‘Rebellion of the Talking Heads’

Sunday night — a long, long time ago in the Hurricane Katrina era — I offered an obligatory scoff for the predictably breathless TV news coverage of the storm’s imminent landfall. I suggested that there might be a better way — turn coverage of such events over to the people who make reality TV. But it turns out that all it took for the TV news people to get past their trademark melodrama and cheap showmanship was to subject them to a genuine crisis for several days, with no hope of relief, right in the middle of the United States of America. Slate’s Jack Shafer had a great writeup Friday on how those covering the hurricane aftermath for CNN, MSNBC, NBC, and yes, even NPR, finally got to the point this week that they actually started demanding answers from the pols and bureaucrats they usually let smile and say nothing.

A former deputy chief of FEMA told Knight Ridder Newspapers yesterday (Sept. 1) that there “are two kinds of levees—the ones that breached and the ones that will be breached.” A similar aphorism applies to broadcasters: They come in two varieties, the ones that have gone stark, raving mad on air and the ones who will.

In the last couple of days, many of the broadcasters reporting from the bowl-shaped toxic waste dump that was once the city of New Orleans have stopped playing the role of wind-swept wet men facing down a big storm to become public advocates for the poor, the displaced, the starving, the dying, and the dead.

It’s about friggin’ time.