I think The Flood of New Orleans is the first really big crisis in the U.S. to come after blogs have hit their prime. 9/11 was back in 2001, before blogs were big, and before you got the unfettered accounts of amateur jounalism like we’ve got with this. But with this disaster, people are able — like never before — to tell millions of people what they saw and how they feel about it.
The results are depressing as hell. I’m reading these accounts of what’s going on in New Orleans, and I’m thinking:
- Is this situation a new level of horror, or am I just hearing about things like this accurately for the first time?
- Even the national news is more depressing than ever. Is it that bad, or is this one of the first instances when their accounts have been held to the fire by first-person accounts so they can’t white-wash anything?
And more importantly —
- Am I ready to be hearing about this without the comforting filter of CNN?
That last question just kills me. For the first time in a long time, I just want to stop reading about this and that makes me feel like a coward. When CNN reported on 9/11, that was one thing — there’s a level of detachment about hearing something on the national news. You’re told about it by a face you’ve seen before, in a perfectly modulated voice, from a clean, well-lit studio. But when you read first-person accounts on the Web of the horror that has gone on down there, it rattles you.
I feel like, all this time, CNN has protected me in a shelter of arms-length proximity that the Web has managed to summarily rip away. This first-person reporting — it ain’t like that. It’s hard to distance yourself, to look away, to flinch. I’ve been in a daze all day, reading about what people have gone through. It’s wrenching. The information I’ve heard and seen about this disaster — all via the Web — is much closer to the metal than any other crisis. Even 9/11.
Let me end with an editorial comment —
The Flood of New Orleans will become one of the turning points of race relations in this country. When everything is said and done, and the dead are counted, we will discover that 95% of those who died were black, and 80% were below the poverty line.
The natural question will be, why? The answer to that question — even the contemplation of that question — will be one of the most painful and divisive things this country has ever gone through.