University re-opened and then, without missing a beat, Carlson was on to: “Still ahead, hell blew through Monday morning. Pictures, prognosis from Mobile, Alabama …” Perhaps the caption that ran below the very photogenic Kogan family during the segment — “$3700 to Escape New Orleans?” — was MSNBC’s way of acknowledging the class issues raised by the Kogans’ story.

On NBC yesterday, both “Today in New York“‘s Darlene Rodriguez and “The Today Show“‘s Natalie Morales also commented on the “stylish” way that the Kogan family fled the hurricane. Rodriguez reported: “All over the Gulf Coast people were scrambling to escape the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. When it comes to riding in style, this Chicago-bound crew takes the cake. They escaped by limo … the 20-hour ride cost them $3,700, a price they were happy to pay …” Morales in turn observed that “some people escaped Katrina’s wrath in style” in her brief report on the Kogan family and then shared some banter with “Today” co-host Matt Lauer — “Can you imagine the gas [bill] on top of that?” Morales wondered. “Getting out of the storm’s path: priceless,” Lauer remarked.

And then there was UPI’s report, with the Onion-esque headline, “Katrina Ruins Student’s College Plans” and lede, “Hurricane Katrina has blown away at least for now the plans of 18-year-old Kyle Kogan of Chicago to attend Tulane University in New Orleans.”

For us, we’ll stick with our stance that too often the press fails to take class into account. Or taste.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.