Has the national media overlooked the floods in Louisiana?

The Red Cross says the flooding is the worst national disaster since superstorm Sandy. Has the national media been slow to react?

Jonathan Bachman/Reuters
Residents use a boat to navigate flood waters in Ascension Parish, La., on Aug. 15.

With 20 parishes declared federal disaster areas, at least 13 people dead and over 30,000 people rescued by emergency responders, flooding has overwhelmed the state of Louisiana. For many locals, the disaster has resurrected memories of hurricane Katrina’s ravages – along with feelings of neglect.

This time, their ire seems focused on the national media. Coverage of Katrina and Sandy was lavish, even where the response of authorities left much to be desired. In advance of Sandy's arrival, notes Slate, the New York Times unveiled a landing page on its website featuring practical information about services for residents in crisis. But this month, even after the National Guard had begun rescuing thousands of people from parishes swallowed by floodwaters, the Times went days without running a single story about the disaster. CNN and other prominent television outlets paid similarly scant attention.

“It’s not just water that's rising. So is the frustration level of many observers who can't help but notice a key absence amid the tragedy: the national media,” wrote Mike Scott for the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Aug. 16.

“Such complaints aren't trivial,” he added. “As Louisiana well knows, the loosening of the recovery purse strings is directly commensurate to the number of people who are made aware of the scope of the devastation. In this case, where national news coverage has been scarce, locals have every reason to worry that recovery funds will be just as scarce.”

That same day, Louisiana and FEMA officials expressed dismay at the lack of national coverage of what Gov. John Bel Edwards called “unprecedented flood levels.”

"You have the Olympics. You got the election. If you look at the national news, you're probably on the third or fourth page," said FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, according to the Times-Picayune.

A blog post from the New York Times’s public editor Liz Spayd took stock of the complaints, noting little evidence of on-the-ground reporting, and concluding that her paper’s coverage had been “particularly weak.”

“No doubt this is a busy news period, and the fact that it is August compounds the usual challenges of getting available staff to the site of the news,” wrote Ms. Spayd. “But a news organization like The Times — rich with resources and eager to proclaim its national prominence — surely can find a way to cover a storm that has ravaged such a wide stretch of the country’s Gulf Coast.”

Accusations of a lackluster response have extended to the White House as well. The Christian Science Monitor noted on Friday that many in Louisiana and elsewhere had begun to compare President Obama’s decision not to immediately visit the state to his predecessor’s notorious handling of Hurricane Katrina. The White House says the president will arrive on Tuesday after receiving briefings from Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson, who made an earlier visit to the region.

One reason for the lack of attention from the press – though perhaps no excuse – may partly explain why so many Louisianans were unprepared.

“If you had a hurricane forecast and you had a named storm, more people would have been aware of what the risk was,” said Mr. Fugate on NPR. “But the weather service opened up a fairly high risk of serious flooding. It just was hard to say how deep it was going to be. And nobody, I think, was prepared for that much rain in that short a time.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Has the national media overlooked the floods in Louisiana?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today