Is Mississippi on Newsweek’s map?

image holder6Let me offer a follow-up remark or two about the Newsweek “Pray For Us” cover story on Hurricane Katrina. I’ll put this in a separate post, so that readers don’t confuse my take on this with Doug’s piece. It’s not that I disagree with Doug. But something nagged me as I read the lead article through twice.

So here goes. Did I miss it or is the following, literally, the only direct reference in the main Newsweek article to Katrina victims outside of New Orleans?

The storm steered just to the east of New Orleans and blew away much of Biloxi, Miss. One Biloxi survivor, a Navy vet named Kevin Miller, described clinging to a tree as people floated by, “some dead.” Miller told Newsweek of grabbing a desperate woman by the hair — and losing her. “I just lost my grip,” he said, choking up. The suffering all along the Gulf Coast, where homes and whole islands vanished, has been terrible, with people’s whole lives falling into ruin.

I think that was it — between four or five sentences, depending on how one does the counting. By the way, I realize that there was a sidebar story on the impact of the storm on the oil industry up and down the coat and that it featured an astonishing feature photograph from Biloxi, Miss.

Does that seem a bit thin to anyone else, in terms of coverage of the area that was actually hit the hardest? One half of one paragraph? Did I miss anything else? Why focus so exclusively on New Orleans?

I do realize that New Orleans is turning into a much bigger disaster. I realize that it is the larger city and that, as far as we know, the relief efforts there have been a much bigger fiasco. I realize that the Big Easy is the cultural center that matters more to the national audience.

In effect, I am asking this: Is covering New Orleans such a singular priority because that story has political implications at a crucial time for the White House? In other words, I suspect that this offers more proof that in journalism politics trumps everything. It’s the highest value. Period.

I must stress that the main Newsweek article does a tremendous job of covering the personal and even political chaos in and around New Orleans. I know that’s the main story, for the national audience. But I still think that the magazine’s priorities are on clear display.

Come on. One half of one paragraph? There are towns elsewhere that are, literally, missing. They are gone. People need prayers there, too.

To take a long, sobering look at the stories that Newsweek blew past, check out Eugene Robinson’s poignant column in The Washington Post titled “Hard Path to Salvation.” It’s all about the tensions in the Gulf Coast between the Bibles and the gambling barges. I especially liked this passage about Biloxi, near the start of the article:

This is a town where people go to church on Sunday and mean it, but for material sustenance, Biloxi leads others unto temptation. Casino gambling has transformed this coastline, lifting thousands out of poverty. Now much of the industry is in ruins. . . .

Katrina’s strongest winds hit the Mississippi coast, and Biloxi is appallingly damaged. The Hard Rock Cafe’s iconic giant guitar still stands defiant, but the building behind it was smashed. Just about everything along the beach will have to be rebuilt, after the search dogs and the bulldozers and the huge military hovercraft complete their rescue-and-recovery mission. Even well inland, there are streets where most houses are missing a roof, or were bisected by a falling tree or simply have been reduced to rubble.

And then at the end, the local clergy are having to think hard about life after the storm and the casino boats.

“If people left, would they ever come back? And come back to what? The business of temptation was ruined in Biloxi. What was the right path to salvation?”

People are asking questions like that all up and down the Gulf Coast, not just in the great lost city of New Orleans.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • C. Wingate

    I’m guessing it’s because the devastation along the Mississippi coast is so complete that there aren’t “survivors” much to interview. Oh, and maybe because Mississippi isn’t “cool”.

  • Karen B.

    Tmatt — a nice post. Thanks for pointing out the discrepancy in coverage.

    It was quite startling after having just read this to head on over to the Biloxi Sun-Herald, which I’ve been reading daily since the crisis and see THIS editorial:


    We, too, grieve for New Orleans

    Even as the Mississippi Coast collects our dead, pushes back the rubble and begins the arduous road to an uncertain future, we pause to grieve the tragedy of New Orleans.

    Those who don’t know us well perhaps don’t understand that New Orleans is “our” city too. [...]

    August 29, 2005. The day our old world ended and the day our new world began.

    Katrina hit us simultaneously and without discrimination. Her eye did not observe two states – just one vast target over which her destruction was visited.

    In her wake we now pray for ourselves and for our friends from New Orleans.

    In discussion about the news coverage of the destruction of the Mississippi Coast and New Orleans, some have focused on the disproportionate coverage received by the Crescent City.

    Our staff focus at the Sun Herald has been on the story about the communities on the Mississippi Coast, but we have recognized that the New Orleans tragedy is intensely a part of our own plight. The story of Katrina’s catastrophic destruction is about both places, and our coverage has involved both.

    Currently we do not believe that at the end of the day response to our condition will be diminished because of a national media focus on New Orleans. That would be an injustice.

    Katrina has impacted both of us at a level off the charts in comparison to other disasters.


    We are indebted to all of you whose prayers and deeds have aided us. And when you help the people of New Orleans, you are also helping us.

    It is “our” city, too.


    In a week that has been so filled with blame and bitterness, etc., this was one of the most amazing and refreshing things I have seen. Wow. What a Christ-like attitude, to be able to consider others’ needs and suffering even when you are in the midst of unimaginable tragedy yourself.

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  • AlyD

    I’ve wrestled with, and discussed, the same question over the last week or so.
    Mississippi is getting short shrift in terms of news coverage. However, I don’t think it’s hurting the relief efforts to that area.
    The MSM may be based out of New Orleans, perhaps because it is “cooler,” but any awareness the coverage brings to that area helps everyone.
    When it comes to solicitations for help, I haven’t seen a distinction made. It’s all, “help the survivors (refugees, disaster victims, etc.) of Hurrican Katrina” not “Woe is me, must fix New Orleans.”

  • tmatt

    Karen B:

    Thanks for that amazing URL.

  • Stephen A.

    I’d love to think there’s a political motive for ignoring Mississippi, but FEMA failed to get food and other relief to victims in a timely manner there, too.

    But this post is a good plea for a bit of equal coverage. Though I understand the reasons N.O. is the center of all coverage, since it’s a disaster on so many levels – hurricane, flooding, possibly 10,000 dead, and threats of rampant disease, all in a big, internationally-known city.

  • Chris G

    Thanks for raising this issue. I’ve been asking myself the same question. I think the majors need to cover the whole affected Gulf Coast to convey the magnitude of the problem. This definitely has an effect on how efficiently the government can respond. Certainly, New Orleans is affected in uniquely severe way, but I’d like to know how the others are faring, too.

  • Deffie

    I visited Southern Mississippi to deliver much needed supplies for the katrina victims. I worked with FEMA during Andrew. These people in Mississippi need to be commended for their honor and pride. I did not hear one complaint while off loading trucks of water and supplies that had been collected in my home town in Georgia. They were concerned how the world would perceive them and wanted to be separated from the New Orleans mess. I think that even though Katrina devesated Mississippi, to much attention has been placed on New Orleans, hurricanes will always be a part of life in the southern states, each individual will make choices that will impact their lives. State governments should take the first steps to insure that their people are evacuated and yes even those who don’t have cars prior to a cat 5 hurricane coming.