Morning Report 9/18/05
Up in the Air on Both Fronts

Baghdad and New Orleans: The bodies stack up in the crescent cities

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We're not only having a hard time fighting the current grim battles on two fronts, but we can't even cover them simultaneously.

This morning on Face the Nation, veteran CBS newsman Bob Schieffer introduced a brief report from Iraq by noting that the past week of violence there was the worst yet and that during any other time "it would have been all over the television." Then he added that "of course, it wasn't," meaning that it was overshadowed by Hurricane Katrina news.

Blotted out is more like it. But there's no reason Baghdad has to be pushed off the air or buried in the back pages.

The Baghdad and New Orleans tragedies have many parallels. They even produce similar pictures. Look at the photos above by Technical Sergeant Russell Cooley IV (left) and Staff Sergeant Jacob Bailey (right). On the left, Staff Sergeant Daniel Vallenavedo scans a landing zone in north Baghdad for insurgents. On the right, Specialist Timothy Houston scans the streets of New Orleans for survivors.

Don't blot out what's happening in Iraq, not when our 140,000 soldiers are trying to maintain order while simultaneously annoying the populace by their presence as an occupying force. And especially not after the latest major slaughter. At sunset yesterday, a car parked at a produce market in Nahrawan, a shabby Shiite suburb of Baghdad, exploded, killing at least 30 people and injuring about 40 others. The AP's Slobodan Lekic reports this morning:

    The dead and injured were taken to Kindi hospital in Baghdad, where some of the wounded lay bleeding on the hospital grounds, screaming in pain. Several had lost limbs.

    "I came with my brother Hamid, whose right leg was blown off below the knee," said Alaa Mohammed, outside the hospital. "I saw neighbors putting him in a truck, so I just jumped in with him."

This was the capper of a really grim week not only in Baghdead but throughout Iraq. The AP story noted:

    Throughout Iraq, meanwhile, police reported finding 16 bodies. The victims had been blindfolded, bound hand and foot and shot. Two other people died in bombings and four more were killed in shootings.

    Saturday's attacks came after three days of bombings and shootings in Baghdad and elsewhere in which more than 200 people were killed and 600 wounded. Iraqi and U.S. officials have attributed the spike in violence to efforts by insurgents to derail the Iraqi political process ahead of an Oct. 15 constitutional referendum.

Back at our own gulf, the news is just about as grim. Shankar Vedantam and Dean Starkman of the Washington Post report this morning:

    Three weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck, red tape and poor planning have left thousands of evacuees without basic services, according to local and state officials, public policy experts and survivors themselves.

    Hundreds of thousands of people from New Orleans and Gulf Coast communities have fled, sometimes to neighboring states and beyond, moving in with friends and family or into shelters, public housing and hotels funded by the Red Cross. With little guidance from federal and state governments — and no single person or entity in charge of the overall operation — cities and counties have been left on their own to find survivors homes, schools, jobs and health care. A patchwork of policies has resulted, causing relief agencies to sometimes work at cross-purposes.

Dick Cheney will be happy to know before he goes into the hospital in a few days that Halliburton's up and running in the area, pumping water and building morgues, while in Iraq it continues to push around rubble and feed our soldiers.

With former FEMA director Joe Allbaugh (toxic clown Mike Brown's college roommate) lobbying on behalf of Cheney's company for even more business, things are sure to go swimmingly for Halliburton on our own Gulf Coast. And this is despite new allegations from yet another U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contract official complaining of Halliburton's corruption. Christy Watts added her voice to that of Bunny Greenhouse, whom the Corps of Engineers demoted in retaliation for her whistleblowing. Both of them will be ignored by most of the media, certainly by TV.

Neither Watts nor Greenhouse is likely to attract as many viewers as that blonde missing girl Natalee Holloway. Say, whatever happened with her case? Oh, I just remembered: Greta Van Susteren, who had been stationed in Aruba, has been in New Orleans.

The Canada Free Press's Arthur Weinreb recently took note of the sudden dropoff in news from Aruba:

    There was a fair bit of criticism of the amount of coverage that was allotted to Natalee’s disappearance. Young girls and women disappear all the time. There is little doubt, despite the denials by the media, that the disappearance of a black teenager from an inner city neighbourhood would not have received the amount of coverage, if it was covered at all, that the attractive middle-class blonde and her extremely photogenic mother received. The cable networks rationalized their extensive coverage by saying that they were doing it to keep pressure on the Aruban authorities to solve the mystery that is obviously a crime.

    The day-in, day-out, coverage of the investigation of the disappearance of Natalee Holloway was nothing more than a device to drive up ratings. Programs like On the Record became just another reality show complete with a tropical setting, and most of the coverage hardly qualified as hard news. And increase the ratings, it did. On four occasions, van Susteren’s On the Record edged out the number one rated cable network show, The O’Reilly Factor.

I can understand a choice between Aruba and New Orleans. But why can't American television cover both New Orleans and Baghdad simultaneously? After all, lots of events are bigger stories than Natalee's disappearance.

Take what happened to Sergeant Alfredo B. Silva, 35, of Calexico, California. Poor guy was blown up by a roadside bomb in Baghdad only last Thursday. Silva was part of a California National Guard contingent in Iraq.

That's about all we know for now about Silva's death. We won't start getting a flood of live updates from Iraq until Natalee is spotted in Baghdad and Greta goes chasing after her.


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