A conversation between Fox News pundits Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reilly – containing a couple of prominent inaccuracies and the assertion that everything outside the French Quarter in New Orleans is a “vast urban wasteland” – drew an angry letter from a collection of local civic groups on Monday.
The segment aired last Friday after video clips emerged in court showing prisoners at the Orleans Parish jail complex drinking, using drugs and brandishing a gun while behind bars. After running the clip, Rivera and O’Reilly discussed the city’s crime and corruption problems in the same astonished tones that many locals have, but fired off sweeping generalizations about how New Orleans has been corrupt for “hundreds of years,” and how problems plaguing the criminal justice system look solvable if enough residents would just demand some tougher police tactics.
“As you may know, that city has been corrupt ever since Andrew Jackson defeated the British down there in the Battle of New Orleans,” O’Reilly said in introducing the report.
Dear Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Rivera:
Your April 5 “Fridays with Geraldo” segment, “New Orleans prisoners gone wild,” was a
disservice to New Orleans, America and the truth. Its broadly dismissive tone was all the
more disconcerting because as recently as February 4 you had proclaimed, “New Orleans
has come back big time from Katrina. It’s once again a great American destination.”
Now let us be clear: the truth is that the prison video is shocking. But it is also true that
the video is four years old, and that the prison has been closed. There will be
consequences. And we are confident that we will fix this problem, because as you will
see below, the truth is that New Orleans has confronted and defeated an extraordinary
range of other challenges over the past five years.
On this theme, The Wall Street Journal recently ran a much broader, more balanced and
more accurate story – “The Real Super Bowl Winner: Why New Orleans Came Back
from Katrina Better than Ever” (attached). In this piece, the Journal describes how New
Orleans is now a national model for reform, suggesting “Other troubled cities and
Washington, take note.”
For the truth is, in the few years since the devastation of Katrina, the largest manmade
disaster in the history of the United States, New Orleans has addressed long-standing
challenges with a speed and efficacy unprecedented in the history of our great nation.
* * *
In your segment you asked two basic questions about New Orleans: “Why can’t it
improve?” and “Why doesn’t it get better?” The truth is, it can and it does, dramatically.
There is a preponderance of evidence:
Education – Previously burdened with some of the worst schools in the country, New
Orleans was recently named “America’s Best City for School Reform,” and the
graduation rate has now passed the national average. Our universities are booming too,
with Tulane recently attracting more applications – 44,000 – than any other private
school, of any size, in the country.
Civic Reform – With diverse civic and business groups working in partnership with
political leadership, New Orleans has “enacted more major reforms simultaneously than
any other modern city” (Brookings Institution).
• Establishment of Office of Inspector General - now a national model
• Establishment of Independent Police Monitor - also a national model
• Consolidation and Reform of Levee Boards - providing oversight to make post-
Katrina Army Corps projects the most efficient and effective in modern history
• Consolidation of Property Assessors – breaking up century-old political dynasties
• Implementation of Master Zoning Plan with Force of Law – to guide planning for
the next 20 years of New Orleans
• Development of Public/Private Partnerships – based on national best practice
models for economic development and youth recreation
• Implementation of State Ethics Reform – taking Louisiana to #1 in the USA in
ethics disclosure laws (Center for Public Integrity)
Economic Development – Buoyed by business-friendly leadership, New Orleans has
been described as “the greatest turnaround of our lifetime” by Richard Karlgaard, the
publisher of Forbes. Over the past two years we have been named #1 in the USA for:
• Improved City for Business (Wall Street Journal)
• Employment Growth (Brookings)
• Technology Job Growth (Forbes)
The fact that global companies like GE Capital are choosing New Orleans for expansion
(300 new jobs announced in 2012) is hard evidence of this improvement.
Entrepreneurism – Post-Katrina New Orleans is also one of the most entrepreneurial
places in America, and now leads the USA by 30% in number of start-ups per capita.
Underscoring this, the Tax Foundation ranked Louisiana as the #2 state in the country to
start a business.
Talent – After decades of out-migration, people are coming back in record numbers.
New Orleans is the fastest growing city in the USA since the 2010 census, and was
named “America’s Biggest Brain Magnet” by Forbes for attracting people under 25 with
Flood Protection – From $15 billion of new investment, to a consolidation of levee
management, New Orleans now has the most advanced flood protection in the nation, and
is in fact actively involved in the new task force to assist post-Sandy New York and New
Tourism – Recently voted America’s Favorite by Travel + Leisure, a record number of
tourists visited New Orleans in 2012, over nine million, and New Orleans led the USA in
RevPAR (room rate) growth, at a remarkable 33% year-on-year.
In the name of truth we should also clarify some false statements from the April 5
• Our government is no longer dysfunctional. It is so good, in fact, from the
Governor down to the Mayor, that we were voted #1 Most Business Friendly
Government in the USA in a recent national economic development survey (Area
• Your assertion that 60,000 out of 320,000 New Orleanians are in jail is simply
wrong. The truth is, the prison population is about 2,000 out of a population of
360,000. Your number is such a misstatement that it best belongs in Mr.
O’Reilly’s “Hall of Shame” for distributing “defamatory, false…information.”
• Our murder rate is unacceptable. But it is not 14 times New York City. And your
comparison to the remarkable turnaround of Times Square in NYC neglects the
fact that that process began with Mayor Koch in the 70’s and took over 30 years –
and we have been at ours for about five.
• The notion that “everything outside of the French Quarter” is an urban wasteland
is simply slanderous, and is utterly refuted by all of the preceding truths in this
• Finally, perhaps the greatest inaccuracy in your entire story is the ending, when
you say that nothing changes in New Orleans because “folks aren’t demanding
it.” Things are changing more dramatically in New Orleans than they have in
any urban environment in recent American history - because we are demanding it,
and because we are doing it.
* * *
But don’t take our word for it – please come back and see for yourselves. On behalf of
the business and civic community of New Orleans, we invite you to come visit us in New
Orleans, so you can witness firsthand the extraordinary people and organizations that are
driving, in the words of Mayor Landrieu, “a story about the resurrection and redemption
of a great American city.”
This is the truth about New Orleans.
Business Council of New Orleans and River Region
Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans
Greater New Orleans, Inc.