Why did it take national media four entire days to begin coverage on what has been confirmed as one of the worst national disasters in history?
After nearly a week of flooding, more than 20,000 individuals have been displaced from their homes in Baton Rouge, St. Tammany Parish, Livingston Parish, Denham Springs and other parishes across Louisiana. Out of those 20,000, more than 1,000 required rescuing from flooded streets and homes, and hundreds more were stranded on I-12. Eleven people have been confirmed dead at this time with the threat of more on the way. However, mainstream media, much to the natives’ frustration, appears neglectful in reporting their plight.
According to meteorologists, more than 6.9 trillion gallons of rain–enough water to fill 10.4 million Olympic pools–deluged Louisiana this week. Local officials are estimating that more than 40,000 homes have been damaged. This is the second time in five months that Louisiana has seen more than 24 inches of rain during a single storm.
Despite what is being referred to as the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the national media has yet to heavily focus on the ongoing struggle of Louisiana citizens. FEMA administrator Craig Fugate described the issue: "You have the Olympics. You got the election. If you look at the national news, [the flood is] probably on the third or fourth page." In other words, while the National Guard and the self-appointed “Cajun Navy” step up to save people daily, the story apparently isn’t worth the headline.
In the meantime, ordinary citizens have openly criticized major news media such as CNN or The New York Times for their lack of dedicated attention to such a devastating event. Catherine Holmes of Georgia wrote to the paper saying "Hundreds of people have been stranded on I-12 since yesterday morning, and just a few hours ago got some water delivered to them ... Disappointing that Trump's latest gaffe and the Olympics totally dominate your front page this morning, when so many in South Louisiana are suffering." Laura Esfeller of Louisiana also wrote, "People are stranded, have lost everything and are dying, and the nation's newspaper of record has done no original reporting on this? Make this a priority!" With lives and parishes in desperate need of attention, many fear that the media silence could make a disaster even worse.
In this difficult time, attention can be a valuable priority. For his part, Fugate of FEMA states that the organization is preparing to help all that they can. However, without national attention, people rightly fear that recovery funding could be low as the tragedy continues. National media tends to be nationally focused, which in turn brings the support and funding from around the country. Unfortunately, without the media’s involvement, the traditional flow of funds could slow as fewer people are made aware of Louisiana’s plight.
One media writer, Sean Illing from the blog Salon, eventually gave a voice to the people suffering from the media silence in a piece on August 16. He wrote, “If this storm had a name or if it happened in a city the country recognizes, anchors and camera crews would abound. Instead, it's a half-reported B-story. The disaster porn coverage networks liberally apply to non-stories all the damn time isn't coming. But this is a sprawling human tragedy, and it's happening right now, just beyond the view of a media more interested in Justin Bieber's Instagram status than in the sufferings of flyover country.” He continued, “I lived in Louisiana nearly half of my life. I know the people there. They're a strong, spirited lot. They have a way of singing and dancing around pain. They'll close ranks and deal with the challenges ahead. But more people should know about their struggle. That so many don't is itself a tragedy, and the national media is largely to blame. They appear to be coming around to the horrors they neglected, a good thing to be sure, but shame on them for taking so long." Illing previously taught at LSU and Loyola University.
Although more media centers are coming around to the developing story, many like Illing still criticize what appears to be a lack of priorities in reporting. Additional media writers have also criticized their own papers in their slow speed of reporting on the flood situation. Liz Spayd, a New York Times public editor, soon published an article regarding her paper’s neglect. Dallas Morning News columnist Jacquielynn Floyd also wrote on the media, saying, "There's a danger in our fast-moving culture that this tragedy will fall between the cracks, that having neglected the story a little at the outset, we'll move on to the Next Big Thing without paying much attention. We can do better than that. I hope we will." With these stories circulating, additional parts of major media seem to be updating themselves on Louisiana’s latest tragedy, though many remark that it may be too little, too late.
Fortunately, the work of social media has, in the meantime, alerted the online world to Louisiana's plight. All over Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, there are stories of rescues, flooded homes or stranded passengers unreported by major figures. In this modern time of social media, this could be the future of ensuring national attention. Although CNN or The New York Times seems oblivious to the daily struggles of Louisiana citizens, online users can still see that they exist, regardless of the media’s priorities.
The American Red Cross continues to help thousands of people in Louisiana in what is the worst natural disaster to hit the United States since Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The Red Cross' response is anticipated to cost at least $30 million, and this number may grow as we learn more about the scope and magnitude of the devastation. The Red Cross urgently needs the public to join us in supporting Louisiana by making a financial donation today. Help people affected by the Louisiana floods by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word LAFLOODS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.