It takes a hurricane. It takes a catastrophe like Katrina to strip away the old evasions, hypocrisies and not-so-benign neglect. It takes the sight of the United States with a big black eye — visible around the world — to help the rest of us begin to see again. For the moment, at least, Americans are ready to fix their restless gaze on enduring problems of poverty, race and class that have escaped their attention. Does this mean a new war on poverty? No, especially with Katrina’s gargantuan price tag. But this disaster may offer a chance to start a skirmish, or at least make Washington think harder about why part of the richest country on earth looks like the Third World.
In the days following Katrina, there was no calm after the storm.
Instead, because of special reports such as Newsweek’s “Poverty, Race and Katrina,” a hurricane of controversy surrounding the storm’s subtext only intensified.
The Sept. 19, 2005, issue of Newsweek was saturated with Katrina coverage that dove headfirst into uncharted waters.
“From the profound cover page of a child shedding a single tear, to the detailed examination of this country’s dirty secret of poverty and exacting coverage of President Bush’s mishandling of the crisis wrought by Katrina, this treatise provides a wake-up call to the uninformed and those dismissive of our less-fortunate brethren whose race and/or class have deemed them unworthy in a land that routinely touts its riches and opportunities,” said the judges.
Three feature stories, “How Bush Blew It” by Evan Thomas, “The Other America” by Jonathan Alter and “Some Are Found, All Are Lost” by Barbara Kantrowitz and Karen Breslau, highlighted the magazine’s unmatched perspective.
“For all the thousands of words devoted to the story, there has been surprisingly little written about the most sensitive, most difficult to get at aspects of the storm and its aftermath: the tricky, half-ridden currents of racial, ethnic and class distrust in New Orleans,” said Newsweek in a letter to the Society of Professional Journalists.
“That Newsweek was agile and able enough to present a barrage of articles, statistics, photos and graphics within three weeks of this devastating natural disaster speaks volumes,” the judges said. “Newsweek is to be commended for bravely tackling age-old issues of race and class that permeate not just New Orleans, but countless cities and suburbs throughout the nation.”