Media Blog

“When the Levees Broke”

To follow up on yesterday’s posts, I watched parts one and two of Spike Lee’s four-part Katrina documentary, “When the Levees Broke,” last night. As you might have read in other reviews, Lee eschews narration and turns all the commentary over to a mix of survivors, journalists and “activists.” Lee’s selections for the “activist” category give the documentary its polemical feel, as he relies on people like Al Sharpton and Harry Belafonte to put the disaster into perspective (the latter’s principal contribution is to talk about Venezuela’s relief efforts).

At some times it feels like the Ray Nagin rehabilitation project. At other times it feels like a rerun of the media’s coverage: only a few moments spared to acknowledge the heroic and unprecedented work of the U.S. Coast Guard, almost no mention of the National Guard and Louisiana State Guard, and a complete lack of context when evaluating the plight of those left on Interstate overpasses and the convention center. (As Lou Dolinar reported recently in this extraordinary article, the media missed the fact that “The priorities were search, rescue and lifesaving, not the comfort level of survivors they rescued who they knew would survive somehow if they sorted out the sick from the healthy.”) Throughout, the Bush administration and FEMA in particular are the main villains.
Whatever Lee’s documentary might be, what it is not is an even-handed, serious and thorough review of what we know so far about the disaster. Perhaps it’s too soon for that, and the best we can do one year out are Lee’s angry, vindictive vignettes.
UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds suggests going here for “a more factual account.”


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