Let me offer a follow-up remark or two about the Newsweek "Pray For Us" cover story on Hurricane Katrina. I'll put this in a separate post, so that readers don't confuse my take on this with Doug's piece. It's not that I disagree with Doug. But something nagged me as I read the lead article through twice. So here goes. Did I miss it or is the following, literally, the only direct reference in the main Newsweek article to Katrina victims outside of New Orleans?
The storm steered just to the east of New Orleans and blew away much of Biloxi, Miss. One Biloxi survivor, a Navy vet named Kevin Miller, described clinging to a tree as people floated by, "some dead." Miller told Newsweek of grabbing a desperate woman by the hair -- and losing her. "I just lost my grip," he said, choking up. The suffering all along the Gulf Coast, where homes and whole islands vanished, has been terrible, with people's whole lives falling into ruin.
I think that was it -- between four or five sentences, depending on how one does the counting. By the way, I realize that there was a sidebar story on the impact of the storm on the oil industry up and down the coat and that it featured an astonishing feature photograph from Biloxi, Miss.
Does that seem a bit thin to anyone else, in terms of coverage of the area that was actually hit the hardest? One half of one paragraph? Did I miss anything else? Why focus so exclusively on New Orleans?
I do realize that New Orleans is turning into a much bigger disaster. I realize that it is the larger city and that, as far as we know, the relief efforts there have been a much bigger fiasco. I realize that the Big Easy is the cultural center that matters more to the national audience.
In effect, I am asking this: Is covering New Orleans such a singular priority because that story has political implications at a crucial time for the White House? In other words, I suspect that this offers more proof that in journalism politics trumps everything. It's the highest value. Period.
I must stress that the main Newsweek article does a tremendous job of covering the personal and even political chaos in and around New Orleans. I know that's the main story, for the national audience. But I still think that the magazine's priorities are on clear display.
Come on. One half of one paragraph? There are towns elsewhere that are, literally, missing. They are gone. People need prayers there, too.
To take a long, sobering look at the stories that Newsweek blew past, check out Eugene Robinson's poignant column in The Washington Post titled "Hard Path to Salvation." It's all about the tensions in the Gulf Coast between the Bibles and the gambling barges. I especially liked this passage about Biloxi, near the start of the article:
This is a town where people go to church on Sunday and mean it, but for material sustenance, Biloxi leads others unto temptation. Casino gambling has transformed this coastline, lifting thousands out of poverty. Now much of the industry is in ruins. . . .
Katrina's strongest winds hit the Mississippi coast, and Biloxi is appallingly damaged. The Hard Rock Cafe's iconic giant guitar still stands defiant, but the building behind it was smashed. Just about everything along the beach will have to be rebuilt, after the search dogs and the bulldozers and the huge military hovercraft complete their rescue-and-recovery mission. Even well inland, there are streets where most houses are missing a roof, or were bisected by a falling tree or simply have been reduced to rubble.
And then at the end, the local clergy are having to think hard about life after the storm and the casino boats.
"If people left, would they ever come back? And come back to what? The business of temptation was ruined in Biloxi. What was the right path to salvation?"
People are asking questions like that all up and down the Gulf Coast, not just in the great lost city of New Orleans.