Reporters' Roundtable: FBI Spying, Katrina Anniversary NPR's Tony Cox breaks down the week's top stories on today's reporters' roundtable. Three journalists talk about the government's spying on the King family, a controversial Texas death sentence case, and the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
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Reporters' Roundtable: FBI Spying, Katrina Anniversary

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Reporters' Roundtable: FBI Spying, Katrina Anniversary

Reporters' Roundtable: FBI Spying, Katrina Anniversary

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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TONY COX, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Tony Cox.

For several years after the death of Dr. King, the FBI actually stepped up its surveillance on his wife, Coretta Scott King, as you've heard. They worry that she might follow in her husband's footsteps and unite the powerful civil rights movement with the growing anti-Vietnam War movement. And we've just heard from the King's nephew, Isaac Newton Farris, and the investigative team at KHOU-TV in Houston who broke the story.

For more reaction and for the week's other top stories, we've got our Friday Reporter's Roundtable now.

With us today are Ernie Suggs, urban affairs reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Corey Dade, southern correspondent for the Wall Street Journal; and Katy Reckdahl, a contributing reporter to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Hey, everybody.

Mr. COREY DADE (Southern Correspondent, Wall Street Journal): Hi, there.

Mr. ERNIE SUGGS (Urban Affairs Reporter, Atlanta Journal-Constitution): Hey, Tony.

Ms. KATY RECKDAHL (Contributing Reporter, New Orleans Times-Picayune): Hey.

COX: We're not going to spend a lot of time on this because we've already gone over it. But, Ernie, since you're in Atlanta particularly - I know, Corey, that you are there as well - I want to ask you about this Coretta King story. I've been scanning the Web, looking to see how big this story was playing. And while I see it in a number of papers - and, Ernie, I saw the story that you did for the Atlanta paper.

Mr. SUGGS: Aha.

COX: It seems to me - and I like your opinion - that it's a little muted. That there's not a lot…

Mr. SUGGS: I wouldn't say it's muted, but when you look at the - it's 500 pages of documents and a lot of the stuff that's in there is not a surprise to a lot of people. So if you look at our story, look at the Houston story, you look at other AP stories, they pretty much wrote, you know, 20 inches of, you know, here's what's in the file, here's what the FBI thought, here's the reaction of the family. And, you know, there's not a lot of stuff that's a surprise. I don't think it's a surprise to many people that Coretta Scott King was looked at by the FBI. So I don't think it's muted. I just don't think it's a huge, huge story.

COX: Not as we feel.

Mr. SUGGS: There's nothing in there that's new.

COX: Nothing necessarily new. Corey, what's your take on it, and how surprised were you that they continued that surveillance in a way that they did, and that someone close to them was providing the information?

Mr. DADE: Well, I don't - I personally wasn't surprised at all. I think for African-Americans and other participants in the civil rights movement, this is a vindication. I think a more interesting question is whether this information may enlighten the attitudes of people who, once upon a time, ignored or discounted the claims of civil rights leaders that their privacy, their civil liberties and even their sanity were compromised by their own government.

COX: Well, Katy, I'm going to save you for the next topic because we want to get on to something a little more. I wanted to ask those guys because they were particularly in at Atlanta.

But another story…


COX: …coming out of Texas, hours before a man there was set to die by lethal injection, Governor Rick Perry commuted his sentence. Kenneth Eugene Foster was sentenced to death for his role in the 1996 murder of Michael LaHood. Now, he drove the getaway car, that's all. But for that offense, he was still given the death penalty because a murder occurred during the commission of a felony. Now, today, Foster is now looking at a life sentence instead of execution. How was this story playing in your area?

Ms. RECKDAHL: Well, I mean, we have been overwhelmed by Katrina anniversary coverage so we haven't had a lot of coverage about anything else in the paper, I have to say. We have had some note of this happening but I think the thing is in Louisiana, we've had a lot of movement from death row, people who have moved to life sentences. It's not an uncommon occurrence here. So I think it hasn't played as big in New Orleans as it maybe has played in the rest of the country.

COX: But what about in Atlanta, Ernie?

Mr. SUGGS: It hasn't played here at all, you know.

COX: Really?

Mr. SUGGS: I was reading the story this morning and went over some things last night. It hasn't been a big thing. I mean, you know, Texas is the capital of the death penalty. I'm sure it's playing big there. But it hasn't played here that well at all.

