January 8, 2013

KATRINA ON THE HUDSON: Contra Paul Krugman, Sandy isn’t a Democratic success story.

Six days after Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, President Bush’s presidency had been declared a failure and a disgrace. It was all FEMA’s fault, we were given to understand, and, by extension, Bush’s fault. It wasn’t the incompetence of local and state officials, or the levee collapse (a failure, by the way, that impartial observers lay at the feet of another government agency going back years, the Army Corps of Engineers). No, within a few days of the storm’s impact, Bush was an enemy of the people.

Six days after Sandy hit the East Coast, most of the press had utterly lost interest in the human toll, though thousands of people went without food, water, gasoline, or electricity for the better part of two weeks. The Washington Times reported two weeks after Sandy, “Bodies are still being recovered in Staten Island. Chaos reigns in the streets of the outer boroughs. Residents have taken up arms — baseball bats, machetes, shotguns — as crime and looting soar.”

When New York senator Chuck Schumer visited Staten Island four days after the storm hit, a desperate constituent begged him, “Where is the government? We need gasoline! We’re gonna die. We’re gonna freeze.”

Not the narrative. One thing the press learned in Katrina was that if they stuck to the same storyline in unison, even if it was demonstrably false, they could move the needle.