Heckuva Job, Becky!
Rebecca Solnit has done an excellent job of putting the coverage of Katrina in context in "Reconstructing the Story of the Storm: Hurricane Katrina at Five" [Sept. 13]. When Katrina hit, I was working at a newspaper sixteen hours from the gulf. Our news staff was debating who would drive down to find stories—of pillage, devastation, conflict, anything—to resonate with our Midwestern audience. We were after the same stories as other reporters: pain, misery, racism, destruction. Five years later, we see the stories we and the rest of the media missed.
There are cultural explanations for why media didn’t cover what Solnit wanted them to. The way media understand themselves and how audiences understand media are to blame. These are the immeasurable cultural aspects of news work; they create familiar narratives based on myth; they resonate with the mass audience and the interpretive community, journalists. The story of Katrina uses collective memory—how we remember or wish to remember. And collective memory, in turn, fuels the myths and narratives that we saw in news coverage: poor blacks, the hungry, the marginalized, the flooded and destroyed. All the images look the same.
Analysis of news that misses the cultural element of how and why that news was produced limits what we should have learned. Assessments of news coverage must go deeper to seek out the roots that reach into fiction, myth and narrative and resonate with values. If the cultural explanations aren’t explored, what we could have learned from Katrina ends with Katrina.
ROBERT GUTSCHE JR.
Green or Gassy, Cars Gotta Go
A half-dozen letters responded to "Freedom From Oil" [Aug. 2/9] with conventional and constructive suggestions (plus battery-operated clothing) ["Letters," Sept. 27]. Certainly, green cars should be encouraged. There is a problem, however, with the exponential growth of that twentieth-century invention that saved us from the health hazards of horseshit. That sixty-mile traffic jam in China: well, I anticipated that an event—could be on the I-95, or in Tehran, Bangkok or on any of hundreds of autoways—would draw attention to the dysfunctional symbiosis that we, the weak bipeds, the keepers/attendants, have with those stronger, carapaced creatures. That dominant species demands ever more buildings and smoothed surfaces to accommodate its rising population. We, the auto deluded, are being colonized.
Anchor Babies Aweigh!
Right-wing hysteria over "anchor babies" is absurd, but the Fourteenth Amendment is becoming more and more anomalous [Robin Templeton, "Baby Baiting," Aug. 16/23]. The amendment, the intention of which was to grant citizenship to freed slaves, is out-of-date and outmoded. The right of citizenship to all those born on US soil is unique to our country. I hope the furor from the left over right-wing efforts to repeal it is a feint.
The anti-immigrationists’ obsession with the amendment does, however, present progressives with a marvelous opportunity to negotiate immigration reform. Repeal of the amendment, if not retroactive, will cause little hardship. Meanwhile, a quid pro quo could be reforms such as a fast track to citizenship for established and productive "illegals." Repeal could be a win-win situation for immigrants.