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Seeking refuge from political correctness

By Lou Dobbs
CNN

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New Orleans (Louisiana)
George W. Bush
Disasters (General)
Lou Dobbs

You've heard several people on our show, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and others, admonish us not to use the term "refugee" when describing the New Orleans citizens who've had to flee their homes. Jackson and others, including President Bush, have said or implied that term is racially insensitive.

In my opinion, straightforwardly, Jackson and President Bush are not entirely correct as they try for apparently political reasons to draw new lines of political correctness.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term "refugee" as, simply, "One who flees." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines the term as "One who flees in search of refuge."

Although the term is most often used to describe people fleeing political oppression or war, its usage can also be used to describe people fleeing disasters of any kind. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, the nation's foremost news organizations, including The Associated Press and The New York Times, as well as on this show, use the term "refugee" when and where appropriate.

Bush, Jackson and others who suggest the term "refugee" is somehow pejorative when applied to the tragedy of New Orleans couldn't be more mistaken. They apparently think the use of the word "refugee" to describe victims of Hurricane Katrina is somehow a first. Hardly.

Even a cursory review of reporting of such disasters as Hurricane Andrew, the 1993 Midwestern floods and wildfires throughout the Western states have all prompted news organizations to use of the term "refugee." Were these victims somehow rendered second-class citizens by such a description? After the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, every newspaper we've reviewed used the term "refugee" to describe the victims of the tragedy that most closely approximates the Katrina disaster.

The job of language is to best describe reality. And that is the standard of which this broadcast will always repair. I'm proud to tell you that this network has resisted others telling them how to use words. CNN, in fact, rejected the United Nations' suggestion that we use, instead of "refugee," their favorite expression: "internally displaced persons." I love that one.

We'll continue here to use the term "refugee" where we think it is most descriptive. And, unfortunately, we realize that there are those who will try to establish their own bona fides as politically correct and even racially sensitive by attacking us for doing so. They conjure up more nonsense about language that they twist to fit their own perceptions and political purposes when they should be focusing on reality.

That reality is indeed grim in New Orleans. And all of us share the pains of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. All Americans should be proud of the concern, care and generosity that this nation is expressing for our fellow citizens who have been rendered refugees by the greatest natural disaster to hit our country in more than 100 years, with the exception of the 1918 flu pandemic.

Indeed, it is how we care for the victims of Katrina that will determine whether we can justifiably and proudly call ourselves Americans.

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