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The Pulitzer for Getting Katrina Right is Yet to be Awarded

02/25/2008 11:07 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

True story: One of these years, a major East Coast paper will reveal in a dramatic five-part series that New Orleans flooded because of design and construction flaws by the United States Army Corps and Engineers, and will win a Pulitzer for its efforts. Until then, we have to put up with stories like this one, a Washington Post piece on the voting plans of Katrina evacuees in Texas.

The premise: these frustrated exiles will take out their frustrations at the polls, probably to the benefit of Barack Obama. But the reporting: start with the first paragraph, in which we learn that

Hurricane Katrina uprooted (Gregory Sam) from his home town of New Orleans

As if the winds, possibly tornado-style, picked him up and deposited him eight hundred miles west.

Three paragraphs in, we learn that it was not just wind...

For the nearly quarter-million people such as Sam who were evacuated to Texas after the hurricane and its floodwaters left New Orleans devastated in 2005

So Katrina had floodwaters. Why, in a city that had a "Hurricane Protection System" under construction for the past forty years thanks to the Federal government, why was that possible? Silence. Crickets.

Back to the exile voters. They're angry, we learn...

They are angry, for instance, that Donald Trump will soon construct a 70-story hotel in the city's central business district while neighborhoods in the Ninth Ward are still rodent-infested wastelands.

This is reported as fact, from a Houston dateline. In fact, half of the Ninth Ward, the Upper Ninth, has no "rodent-infested wastelands". The reporter probably means the Lower Ninth, in which some blocks have lots covered with high weeds and rodents do reside thereon.

Then, there are the numbers. Population stats on the Katrina disaster are all over the place, but these are lulus.

Anderson is one of about 100,000 evacuees who have permanently settled in Houston. An additional 60,000 or so are in metropolitan Dallas, 60,000 are located around Austin and San Antonio, and 10,000 are sprinkled across this vast state, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

That would total up to 230,000 permanent New Orleans exiles in Texas alone. Not counting the known tens of thousands in Atlanta, and Baton Rouge, and other parts of the diaspora. New Orleans' population before the disaster was about 450,000. There are believed to be 300,000-plus citizens back now, depending on whose figures you use. The numbers in this story would suggest that the current population of New Orleans includes almost no African-American returnees, a conclusion easily rebutted by talking to some black people in the city, in Treme, Gentilly, New Orleans East, even in the Ninth Ward.

Finally, the story of Martin Jones and his wife. He's an evangelical pastor, who had a kidney transplant more than a decade ago. We learn that

... the couple longs for New Orleans, where they want to restart the growing inner-city ministry they led. But the stale air, rodents and slow recovery have made it impossible for them to go back.

In a week where everyone's yelping at the NYT for poor sourcing on its John McCain story, what's the source for "the stale air" characterization of a city? Apparently the fact that, while salvaging what they could from his house and church, he contracted a bad bacterial infection. Not to minimize that awfulness, but in most cases, such incidents occurred because of mold infestations of the flooded buildings. The city's "air" had nothing to do with it. As for the "rodents", earlier in the article we learned they infested "the Ninth Ward". But Jones' buildings, the piece reports, were

on the edge of the French Quarter

The French Quarter, it should be noted, is about a ten-minute drive from the Ninth Ward. For people.

Journalism, we're constantly told, is a matter of reporters reporting, and their editors pestering them with questions and requests to get facts right, before stories run. This piece, written about a city the reporter is clearly not in, based on what one individual may have said about the place he's left behind, seems never to have been graced by an editor's touch.

The Pulitzer still awaits....