Isn’t it OK to know what’s really going on?
September 15, 2005
With Hurricane Katrina still fresh in people’s minds (we’ll be returning to the Aruba missing teen story shortly) there appears to be many schools of thought on what went wrong and who’s to blame for the lack of local/state/federal response that left so many Gulf Coast residents dead. But after more than a week of reflection, some of our politicians have finally stopped pointing fingers and starting pointing thumbs – at themselves – which should settle at least some of the arguments.
For instance, many in the media, and many close to the disaster, chided the federal government for sitting on its hands while the problem compounded in the early days. We’ll eventually find out why they were sitting on their hands, but it’s no great mystery that they did. If you were a New Orleans resident, and Geraldo Rivera interviewed you on your roof, you might also think the feds were a little slow responding.
Whatever the failures were at the local and state levels, and there appears to have been many, there can be no doubt the federal government shoulders some of the blame. Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael Brown pretty much suggested it when he resigned.
And President Bush, I hate to say, wasn’t exactly convincing when he held a “briefing” at the New Orleans airport terminal during his first trip, praising Brown’s management with, “you’re doing a heckuva job,” while thousands of residents were still trapped. We know this because the split screen on CNN/FOX showed the other, real side of the story, in real time. Those pictures didn’t lie.
And hopefully, Bush meant it when he said Wednesday that “… to the extent that the federal government didn’t do its job right, I take responsibility.” Is it “Bush-bashing” when Bush says it?
Speaking of Bush-bashing, an increasingly popular phrase applied to everyone who questions our government, Americans have every right to be upset about the official attempts to soft-boil the news at a time when history needs to be recorded. Sure, there will be errors in the news gathering (early official estimates of death tolls, for example, appear to have greatly exaggerated the numbers of dead in New Orleans while perhaps underreporting the impact in Mississippi), but hopefully those errors will be rectified over time. All in all, the journalism with this story has been good, and it will guide our country as we develop protocol to avoid the next great disaster.
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What we don’t need is the government feeding us spin and misrepresentations of the hurricane’s grim aftermath. Bush’s airport briefing was one of the more obvious examples. Another example was highlighted by a CNN lawsuit brought after FEMA told reporters a week ago that news organizations would not be permitted to witness the recovery of hurricane victims’ bodies.
CNN was successful, but that didn’t stop some interference. A San Francisco Chronicle reporter, shadowing the National Guard as it started the task of gathering the dead in New Orleans last week, witnessed an Army 82nd Airborne Division member threaten to revoke another reporter and photographer’s press credentials if they photographed the recovery process. “No photos, no stories,” the soldier said. Reporters were told to stay 300 meters away from Guard operations.
With so much press on the scene, though, there isn’t much the spinmeisters can do to control it. An Orange County Register photographer got the image of the week, a man withering from lack of food and water, being carried by workers to receive medical aid. The man was discovered during the door-to-door search that should have started on day one.
That photo, and thousands of others photos and stories, show why people are pissed at the government for its early inaction. Our government’s first duty is to protect its citizens – everyone from the libertarian to the socialist can hopefully agree to that. Some will play politics while we try to investigate what happened, but hopefully we won’t lose the truth during the process.
– Jim Scripps can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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