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Viewpoint: Has Katrina saved US media?

Viewpoint: Has Katrina saved US media?

By Matt Wells
BBC News, Los Angeles

As President Bush scurries back to the Gulf Coast, it is clear that this is the greatest challenge to politics-as-usual in America since the fall of Richard Nixon in the 1970s.

Then as now, good reporting lies at the heart of what is changing.

But unlike Watergate, "Katrinagate" was public service journalism ruthlessly exposing the truth on a live and continuous basis.

Instead of secretive "Deep Throat" meetings in car-parks, cameras captured the immediate reality of what was happening at the New Orleans Convention Center, making a mockery of the stalling and excuses being put forward by those in power.
Wading through flood waters.

Amidst the horror, American broadcast journalism just might have grown its spine back, thanks to Katrina.

National politics reporters and anchors here come largely from the same race and class as the people they are supposed to be holding to account.

They live in the same suburbs, go to the same parties, and they are in debt to the same huge business interests.

Giant corporations own the networks, and Washington politicians rely on them and their executives to fund their re-election campaigns across the 50 states.

It is a perfect recipe for a timid and self-censoring journalistic culture that is no match for the masterfully aggressive spin-surgeons of the Bush administration.

'Lies or ignorance'

But last week the complacency stopped, and the moral indignation against inadequate government began to flow, from slick anchors who spend most of their time glued to desks in New York and Washington.

Images of the military in a US city have shocked many Americans
The most spectacular example came last Friday night on Fox News, the cable network that has become the darling of the Republican heartland.

This highly successful Murdoch-owned station sets itself up in opposition to the "mainstream liberal media elite".

But with the sick and the dying forced to sit in their own excrement behind him in New Orleans, its early-evening anchor Shepard Smith declared civil war against the studio-driven notion that the biggest problem was still stopping the looters.

On other networks like NBC, CNN and ABC it was the authority figures, who are so used to an easy ride at press conferences, that felt the full force of reporters finally determined to ditch the deference.

As the heads of the Homeland Security department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) appeared for network interviews, their defensive remarks about where aid was arriving to, and when, were exposed immediately as either downright lies or breath-taking ignorance.

And you did not need a degree in journalism to know it either. Just watching TV for the previous few hours would have sufficed.

Iraq concern

When the back-slapping president told the Fema boss on Friday morning that he was doing "a heck of a job" and spent most of his first live news conference in the stricken area praising all the politicians and chiefs who had failed so clearly, it beggared belief.

The president looked affronted when a reporter covering his Mississippi walkabout had the temerity to suggest that having a third of the National Guard from the affected states on duty in Iraq might be a factor.

Thousands were forced to wait days for food and shelter
It is something I suspect he is going to have to get used to from now on: the list of follow-up questions is too long to ignore or bury.

And it is not only on TV and radio where the gloves have come off.

The most artful supporter of the administration on the staff of the New York Times, columnist David Brooks, has also had enough.

He and others are calling the debacle the "anti 9-11": "The first rule of the social fabric - that in times of crisis you protect the vulnerable - was trampled," he wrote on Sunday.

"Leaving the poor in New Orleans was the moral equivalent of leaving the injured on the battlefield."

Media emboldened

It is way too early to tell whether this really will become "Katrinagate" for President Bush, but how he and his huge retinue of politically-appointed bureaucrats react in the weeks ahead will be decisive.

Government has been thrown into disrepute, and many Americans have realised, for the first time, that the collapsed, rotten flood defences of New Orleans are a symbol of failed infrastructure across the nation.

Blaming the state and city officials, as the president is already trying to do over Katrina, will not wash.

Black America will not forget the government failures, and nor will the Gulf Coast region

Viewpoint: US shamed
Beyond the immediate challenge of re-housing the evacuees and getting 200,000-plus children into new schools, there will have to be a Katrina Commission, that a newly-emboldened media will scrutinise obsessively.

The dithering and incompetence that will be exposed will not spare the commander-in-chief, or the sunny, faith-based propaganda that he was still spouting as he left New Orleans airport last Friday, saying it was all going to turn out fine.

