In the new New Orleans, where the paradigm of the Bush police state
is field tested, the media is not allowed to inform Americans of the death toll
in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Or so FEMA’s military overseer of “victim
recovery efforts” (confiscating guns and kicking in doors), Gen. Russel
Honore, would have it. Terry
Ebbert, homeland security director of the new New Orleans, explained Honore’s
reason for banning the media (and assault journalists and photographers and
steal the memory cards
from their cameras): “we don’t think that’s proper”
to let members of the media view the bodies, the potentate declared. In Old
America, of course, it is not up to the Ministry of Homeland Security to decide
what news story gets documented and which stories do not—at least it isn’t
at this time (everything will change after an ABC attack or even another storm,
as the cigar-chomping Gen.
Tommy Franks promised nearly two years ago).
Not even CNN, usually an obedient worker bee for the Bushian message,
was willing to put up with the Honore dictum. CNN promptly went to
court and managed to get U.S. District Court Judge Keith Ellison to issue a
temporary restraining order Friday against Honore’s “zero access”
policy. Joint Task Force Katrina “has no plans to bar, impede or prevent
news media from their news gathering and reporting activities in connection
with the deceased Hurricane Katrina victim recovery efforts,” said Col.
Christian E. deGraff, representing the task force. It’s all a misunderstanding,
of course. “Army Lt. Col. Richard Steele, a member of Honore’s staff,
told CNN Saturday night that Honore was partly misunderstood. Steele said Honore
meant that no media would be allowed to be imbedded with teams recovering bodies.
However, recovery groups would not prevent reporters from doing their jobs,
he added,” CNN reports. In other words, since the media is not
“embedded,” no telling what sort of “accident” may befall
them. As news cameramen in Iraq can tell you, strange and violent things happen
to journalists when they are not “embedded.” Ask the family of Mazen
Dana, the award-winning Reuters photographer killed (more than a
few believe executed) while working near Abu Gharib prison in Baghdad.
CNN attempted to paint itself in a heroic light after the ruling.
“We are pleased by the decision. The free flow of information is vital
for a free society,” said CNN News Group President Jim Walton. For
some reason, however, the “free flow of information” did not seem
so critical in the lead-up to Bush’s invasion of Iraq, when the corporate
media unquestioningly parroted Bush’s inane accusations about Saddam Hussein,
thus providing Bush and crew with a veneer of legitimacy as they launched a
coordinated (and vastly expensive) “shock and awe” campaign against
Iraqi grandmothers and grade school kids. “As seen most recently
from war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, from tsunami-ravaged South Asia and
from Hurricane Katrina’s landfall along the Gulf,” Walton continued,
“CNN has shown that it is capable of balancing vigorous reporting with
respect for private concerns.” As for Iraq, as the Project
for Excellence in Journalism discovered, the coverage was “largely
anecdotal,” that is to say it was divorced from any meaningful context.
Even though journalists will not be embedded with FEMA and Ministry
“responders” as they engage in the unenviable task of trolling for
the dead, their coverage will once again be “largely anecdotal”
because they are reporting only a “slice” of the real story (as
Rumsfeld characterized the reporting of in-bed-ed journalists in Iraq).
“For an agency to unilaterally ban all coverage of a major component
of its governmental function, that is, recovery of the deceased victims of the
tragedy, is unprecedented,” CNN argued in its legal brief. “Instead,
the agency has made a subjective, content-based determination that publicizing
the operation would be ‘without dignity’…. It is not the place
of government to replace its own internal judgment for that of a free and independent
Of course, CNN is not part of a “free and independent media.”
It is more or less an adjunct to the federal government, a propaganda ministry
feeding on Pentagon press releases teeming with official lies, and objectively
informing the public is not its primary mission—enriching its stockholders
and advertisers is. Lurid images of Katrina’s victims will not be delivered
as a public service and in the name of truth and objectivity, but rather to
draw in viewers, passive viewers gawking at sensationalism and drawn to ghastly
images of the dead the same way they rubberneck when a tractor-trailer runs
over a sub-compact on the interstate.
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