Lost in the flood

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.

World, schmorld


Yesterday, the local branch of the College Republicans planted flags on the lawn of the student union in commemoration of the lives lost on 11 September 2001. The impulse to honor the memory of those unfortunate souls is certainly a noble one, and I have no desire to impugn that facet of yesterday’s memorial.

I do wonder, however, about the “honor” inherent in such a display for all those victims of the 9/11 attacks who weren’t US citizens. The buildings that fell in New York, after all, were the World Trade Center, and the victims of the attacks claimed more than forty different nations as their homelands. Yes, most of those who died were US natives. But that’s no excuse to forget those who weren’t. Especially when it’s possible to make a memorial display that actually does reflect the full breadth of the world’s losses five years ago.

more flags


I’ve got a certain measure of sympathy for the outrage that people are expressing over ABC’s The Path to 9/11. If even half the charges about the production’s factual inaccuracies are true, then ABC deserves to have its feet (and then some) held to the fire . . .

. . . but I confess to being more than a little leery of the pressure being applied on ABC to cancel the broadcast. Prior restraint doesn’t exactly become more noble a practice simply because it’s initiated by citizens groups rather than government officials. And when prior restraint becomes a generally accepted tactic in the left’s repertoire, it becomes that much harder to call out the right for using the same tactic against movies they haven’t seen, music they haven’t heard, books they haven’t read, video games they haven’t played, and so on.

What concerns me most about Path is that ABC spent $40 million to make a miniseries on a topic that they knew would be emotionally and politically charged, regardless of which way they spun the story or how deftly they managed to balance their portrayal of the events. And unless they’re getting an extraordinary amount of money from advertisers for the “limited commercial interruption” that will be part of the broadcast, that $40 million isn’t an investment that’s likely to net them a substantial profit on the backend. So they’ve taken the most fraught historical event of the past decade (at least for the US, which is the network’s primary market) and spent $40 million to turn it into two unprofitable nights of dramatic “entertainment.”

The question I want answered — and it’s not a question I’ve seen anyone ask yet (though maybe I’ve simply not been looking in the right places) — is this: If ABC wanted to tell the story of 9/11 that badly, why did the network choose to tell the story as fictionalized drama rather than as solid, investigative journalism? ABC could have picked 20 smart reporters, given them each $2 million to cover their expenses for a year, and used the results to craft a week’s worth of well-researched, hard-hitting, long-form news broadcasts. Why do we get $40 million worth of actors and stage sets instead of $40 million worth of research and interviews?