BLACK VOICES
08/27/2015 03:45 pm ET Updated Aug 27, 2015

The 'Appalling' Ways The Media Framed The Narrative After Hurricane Katrina

"It was a tale of two cities."

When Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the New Orleans coastline and its residents in 2005, the desperation and bungled relief effort quickly became one of the biggest media stories of the year. However, many criticized media's role, claiming reports that were released in the hurricane's aftermath more than missed the mark. 

"It was appalling," Lilly Workneh, HuffPost's Black Voices Senior Editor, told HuffPost Live on Monday. "It was a tale of two cities, there was a very different narrative, a black Katrina narrative that was resounding and that was appalling to see played out in the media." 

Erica McConduit-Diggs, the president of Urban League of Greater New Orleans, joined the segment and looked back on the "critical role" that the media played in the Katrina crisis. 

"All communication was shut down for New Orleanians trying to get to safety. Literally once you were out, you were glued to the TV," she said. "So [the media] essentially framed the narrative for the country and the world [about] what was happening in New Orleans."

Workneh remembered the coverage as well and compared the language used to refer to white and black victims of the storm. She noted a few controversial photos and their captions, one which said that a white survivor was "finding" food while another assumed a black survivor, on the same quest, was "looting" a store -- even though the images looked nearly identical.

"Language like that is very striking and only furthers the disparities in the coverage, and it also has very serious implications on our perceptions of the black lives there," Workneh told host Marc Lamont Hill. "The disparities in reporting, the media negligence... seeing that [media narrative] play out and reflecting on how it was played out then, it very much has similarities to how Black Lives Matter is being reported now."

Despite the wall-to-wall Katrina coverage, the government response was still inadequate,  McConduit-Diggs said.

"Clearly even with all of the media coverage of what was happening during Katrina, 10 years later we are still struggling to address some of the inequities that we saw happen before our eyes on national TV," she added, pointing to the widening income gap between whites and blacks in New Orleans.  

Workneh echoed McConduit-Diggs' concerns and said that though the hurricane story dominated news cycles, it didn't accurately shed light on the systemic issues behind the hurricane.

"[The media] neglected to tell the backstory, to give more context as to why these black lives were in despair, why there was so much hopelessness, why there was so much suffering," she said. "The wealth gap widening [so is the] child poverty rate ... staggering statistics that are truly, truly troubling that weren't represented at the time and that have only worsened in [Katrina's] wake."

Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation about New Orleans' recovery since Katrina here.

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