Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Katrina, a few weeks on

From my vantage point, the broadcast media did a very good job covering Katrina early on, but in the last two weeks has unfortunately returned to its old, familiar habits of providing mindless dreck. Now we're treated to human interest stories almost exclusively (stay away from CNN!) and very little quality reporting from the ground in Louisiana, Mississippi, or the hundreds of shelters housing refugees. The federal government, led by Bush, is promising to fix the situation and throw money at the problem, but I can gather very little specifics about what's actually going on or what's the plan. Perhaps it's still early...

The government's failure to react to the storm sufficiently has been so egregious that the Bushies have not been able to get away with their usual deflection of criticism. It's uncontroversial that dire warnings were ignored; now we know that the levees broke as early as Monday, August 29, and the feds didn't start getting their act together until Wednesday or even Thursday.

The FEMA debacle and assorted "breakdowns" have been covered exhaustively, perhaps to the extent that they've drowned out adequate exposure of other responsible parties. For instance, there's very little coverage in the national media about state and local failures, outside of Rove and Co.'s attempts to blame the mess (unsuccessfully, it seems) on Democrats.

In the print media, there's been a great deal of solid, contextual reporting going on. I'm referencing some of it in this post, largely for future reference. Here, for one, is a pretty damning analysis of Bush's "isolated" governing style, as exposed by Katrina. Patrick Cockburn also penned a very cogent piece linking the administration's handling of Iraq and Katrina.

For added background, here's a concise article on how FEMA's failures contributed to the catastrophe in New Orleans. It's the follow-up to a prescient investigative piece from September 2004. More detailed articles on this topic come from Peter Dreier and Walter Brasch.

Michael Brown's become the pathetic symbol of the disaster, another clueless public official put in charge of a degraded organization due to the administration's ideology and affection for cronyism. Ironically, the relentless criticism of Brown has allowed other officials to dodge the blame for their involvement in the mess, notably Michael Chertoff.

Other things worth paying attention to:

* IPS asks, Did FEMA "buy" votes for Bush in Florida? Democracy Now! and Jason Leopold have also addressed the issue of whether FEMA's overcompensation of Floridians for Hurricane Frances in September 2004 was politically motivated.

* The largely uninterrogated role of privatization in the calamity.

* Karl Rove's in charge of the Katrina recovery. As Dan Froomkin notes, "Rove's leadership role suggests quite strikingly that any and all White House decisions and pronouncements regarding the recovery from the storm are being made with their political consequences as the primary consideration. More specifically: With an eye toward increasing the likelihood of Republican political victories in the future, pursuing long-cherished conservative goals, and bolstering Bush's image."

* Gretna's great shame.

* The reappearance of the "Other America." The media has not done a good job navigating the troubled waters of race and class, alternatively promoting the "colorblind" trope and, as Paul Street puts it, "reactionary, privilege-friendly narratives [that] close the American mind to the many ways in which Katrina might educate the populace about class, race, Martin King's 'triple evils,' and the perverted priorities of empire and inequality."

* Gentrification and, yes, the threat of ethnic cleansing to come.