Spine is always good, rage is sometimes needed, and empathy can often reveal the story. But there’s no substitute for being able to think. What is the difference between a “blame game” and real accountability? If you’ve never really thought it about it, your outrage can easily misfire.
I was away from blogging when Hurricane Katrina hit and New Orleans went down, but people kept sending me stuff. The article most often sent to me was a commentary by Matt Wells of the BBC, “Has Katrina saved US media?” Possibly it has, he said: “Amidst the horror, American broadcast journalism just might have grown its spine back, thanks to Katrina.”
The “timid and self-censoring journalistic culture” in the U.S. is normally “no match for the masterfully aggressive spin-surgeons of the Bush administration,” Wells wrote. “But last week the complacency stopped, and the moral indignation against inadequate government began to flow, from slick anchors who spend most of their time glued to desks in New York and Washington.”
Other observers made the same point: national journalism was awakening after a period of intimidation, and finding its voice by voicing its anger. Typical was this Agence France Presse report: “In the emotional aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, US television’s often deferential treatment of government officials has been replaced by fiercely combative interviews and scathing commentary.” (more…)