COX: Well, Corey, does it strike you as being unusual at all that the governor, particularly in Texas, which leads the country in executions, would take a step like this?

Mr. DADE: Well, statistically, it is unusual. This was his - this amounts to his only commutation of a sentence, of a death sentence when he wasn't compelled to do so by the Supreme Court. I think that the thing to keep in mind here is that the governor has a clear mandate from the state - from the state voters to continue meeting up the death penalty. And so no, this is not a surprise that it would be a rare occurrence.

COX: So we've had two stories, both with no surprises. Katy, I'm coming to you with story number three. And I suppose it was no surprise that George Bush would show up on the steps of the city of New Orleans this week, is it?

Ms. RECKDAHL: No, it wasn't. Although, you know, this is a city that's skeptical of the federal government and for good reason, we haven't gotten the aid that we deserve and as the paper that I contribute to, the Times-Picayune, editorialized about on the anniversary, we have gotten much less aid than Mississippi even though we suffered a lot more damage than they did. So it really is interesting that he would show up here on the anniversary on the steps of a charter school that really fought on its own to open up without the help of the federal government.

COX: Help us, Katy, if you will, understand the sense of what really is going on there. We, and the rest of the country, have been bombarded with news stories about Katrina, rightfully so, and yet so much information is coming out of there. It really is difficult to get a sense if you have not been to New Orleans since Katrina, what it actually is like to walk down the street to talk a look at the Canal Street or to look over in to the Ninth Ward. Is it a sense of hope? Is it a sense of despair? Help us understand where it is now.

Ms. RECKDAHL: It still is a mixed bag for sure. If you are walking down Canal Street, if you're in some of the biggest parts of downtown, the most developed parts, most of those broken windows that were - the walls of broken windows near city hall, those have mostly been repaired now. So in the developed parts of town, there really is a much better look than it was last year.

However, in the Lower Ninth Ward, it doesn't look markedly better. Other heavily damaged parts of town are starting to creep back but largely because of individuals' work. I think what we've decided here I think this is really a people's recovery and I don't know if that's come out in as much in national stories. We've been waiting on aid, we've been waiting on help from the outside that has been slow in coming, if it's going to come at all we don't know.

But what's been happening is people have been investing their life savings, their sweat, their tears into their property and they've been rebuilding this city despite everything.

COX: Well, Ernie, let me ask you as we bring the conversation to a close. We've got about a minute left. Because Atlanta is so close and because so many people in Atlanta, particularly African-Americans often go to New Orleans for dinner, for weekends, for whatever…

Mr. SUGGS: For Falcons' games…

COX: Absolutely. Are you finding that there is still a sense of people saying, you know, let's go up to New Orleans, or let's go down New Orleans, as the case may be, for tonight or a week?

Mr. SUGGS: I think a little bit. I mean, do you know Atlanta is the third largest city, the third largest city in terms of who have gotten Katrina evacuees into our city, we had a big - I wrote a big story about that that ran in Wednesday's paper so there's still a sense that New Orleans is somewhat of a sister city. But, you know, it's still, you know, you still hear about, you know, the recovery and I encourage anyone, any reporter or journalist out there to go down there and visit, to take a look at just how, you know, how far that city still needs to go. I think a lot of people in Atlanta still see that. You know, they still go down for the football games, still big and people from New Orleans are still coming up here for the games and things like that. But I think that there's a sense that it's - while it's a sister city and food is great and the entertainment is great. But there's still a bit of skepticism about going down there because of safety, because of what the amenities are and all those things like that.

COX: Corey, you get the last word but this got to be a brief one. Would you - are you going down there? Have you been - are you writing about people going there? I've got about 15 seconds.

Mr. DADE: Tony, I covered Katrina for about nine months from the time the storm was just subsiding to the reelection of Ray Nagin and then beyond. And so I continue to go down. I haven't been there recently but the sense of deprivation is still suffocating and…

COX: I got to stop you there, Corey. Sorry just we ran out of time.

Mr. DADE: Okay. It's all right.

COX: Corey, Ernie and Katie, thank you so much of being with us for this edition of our Reporters' Roundtable. Thanks again.

Mr. SUGGS: Thanks, Tony.

Mr. DADE: Thank you.

Ms. RECKDAHL: Thanks for having us.

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