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Shearer's Strange Broadside

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We couldn't let Harry Shearer's post Tuesday, ("New Orleans Faces The Nation") pass without a reply. Shearer's strange broadside took The Nation magazine (and by extension the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute) to task for our publication of Katrina's Hidden Race War, an 18-month investigation that exposed a series of racially-motivated vigilante shootings and alleged misconduct by law enforcement in New Orleans.

In his post, Shearer accepts the general thesis of The Nation's article, which revealed these crimes. He goes after a couple of details about the piece, calling them lies. (We stand by the piece in full.) But his main criticism of our investigation is that it wasn't something else, specifically an investigation into the role of the Army Corps of Engineers and their culpability in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In short, Shearer attacks The Nation for writing an expose about race violence and police brutality in New Orleans and not on his preferred subject.

What Shearer proposes is, in fact, a worthy investigation. The Nation, in our extensive coverage of Gulf Reconstruction including a book and two special issues on Hurricane Katrina, has reported on the issue at some length. But Shearer's broadside belies a lack of understanding about investigative journalism. When a reporter uncovers details of an atrocity (in this case a self-appointed militia shooting with impunity) the role of a vital and vibrant investigative media is to provide the resources and support necessary to ferret out the truth. The role is not to say "thanks, but please conduct a wholly different investigation," or to suppress those details. To criticize an investigation because it brought to light racially motivated shootings and possible police misconduct instead of bringing to light misdeeds of the Army Corps is unfortunate and short-sighted.

In an introduction to Katrina's Hidden Race War, The Editors of The Nation wrote that "Hurricane Katrina still stands as a symbol of our elected officials' brutal indifference to the lives of poor African-Americans. If we as a nation are ever truly to transcend race, tolerance for racist violence in our midst must come to an end." We are heartened by the initial response to Katrina's Hidden Race War, as thousands have joined a campaign at Color of Change demanding an investigation, over 125,000 have viewed a companion video, and Congressman Conyers has signaled his concern and interest in the matter. Yesterday the New Orleans Police released a terse statement, pushed to do so by public pressure from the media scrutiny. This response offers the hope of accountability. Perhaps Mr. Shearer would prefer to read about something else. But for those involved in these tragic incidents, there is no doubt that they should be reviewed in full.

Ben Wyskida directs publicity and syndication for The Nation.