NEW ORLEANS -- The story in a nutshell: realizing that NPR (which recently announced its initials no longer stand for "National Public Radio") would not do a news story on The Big Uneasy, my documentary film about why New Orleans flooded, I decided to buy "underwriting announcements" (ads to you and me) on NPR programs. After a week of wrangling, the final word came down: NPR Legal would not approve the language "documentary about why New Orleans flooded" in the announcement, allowing only "documentary about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina".
The difference was crucial. The two independent forensic engineering teams whose leaders are featured in the film agreed on the conclusion that, unlike the devastation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina, the flooding of New Orleans was a man-made disaster, "the greatest man-made engineering catastrophe since Chernobyl", in the words of UC Berkeley's ILIT report. Saying that the film was about New Orleans and the hurricane was false advertising, as well as falsifying the conclusion of the experts. NPR Legal did allege that the banned verbiage was "personal opinion", which is prohibited by FCC regs; the film, in fact, is meticulously documented, and the complete documentation is available here.
That was three weeks ago. Now it's now. The Big Uneasy is showing this week in New York and Los Angeles, and NPR stations in those cities have accepted underwriting announcements... with precisely the language NPR Legal rejected.
In the interim, NPR's ombudsman had written a classic "on the one hand/on the other hand" column, equating a statement by an NPR spokesperson with the evidence of emails that I provided. So I queried her via email on the disparity between NPR's ruling and the decisions of the local stations. Her response: "...NPR being national and maybe a little more fearful."
Fearful, one might ask, of what? Of calling attention to the fact that this story, the story that the flooding was a man-made catastrophe that developed over four and a half decades under administrations of both parties, and the story from a whistleblower inside the Corps of Engineers that the "new, improved" system for protecting New Orleans may right now be fatally flawed -- that that story hadn't been covered in depth by the famously in-depth NPR News operation?
Of the fact that, given that lapse among the professional journalists, it was up to a damn comedy actor to piece together the material that's been sitting there, on the public record, all this time?
Of what else could NPR be fearful?
At least we know what the initials now stand for: National Petrified Radio.