Lost in the flood [Rerun Sunday]

You can find a brief explanation of “Rerun Sunday” here.

The post below originally appeared on 29 Aug 2007.


As I type these words, the lead story on the CNN website is a classic example of “good” moral panic reporting about the “blistering pace” of murders in New Orleans. Nearly one per day this month alone, and with a per capita rate that makes other alleged hotbeds of violent crime look placid and calm by comparison. The story itself goes to great pains to claim that the rising tide of crime in the City That Care Forgot predates the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. The lesson? New Orleans has long been a crime-ridden, dangerous city. Always. If things are bad there right now, it’s got nothing to do with the storm or its aftermath. Nothing at all.

It’s an especially curious — and disturbing — story, given that today is the two year anniversary of Katrina’s landfall on the Gulf Coast. The “murder board” story isn’t a breaking story or time sensitive news, after all. And, barring the appearance of a fast-breaking bit of news, CNN could just as easily have devoted their lead spot to an anniversary piece: “Katrina: Two Years Later” or “Rebuilding the Big Easy” or some such. It’s a pretty safe bet that when the six year anniversary of 9/11 rolls around in two weeks, CNN (and much of the rest of the mainstream media) will quite happily run such anniversary pieces. Stories with sentimental titles like “We Will Never Forget” or “The Day Everything Changed” or “Where Were You When . . .” There will be plenty of patriotic flag-waving. And New York will almost certainly not be the target of “blame the victim” reporting.

Of course, the “problem” with journalism that would remember Katrina in the same fashion that 9/11 has been (and will be) is that such reports would need to acknowledge that, two years later, large swaths of New Orleans are still in shambles. That the federal government completely failed — in both the short and the long term — to respond effectively to the first massive disaster to strike the US in the post-9/11 era. That thousands of people displaced by the storm and the flood still can’t go home again.

And heaven forbid that CNN should point fingers at the government for failing to serve the public during a major catastrophe.

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