People were still trapped, hungry and dying on his watch, less than a mile away.

Black America will not forget the government failures, nor will the Gulf Coast region.

Tens of thousands of voters whose lives have been so devastated will cast their mid-term ballots in Texas next year - the president's adopted home state.

The final word belongs to the historic newspaper at the centre of the hurricane - The New Orleans Times-Picayune. At the weekend, this now-homeless institution published an open letter: "We're angry, Mr President, and we'll be angry long after our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been pumped dry.

"Our people deserved rescuing. Many who could have been, were not. That's to the government's shame."



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There is something veeeeerrry sinister going on, and we sure as hell would like to know what it is & why our brothers and sisters were killed from criminal neglect.

We all MUST PROCEED with determination to IMPEACH, prosecute and sentence ALL of these neo con BASTARDS. Cheney is on the top of the list as far as I am concerned. Bush, of course, is a key! Bush, however is nothing but the figurehead who can't think his way out of a wet paper bag let alone a wet once great American city, New Orleans!

Thanks for you personal e-mails. I have now established e-mail links with BeNTpatriot, Scott Humphrey and yourself. I am proud to join forces with all of you and the others who regularly comment on Makes me glad to be a "traditional American!


Don't forget David too! ;o) I hope more and more want to network to keep the Constitution sane, preserved, independant of evil forces, and FOR all the people's rights only (not corporations , special interests, "think tanks", lobbies, etc) It's neat that you are a lawyer that knows so much about the Constitution and that you respect & admire it to be for everybody, not just the evil elite to use it or abuse it. For them to manipulate it as a "tool" to murder other sovereign nations and their own soldiers in the name of "spreading democracy" is going to look so Hitlerian by historians for centuries to come. Of course by then, historians will call them the evil PNAC Neocons.

I sure hope we can present to the public in a Congressional forum someday that some serious long-thinking needs to go into closing up some loopholes that are as big as the breaks in the levees of New Orleans. These loopholes are seen as blackholes to the evil, such as Cheney, and as an "opportunity" to take advantage of humanity, be they domestic and /or international citizens. This evil "opportunity"
must cease & desist, while at the same time insuring to preserve everybody's rights.

I wish you well and I'll be interested to see how it goes. Will you be setting up a web site someplace where we can follow developments?

AFAIK, the "personification" of corporate entities and their attendant rights and powers aren't really constitutional issues per se, althought the best remedies may well lie in that area.

Will Pitt wrote a pretty good article on the subject for TruthOut here. It's interesting to note that, in some areas, corporations achieved some aspects of "legal person" status before women did.

Good Morning Arvy,
Thanks for the link. I just finished reading Pitt's piece on the evloution of the corporation. Frightening, sobering stuff!

I do not have the computer savvy to set up a website so I just comment on and try to do what I can from my PC to contribute to the cause of preserving what is left of the Constitution.

My current thought is to file a petition with my local county court of common pleas for something known as a rule to show cause. I plan to petition on behalf of myself and the other citizens of my county for a rule upon Bush to show cause why he should not have to answer questions about Iraq, WMD knowledge, CIA agent's outing, 2000 election irregularities.

I appreciate your encouragement.

That's no problem. If you think it would be worthwhile to have your own web space for this project (collaboration, etc.) I'd be happy to help. And I'm sure there must be plenty of others who would be willing to do likewise.

In my own case, I have virtually unlimited bandwidth available and you could point a domain name of your choice there or you can have your own sub-domain under one of the domains that I already own and administer myself. Contact info is on my personal page at

here. Thank you for your offer, that is quite generous! Personally, I prefer to remain here in a public forum so as not to achieve an exclusive secretive "think tank" status, if ya get my drift ;o) I would love to know how many people have ideas out there, on how to improve what our Founding Fathers started, if not too audacious, in order to close those doggone loopholes ! I tend to agree with you that some of these corporate issues may be resolved without the involving the Constitution>>> RICO? I think the PNAC violates non-profit organization laws by its very nature of promoting mass murder. I cannot imagine the IRA filing NPO status, or the Mafia for that matter.

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