Radio host and former Reagan administration Secretary of Education Bill Bennett said that "[s]tories about looting and shooting and gangs and roving gangs and so on" in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were an inspiration behind his recent comments about abortion, crime and African-Americans. In a report on the September 30 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper reported that while Bennett said that “he was sorry if anybody was hurt” by his remarks, he “did not seem particularly apologetic.” Tapper also noted Bennett's comments on the September 29 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, in which he said that his remarks were “like Swift's 'Modest Proposal' ” -- a reference to Jonathan Swift's 1729 satiric essay arguing that the solution to hunger and overpopulation problems in Ireland was for the poor to sell their children as food.
From the September 30 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:
DIANE SAWYER (host): The sparks are still flying this morning over remarks yesterday from conservative talk show host and author Bill Bennett. He's the former secretary of education and drug czar, writer on morality. It turns out what he says has everybody arguing. ABC's Jake Tapper is joining us from Washington to tell us more. Jake?
TAPPER: Good morning, Diane. Well, Bill Bennett was Ronald Reagan's secretary of education. He's a bestselling author, and he's considered one of the Republican Party's big brains. But after comments he made this week, some critics, and not just Democrats, are also wondering if he's one of the Republican Party's big mouths. On his syndicated radio show, Bennett, responding to a caller, discussed whether declining crime rates were as a result of the legalization of abortion.
BENNETT (audio clip): If you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.
TAPPER: Democrats expressed outrage.
REP. JESSE JACKSON JR. (D-IL): He should be removed from the airwaves as soon as possible. Bill Bennett owes America an apology. He certainly owes African-Americans an apology.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): I'm not even going to comment on something that disgusting. I'm really not, and I'm thinking of my black grandchild, and I'm just going to hold.
TAPPER: On Hannity & Colmes, Bennett said he was just making a hypothetical argument.
BENNETT (video clip): This is like Swift's “Modest Proposal,” for people who remember their literature. You put things up in order to examine them. I put it up, examined it and said that is ridiculous and impossible, no matter who advances it.
TAPPER: But why immediately link blacks and crime? Bennett told me on the phone that race was on his mind because of recent stories in the media about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
BENNETT (audio clip): Stories about looting and shooting and gangs and roving gangs and so on. ... I'm sorry if people are hurt, I really am. But we can't say this is an area of American public policy that we're not allowed to talk about race and crime.
TAPPER: Robert George, a Republican editorial writer for the New York Post, agrees that Bennett's comments were not meant as racist but he worries they feed into stereotypes of Republicans as insensitive.
GEORGE: He should know better the impact of his words and sort of thinking these things through before he speaks.
TAPPER: In light of accusations that the Bush administration was not as sensitive to victims of Hurricane Katrina because many of them were black, one Republican official tells ABC News that Bennett's comments were probably as poorly timed as they were politically incorrect.
SAWYER: Well, Jake, I saw that you talked to him. What adjective did he use for what he said?
TAPPER: He didn't -- he said he was being provocative. He has a background in philosophy, and the idea was merely to put out a construct to discuss and shoot down. He did not seem particularly apologetic. He said he was sorry if anybody was hurt, but he saw this as a way that his enemies, his opponents were out to get him.