Play, Pause, STOP.
The Katrina incident violently shook our country in ways we could have never imagined, but now that it’s over how have we evolved? LAJ replays the scene for you, pauses it so you can see what has resulted and stops so we can take a breather and think about all those who have been affected.
By: Katie Lally
Challenged over past years by the insurgence of independent media like blogs, mainstream media is often criticized for cuddling up to their conservative patrons. Whether reporters, like many Americans, were suffering from a displaced sense of patriotism, or simply because their checks are written by General Electric, TimeWarner, Viacom and Rupert Murdoc, respectively, September 11 seemed to set the mute button when it came to reporter-dissonance.The volume is back on. The devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought upon Louisiana and Mississippi, and the greater devastation succeeding it in the government’s lack of action, stirred many news sources like CNN to speak up.
In the days and weeks after Katrina, reporters were talking back and the changed attitude in handling the hurricane aftermath may mark a renewed scrutinizing of American politics.
News programs are tricky. We want to believe them – they make it look so easy! Just sit down, hit the remote, and we’re instantly informed. But when news anchors turn current events into a three-ring circus in suits, well, sometimes it’s not so easy.
“How can you stand FOX News?” my sister asks me, promptly executing Bill O’Reilly’s glowing pink head.
“You mean that wasn’t Saturday Night Live?” I say.
Recently, though, some news programs are rekindling their purpose.
In the hellish duration of FEMA’s abandonment, a cameraman was often the sole lifeline between New Orleans and the rest of the country. After playing invisible for nearly a week, FEMA announced on September 6th that, for the victims’ dignity, journalists would be barred from filming the recovery of the deceased.
Strange. FEMA wasn’t fighting for the preservation of “dignity” when many of the deceased victims were still alive.
Thanks to a suit filed by CNN, the government didn’t bar the photography of recovery efforts, although reporters aren’t allowed in helicopters or in boats.
The suit speaks for a rising wave of journalists who, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, grew fed-up with the injustice they spent their days researching and reporting. Bush’s talk and FEMA’s failure didn’t add up and there was no way else to present it. Reporters started to speak out not only in TV broadcasts but also by methods previously seen as alternative or marginal, namely web logs, which are now steadily gaining attention.
NBC’s Brian Williams has already received accolades from the New York Times and (gasp) fellow bloggers, for his web log. During his first week of reporting on-site from New Orleans, Williams often called into question the workings of the government in his blog. In a September 5th entry, he says,
“It’s an outrage because all of those elements existed before people died for lack of them: There was water, there was food, and there were choppers to drop both. Why no one was able to combine them in an air drop is a cruel and criminal mystery of this dark chapter in our recent history.”
Video clips of outraged reporters were popularized online. Anderson Cooper’s live chewing-out of Senator Mary Landrieu was just one of the incidents immortalized on internet replay.
A FOX news video taken six days after Katrina hit New Orleans pendulums between the on-site reporters and Sean Hannity hundreds of miles away. The clip is chilling in Mr. Hannity’s failed attempts to distort the coverage, because when FOX can’t spin bad news into bullshit, you know it’s bad.
Geraldo, choking on tears and jostling a frightened 10-month old infant on his hip in the encompassing dark, repeats hysterically, “Let them go, let them outta here, let them go, let them walk over this damn interstate and let them outta here.”
Shepard Smith, from above the stadium, concurs that a checkpoint was installed, blocking anyone from leaving the area. And when Hannity, back in the news room in his starched suit, eyebrows slouching melodramatically and mouth pursed like he drew “Compassionate Conservative” in a drunken game of charades, says “I want to get some perspective,” Smith quickly cuts him off, saying, “That IS perspective – that’s ALL the perspective you need!”
The footage was published on innumerable websites. One of them, Salon.com, included it in a video montage fittingly titled “Reporters Gone Wild.”
When Kanye West disrupted the NBC Concert for Hurricane Relief, he diverted from his teleprompted script just in time to squeeze in the now infamous line, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” before NBC cut to a bewildered Chris Tucker backstage. For West Coast viewers, West’s comment was neatly buffed out, but chances are you still heard it. The clip spread contagiously over the internet. It was plastered on everything from Ifilm.com to the message boards of Myspace – a network of an estimated 30 million, whose core members are in their teens and twenties.
Within days, a remix of West’s “Gold Digger” by hip-hop artist K-Otix was also spreading online. K-Otix riffs off of West’s words and says:
“Black folks got to hope got to wait and see/ If FEMA really comes through in an emergency/ But nobody seems to have a sense of urgency… Making a killing off the price of gas/ He would’ve been up in Connecticut twice as fast…”
It’s difficult to imagine any of these messages reaching an audience so massive in such a tight time-window ten years ago.
Ah, technology, the great equalizer. Could the internet finally be turning into more than a black hole of porn and Spam mail? Is it really inching toward that vision of cyber-utopia: A grand connector and inexpensive outlet not just for grassroots media, but for anybody with online access?
If it is, then freedom of expression won’t be limited to the select elite who can afford a TV program anymore, and the networks know it. So, as the latest generation of web-savvy public becomes the target audience for news-corps, it’s no coincidence that reporters like Williams are encouraged to take to blogging.
CNN has its widely applauded Blogosphere. NBC already has sixteen anchors blogging from their website. Even CBS and FOX have followed suit: Both set up web log pages in the last year.
As Brian Williams said in an interview, “We are trying to lift the veil…We’re trying to expose ourselves as a collection of humans grappling with how to spend our precious 22 minutes each night.”
Likewise, with so much accessible information, journalists aren’t the only ones called upon to “lift the veil.” As viewers and as Americans, we’re called upon to inform ourselves when it come to national politics and future disasters – natural or manmade – like Katrina, that we can prepare for and possibly prevent.
Web logs like Williams’ provide a kind of unique insight that in many ways is unreachable within the tight schedule of a nightly news program. Not to say that any news anchor’s blog will be more reliable or worth reading than his or her program. Bill O’Reilly’s blog is still written by Bill O’Reilly (and heaven help me if anyone starts a parody of his “Talking Points” because I’m just not clever enough to tell the two apart).
But this appeal to a growingly web-savvy and politically-savvy public could be prophetic of the direction of news-media in years to come.
Let’s hope so.