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The Media Disconnect of Edwards' New Orleans Photo Op


Not to steal any thunder from my distinguished colleague Harry Shearer, but I can't help but notice that the coverage of John Edwards' campaign event in New Orleans repeats and reinforces what Mr. Shearer calls "the 'natural disaster' meme" of that city's devastation. To repeat a question from another context, do the reporters even read their own newspapers?

For example, there's the New York Times blithely captioning the locale as "the backyard of a victim of Hurricane Katrina." Nary a single reference to the levee failures, which, the NYT reported in May, "were caused by flaws in design, construction and maintenance."

"People didn't die because the storm was bigger than the system could handle, and people didn't die because the levees were overtopped," said Raymond B. Seed, a professor of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and the chief author of the report, [told the NYT].

"People died because mistakes were made," he said, "and because safety was exchanged for efficiency and reduced cost."

That message was pretty much lost on most media outlets covering Edwards' announcement, from the Washington Post to the Los Angeles Times. Not that Mr. Edwards himself seems to be deviating from the "meme": I could find no reference to the defective levees at his website's blog, just another repetition of the photo-op site as a "home was hit by Katrina." Hmmm, before he turned to politics, didn't Mr. Edwards take a great deal of professional interest in defective products and the havoc they wreak on ordinary people? But he takes no interest in the alleged culpability of the US Army Corps of Engineers?

It's not as though campaign-experienced Democrats are unaware of the levees' role in the destruction of one of the world's great cultural gems -- but the Dems are in the same state of cognitive disconnect as the media. One of the news stories buried and largely ignored in the run-up to Christmas was the AP's report on the proposed "8-29 commission" as a priority for the new Congress "to investigate who was responsible for the levees that broke during Hurricane Katrina and to probe the government's efforts to repatriate and rebuild this devastated city."

Advocates say the commission is needed to truly understand what went wrong to cause the flooding of New Orleans and the deaths of more than 1,300 people. They also say a commission would be a forum to discuss broad changes to the way the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies do business and handle disasters....

Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, said Democrats will make Katrina a priority because there are still so many problems on the Gulf Coast 15 months after Katrina hit. She said the Democrats will want to make sure there is "some follow-up, some implementation" of programs to help people displaced by the storm and to rebuild the city.