NYT: We Messed Up In Our Louisiana Disaster Coverage (Maybe It's Because Bush Isn't President?)

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Aug 26, 2016 9:30 AM
NYT: We Messed Up In Our Louisiana Disaster Coverage (Maybe It's Because Bush Isn't President?)

The New York Times is admitting that they dropped the ball in their Louisiana coverage. Public editor Liz Spayd addressed concerns that the Times, one of the top newspapers in the country, had very scarce coverage of the worst natural disaster to hit Louisiana since Hurricane Sandy:

The heavy rain started on Friday [August 12], and as flooding began in towns across the Gulf Coast, the governor of Louisiana declared a state of emergency. By Saturday the waters were raging: the National Guard was pulling people from their homes, rivers were cresting at historic levels, cars and buses had overturned and the worst was ahead. It was not until Sunday night, at 8:20 p.m., that The New York Times posted a staff-written story on its website, which appeared Monday in print.

Readers trying to follow the news might have come across a wire story before Sunday, but The Times had devoted no staff resources before then. Only today has a staff writer reached the flood areas — Campbell Robertson, who until now has been covering the floods from dry ground in New Orleans.

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The Times is not the only news organization being criticized for doing too little too late on the floods. Even so, from my scanning of the media’s reaction, The Times’s performance seems particularly weak. I asked national editor Marc Lacey what explains the limited coverage so far.

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No doubt this is a busy news period, and the fact that it is August compounds the usual challenges of getting available staff to the site of the news. But a news organization like The Times — rich with resources and eager to proclaim its national prominence — surely can find a way to cover a storm that has ravaged such a wide stretch of the country’s Gulf Coast.

Especially when it has brought devastating floods, once more, to the brave state of Louisiana.

Okay, so the Times admitted to being late to the party on the flooding, but could it also be due to the fact that Bush isn’t president—and the media's aversion to painting the Obama administration negatively. The president was on vacation that week and ignored calls to cut his excursion to Martha’s Vineyard short to assess the damage. Donald Trump, on the other hand, made a trip down there, energized locals with his visit, handed out aid, and got high marks from local politicians (and some members of the media), including former Sen. Mary Landrieu and Gov. John Bel Edwards. Landrieu hoped to see President Obama and Hillary Clinton make similar trips. Obama (finally) visited the disaster-stricken zone earlier this week. Clinton has yet to visit.

Joe Concha over at The Hill wrote a week ago about this tale of two cities under two different presidents and yes, he found some glaring examples of media bias (shocker) concerning how publications reacted to Bush and Obama's leadership on Louisiana:

2005: President George W. Bush's presidency is basically declared over after he waits two days to cut a vacation short to return to the White House to directly engage in relief strategy around hurricane-ravaged Katrina. On Day 3, he would visit the Gulf Coast to survey the damage.

The headlines at the time and since have included, A compassionate Bush was absent right after Katrina, The 7 worst moments of George W. Bush’s presidency, Kanye West Rips Bush at Telethon, What If They Were White?, Jesse Jackson lashes out at Bush over Katrina response, Katrina thrusts race and poverty onto national stage: Bush and Congress under pressure to act and An Imperfect Storm - How race shaped Bush's response to Katrina.

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Fast forward to August 2016 — several storms hit Louisiana, not just a hurricane — the floodwaters have created the biggest natural disaster to hit the United States since Hurricane Katrina.

At least 13 people are dead, more than 85,000 people have applied for federal disaster aid, 30,000 people needed to be rescued and 40,000 displaced. State officials report it is easily the biggest housing crunch since Sandy.

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A very simple question, if George W. Bush was president right now and playing golf with celebrities in one of the richest zip codes in the country, would the headlines again be everywhere that portray him as insensitive, out-of-touch, even a racist president be the same now as they were 2005? Of course they would.

Instead, President Obama continues his vacation that includes fundraising events for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the relative silence is deafening.

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Obama mocked the Bush Administration in 2005 for its "unconscionable ineptitude" after Katrina hit. He even visited the area to report what he witnessed.

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2005: A Republican president takes three days to survey a natural disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi after cutting a vacation short.

The media at the time declares that was way too long, far too insensitive, even pushes a narrative that labels him racist.

2016: A Democratic president will not only cut a vacation short in any capacity to survey a natural disaster in Louisiana — the worst of any kind to hit the country in four years — but hasn't even made any public statements on it. Not one.

Concha added that only editorial board to demand that Obama cut his vacation short was Louisiana’s Advocate. Moreover, he said that, at the time, the headlines were dominated by Paul Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign, the Ryan Lochte saga in Rio, and the revelation that we withheld the $400 million from the Iranians until our four detained citizens were released, which sounds a lot like ransom. Even still, the latter story barely got airtime, with Lochte receiving 10x more coverage on the Big Three—CBS, NBC, and ABC—than the Iran story. That’s sort of odd since the Rio Olympic coverage weren't stellar in the ratings game. 

So, again, good on the Times for admitting their mistake, but it sounds like they, and the rest of the liberal media, avoided painting a clear picture of the disaster that struck the Bayou State in order to prevent a Bush-like comparison regarding response time.