No Shelter from the Storm: Part I

Next week marks the tenth anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies in American history. It was a tragedy that could have been averted if the administration in charge at the time cared about its own citizens. It was a tragedy that could have been averted if the folks who preach endlessly about the need for “colorblindness” in American life had actually behaved in a “colorblind” manner. It was a tragedy that could have been averted if our society valued the poor as well as it valued the very rich.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina assaulted Louisiana and Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, ultimately killing over 1800 people. In the aftermath of Katrina’s destruction, the world witnessed the George W. Bush administration’s reckless disregard for the lives of America’s most vulnerable citizens, its fundamental incompetence, its malignant neglect (there is no such thing as benign neglect). It was an international shame and a disgrace to democracy.

Yet American corporate-media entities largely neglected to tell the full story of the Bush administration’s woefully inadequate response to Katrina’s devastation. In fact, the corporate media, apparently desperate to avoid the idiotic “liberal bias” charge, bent over backwards to suggest that Bush did, well, a heckuva job.

Thank God for David Brock, the excommunicated conservative pundit who founded Media Matters for America in 2004 to expose the depravity, dishonesty and disinformation of the conservative media empire he once labored for, as well as the deferential treatment corporate-media entities routinely give to the radical right. In the days following Katrina, Media Matters was indispensable in chronicling the corporate media’s execrable efforts to downplay Bush’s backward response to Katrina (as well as the bare bigotry of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Peggy Noonan).

Granted, there were a few courageous souls in the corporate media who called out the Bush administration for its repugnant response to Katrina. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann had perhaps his finest hour when he condemned the heartlessness of the Bush team in early-September 2005:

Another hero of post-Katrina coverage was Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson, who observed:

With [Vice President Dick] Cheney’s cheerleading, our invasion and occupation of Iraq killed tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and has resulted in the deaths of 1,890 American soldiers with no peace in sight, but outrageous no-bid reconstruction business for Halliburton, which Cheney formerly headed. It is tragically fitting that thousands of Americans may have wasted away along the Gulf Coast partially because our finest US armed forces are not even close to cleaning up our manmade disaster that was supposed to keep America secure.

Yet another hero was New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who placed Bush’s callousness in an ideological context:

I don’t think this is a simple tale of incompetence. The reason the military wasn’t rushed in to help along the Gulf Coast is, I believe, the same reason nothing was done to stop looting after the fall of Baghdad. Flood control was neglected for the same reason our troops in Iraq didn’t get adequate armor.

At a fundamental level, I’d argue, our current leaders just aren’t serious about some of the essential functions of government. They like waging war, but they don’t like providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on preventive measures. And they never, ever ask for shared sacrifice.

However, as great as Olbermann, Jackson and Krugman were, they could not offset the cowardice of their corporate-media brethren. Katrina was not just a failure of the national government. It was a failure of the national media as well.

NEXT: Katrina and climate.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.