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One of the points George Bush made in his speech that garnered both praise and criticism was his acknowledgement that the enduring poverty of New Orleans caused the poor to suffer more proportionally in the flooding of the city in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. Bush proposed a number of efforts to rebuild the city in such a way that the poor get an opportunity for renewed economic engagement and ownership of their homes and businesses. His recognition of the problems of poverty, race, and class won Bush some applause from the media, but most of them wondered why it took a hurricane before he addressed the problem.
Howard Kurtz, however, notes that the media hardly has room to squawk about the poverty issue. The two premier East Coast newspapers have barely written 1,000 words in a decade about poverty in the Big Easy, and a cover story on Newsweek has local columnists scoffing at the sudden national interest:
The fact that most of those left behind in the New Orleans flood were poor and black is being treated by the press as a stunning revelation -- "A National Shame," as Newsweek's cover put it.
But not exactly a national secret.
"Apparently none of these ace reporters has ever set foot in Washington's Anacostia district, or South Central Los Angeles, or the trailer parks of rural Arkansas," writes Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks.
A Sept. 12 Washington Post story was headlined "Katrina Pushes Issues of Race and Poverty at Bush." An equally apt headline would have been, "Katrina Pushes Issues of Race and Poverty at a Media Establishment That Has Largely Ignored Them."
A database search of The Post for the past decade found one story that prominently mentioned the poor of New Orleans: a 2002 piece on a campaign to boost the minimum wage that cited the city's "40 percent poverty level." Far more typical of the Mardi Gras media was a 1995 Post story on how "the city's black neighborhoods come alive" with Sunday parades in the fall.
New York Times ombudsman Byron Calame found a similar record at his newspaper, unearthing only two articles about New Orleans in 10 years that "contained a few paragraphs on poverty and race."
Kurtz shows fine form today as a media critic. He also notes that the media that has picked former FEMA chief Michael Brown's bones clean over his lack of experience never bothered to report on that experience when Bush appointed him to the position. Only the Denver Post did so, and they considered him experienced enough due to his tenure as the #2 man at the agency.
Kurtz wants to know why these stories don't get news coverage -- stories like poverty and race, and political appointments gone awry. I think he already knows the answer: most news media do not have the energy or resources to devote to stories that complex or long-term. Even newspapers, which supposedly exist to give more depth and analysis to the news, too often only go after the most superficial of stories, because those can get efficient handling. A reporter can quickly go over the details of the extant issue and then drop it for the next big issue of the day. Poverty and race have too much complexity for any serious treatment, and lower-level political appointees bore readers until they screw up. Columnists supposedly should take up the slack, but the columnists have the same problem as the newspaper regarding the subject matter and a much larger obstacle in terms of resources.
How will this resolve itself? The blogosphere will probably provide the solution. People who find these subjects fascinating will devote themselves to researching them and documenting their findings, and journalists might use the blogs themselves as resources. Beltway blogs already give closer scrutiny to midlevel appointees than the media does, and again, reporters with a sense of survival will eventually learn to nurture that kind of research and the blogger who performs it.
In the meantime, however, the holier-than-thou reaction to the supposed novelty of Bush addressing race and poverty looks more like hypocrisy coming from the nation's newsrooms. If poverty has slipped off the radar screen, they need to start reporting honestly and intelligently on the issue.Sphere It View blog reactions
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» Why the media doesn't get it. from Antisemantics
Captain Ed posted a new article today well worth your time to read. In part he states: Kurtz wants to know why these stories don't get news coverage -- stories like poverty and race, and political appointments gone awry. I think he already knows the... [Read More]
Tracked on September 19, 2005 12:40 PM
» Newsweek: A National Shame from Ed Driscoll.com
I noticed Newsweek's cover yesterday when I saw it on the checkout stand yesterday. As Howard Kurtz describes it:The fact that most of those left behind in the New Orleans flood were poor and black is being treated by the... [Read More]
Tracked on September 19, 2005 7:20 PM
» And we discovered BLACK people live there, too. from The Bad Hedgehog
Now THIS is funny. From Captain's Quarters. The Lamestream Media discovers New Orleans, a place most of them couldn't find on a map four weeks ago if their LIVES depended on it, is GASP poor. Howard Kurtz, however, notes that [Read More]
Tracked on September 19, 2005 8:03 PM
» Bush: Rita is New Orleans Mop-Up Operation from Bilges
NEW ORLEANS - President Bush announced today that Hurricane Rita, likely to make catastrophic landfall near Houston, was his "mop-up operation to finish exterminating poor and black New Orlinians who fled to Texas." Bush, aka God, said it saddened him... [Read More]
Tracked on September 20, 2005 9:05 PM
» Bush: Rita is New Orleans Mop-Up Operation from Bilges
NEW ORLEANS - President Bush announced today that Hurricane Rita, likely to make catastrophic landfall near Houston, was his "mop-up operation to finish exterminating poor and black New Orlinians who fled to Texas." [Read More]
Tracked on September 20, 2005 9:07 PM
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