Huffpost Media
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Harry Shearer Headshot

New Orleans Faces "The Nation"

Posted: Updated:

It's holiday time and we probably all want to be thinking about something other than bloodshed and disaster. But the editors at The Nation feel otherwise. In the January 5 issue, they've run a long investigative piece on perhaps a dozen unsolved shootings of African-American men in the largely-white New Orleans neighborhood of Algiers Point in the days after the event shorthanded as Katrina. It's a lengthy, painstaking piece of work.

And, just like the work of much of the mainstream media about the disaster in New Orleans three-plus years ago, it lies.

Not about the shootings. Nor about the white vigilantes who brag about their activity in shooting, or at least shooting at, black men in the days following 8/29/05. But reporter A.C. Thompson, who says he (she?) spent eighteen months in this investigation, repeatedly mischaracterizes what happened in New Orleans to set the chaos and hatred he portrays into motion. It's neither denying nor justifying what the piece reports to point out that, absent a catastrophic man-made flood, this nightmarish flood of racist reaction might never have been unleashed.

The mendacity starts in paragraph 2:

It was September 1, 2005, some three days after Hurricane Katrina crashed into New Orleans...


Some "crash". Reporting from New Orleans on August 29, most observers agreed that Hurricane Katrina had "spared" New Orleans, that the city had once again "dodged a bullet". While coastal Mississippi lay flat, relatively minor wind damage -- we recall the Hyatt Hotel's windows blown out--was the worst sign that Katrina had dealt the city a glancing blow. Later, the National Hurricane Center, in its final report for the year, was to revise downward its estimate of Katrina's strength as it passed by New Orleans to either a strong Category 1 or weak Category 2 storm.

Maybe Thompson made a clumsy mistake in paragraph 2. Five paragraphs later, it gets worse.

When the hurricane descended on Louisiana, Algiers Point got off relatively easy. While wide swaths of New Orleans were deluged, the levees ringing Algiers Point withstood the Mississippi's surging currents...

A reader might take from that passage the idea that a "surging" Mississippi was responsible for the flooding of New Orleans. In fact, zero river flooding occurred anywhere in the metro area. Algiers Point is protected (not "ringed") by exactly the same river levees that protected downtown, the Quarter, the Garden District, and every other New Orleans neighborhood abutting the Mississippi, which is why New Orleanians refer to the slim parts of the city that escaped flooding as the "sliver by the river".

Thompson's at it again later in the story:

Around Algiers Point people say they rarely saw cops during the week after Katrina tore through Louisiana...

What is it Thompson, and the piece's editors at The Nation, refuse to say? Simply that, according to at least two respected forensic engineering reports (here and here), ultimately confirmed by a semi-confession from the involved agency, the flooding of New Orleans was caused by a series of design and construction flaws, stretching back over decades, in the supposed Hurricane Protection System overseen, in all details, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people drowned and otherwise perished in the flooding, white, black, rich, poor. Did The Nation ever do an eighteen-month investigation to find out why such a system, mandated by the Congress to protect New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Betsy, went so terribly, catastrophically wrong?

Or, like the mainstream media, did it content itself with a crime story that used the Katrina disaster merely as a fulcrum?

I write a post this long, and this harsh, because New Orleans has enough problems, self-inflicted and otherwise, without a respected national magazine asserting that the city had or has a race war. There are racists aplenty in New Orleans, white and black. Yet, after two decades of knowing the city pretty damn well, I'd venture to say that day-to-day living in New Orleans involves more casual, easy, frequent interactions between people of all backgrounds and colors than I see, say, in LA, NY, or DC. Flood 80% of any of those cities, flood the airwaves (local and national) with fearful rumors -- after those same airwaves have been gleefully saturated with grotesque images of rappers glorifying thuggery -- and see what latent emotions come to the surface.

But analyzing the systemic problems of the Corps of Engineers -- upon whom New Orleans is now forced to place its hope for future safety, barring a sudden change in federal policy -- apparently doesn't jibe with The Nation's agenda. Is this the best a wounded city can expect from liberal media?