When the Levees Broke | Soledad O’Brien

soledad o'brien

It’s fitting that we discussed Soledad O’Brien’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina in class on World Press Freedom Day (Tuesday, May 3, 2016). O’Brien’s coverage of the horrific events during and following Katrina proved to be one of the most refreshing aspects of the documentary. Her commitment to holding officials accountable and gaining justice for victims of the hurricane was incredibly remarkable, and for me, someone heavily involved in and interested in journalism, made her one of my favorite people in the documentary.

That’s why it was troubling to hear today about the halt her coverage put on her career. As the article above shows, rights of journalists are becoming increasingly restricted. While Soledad’s work was done over 10 years ago, the downward trend of rights for journalists has sadly continued. The article shows how surveillance of journalists and control of media has reached terrifying extremes, with many countries seeing declines in press freedom. The article also delves deeper into other issues journalists face, such as increased exposure to sexual violence.

Thinking particularly about O’Brien’s work, it’s upsetting that a responsible, upstanding journalist would be punished for the work she carried out. Speaking out against injustice and giving voices to true victims jeopardized her career trajectory. O’Brien still stands by her work today, being interviewed last year and speaking about how important her coverage of Katrina was to her.

“Personally it made me realize what the actual roots of what reporting was. I felt like we were really providing a service for the people of New Orleans, for the people in the rest of the country, for CNN globally. I felt like this is exactly what reporters are supposed to be. You’re supposed to be grilling people, pushing them, holding people accountable, connecting families that are lost,” O’Brien said. “It helped me realize that reporting can be all of those things. Did I help humanity, if even for a moment.”

O’Brien’s notions of journalism are something we should expect of all of our media correspondents. “When the Levees Broke” highlighted the role the media played in relaying the story, whether it be the noble work of demanding information from authorities or by spreading unconfirmed rumors. Media plays a crucial role in shaping the narrative surrounding events such as this and ultimately shaping the historical memory of them. Committed journalists like O’Brien are so critical to the national narrative and restricting their ability to do this important work is incredibly dangerous.

Intellectual Emancipation



The man in prison tells Malcolm Little “I can show you how to get out of prison.” On the surface level if one sees a man approach another man in prison about showing them how to get out you would assume that they were planning to escape. However, he followed by saying “you can’t bust out of here like they do in the movies, because even if you get out of prison, you are still in prison.” He is basically saying that a prison does not only exist in the physical world, but you can also be imprisoned mentally. He encourages Malcolm to free himself mentally. The next scene he tells him to think of the definitions in the dictionary in the opposite way. He is making him think critically about the way he processes information. He liberates himself mentally and gains the courage to challenge the pastor when in “church” and being taught that Jesus is white. This isn’t the first time Spike Lee introduces us to the moral of intellectual emancipation. I can remember in Inside Man when in the opening scene the man says “there is a difference between being in prison and stuck and a tiny cell.” Although the physical boundary exist in both situations, the way you think about them from a mental standpoint determines how you would describe the situation.

Link to my blog post about Inside Man:

The World is a Prison



“There’s a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being imprisoned.”

The most interesting part of Inside Man was the opening scene. The dark background with the only light present being on the face of Dalton Russell made me pay very close attention to his words. What captured my attention was the statement “There is a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being imprisoned.”

Emancipate yourself mentally. Your surroundings cannot confine your mental capabilities. Followed by what it is like to be a black man in America were my first thoughts.

In the film we witness these events in chronological order: Dalton commits a crime, the police arrive, Dalton comes in contact the police, he is physically imprisoned, and then he is free.  While in this small cell he had a purpose. The purpose was to come out of that small cell with something he didn’t have before, something that HE wanted.

Where I come from, as black men, we are often imprisoned. A black man who is a criminal is imprisoned by being sent to jail. A black man like myself is imprisoned by my environment. Confined to the small area I live in. Does being released to the streets make a once imprisoned man free? Does being moved from a poverty-stricken neighborhood on Chicago’s west side to Amherst College make me free?

I’ve learned that freedom is not determined by my surrounding. Freedom is determined by my feelings. This quote made me realize why I feel free. I am not in a state of confinement or captivity.  This quote taught me that the same thing that makes a man feel stuck in a tiny cell can make him feel imprisoned. What comes to your mind when you here this quote?