Katrina Refugees

One of the parts that stunned me about the film was the labeling of the hurricane victims as refugees. While some may attempt to make it a matter of semantics, I found it to be one of the more alienating and disrespectful media portrayals in recent memory. While the “nicest” definition I found of a refugee was “one seeking refugee” the majority of the definitions I came across contained some form of transnational travel due to war or persecution. Spike certainly did an excellent job in showcasing the outrage and backlash by individuals of New Orleans and other prominent figures ( Al Sharpton), but I couldn’t help but be moderately shocked by the lack of reaction of the audience. It was clear at this point of the film that the citizens of New Orleans were surviving in unbearable conditions but to be labeled in a manner that practically “un-Americanizes” a city and class of people was a lot to handle. What made me particularly upset is that the media became another system or institution that hindered the city’s recovery efforts. It is clear that the media is an incredibly powerful force in society but if they were to have covered this catastrophe differently would the city have been better off?  I have attached a small graph on Americans views on refugees over time. While none of these refugee groups are Americans, it shows how the general American public usually dislikes or is adverse to helping or supporting groups of individuals that are labeled refugees. Thus, while political actors and governmental agencies were extremely detrimental, I believe the media is equally as responsible for the negligence in handling this situation.

US Public Opinion Graph

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.