And Speaking of Katrina, Let’s Talk About … Tennis?

“Katrina Looms Over ‘The Man’ Premiere,” an AP headline reads. A New York Times sports columnist feels compelled to refer prominently to the Gulf Coast disaster in a piece on rising tennis star James Blake. And a New York Sun writer begins dispensing fall fashion advice with these words: “After a catastrophic event like Hurricane Katrina, it feels indulgent to mull over questions of style.”

In the wake of the storm, some journalists evidently feel the need to shoehorn hurricane references into stories that have nothing to do with hurricanes. It’s a way to give pieces about movies, tennis, and fashion undue heft — or perhaps to assuage a writer’s guilt for writing about an arguably frivolous topic while hundreds of thousands of Americans must deal with their sudden displacement.

Our quick tour of Katrina Overload begins in Los Angeles, where AP writer Michael Cidoni today focused on comedian Eugene Levy’s somber discomfort with pushing his new movie following Katrina, which Levy described as “one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do”:

Clearly, Hurricane Katrina had dampened Levy’s spirits Tuesday night. Yet there he was promoting “The Man,” a rare name-above-the-title credit for the veteran best known as the understanding father, Mr. Levenstein, in the “American Pie” trilogy.

“We have to try and be positive about the movie,” Levy said. “But, at the same time, it seems like the most bizarre thing in the world to do.”

Next we move on to William C. Rhoden’s Times column yesterday on James Blake, the tennis player who has overcome impressive personal obstacles to advance to the quarterfinals of this year’s U.S. Open. In his third paragraph, Rhoden noted:

Nearly everyone at the United States Open wants Blake to succeed. The cameras show his legion of fans. At a time when hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens are trying to put back the pieces of their lives along the Gulf Coast, the story of Blake’s personal triumph is particularly relevant.

The rest of the column examined whether Blake could become “a new Arthur Ashe,” but we were hardly convinced that his success story became “particularly relevant” to the massive rebuilding effort that will take place in the South, or that tennis fans think of Katrina when they watch Blake play.

But the prize for the most unnecessary Katrina reference goes to the Sun’s Pia Catton. “How can we bear to ask ourselves what we’ll be wearing this fall?” she asked yesterday. (Our first thought? Well, we can bear it because the weather will turn cool and none of us will want to be walking around naked.)

“After the chaos on the Gulf Coast, it’s time for order in the world: modesty, linear shapes, and direct, womanly style,” Catton wrote, adding that after the events of last week, “sobriety feels right.” (Perhaps — but some might argue that getting smashed feels right, too.)

Life will go on. Movies will be promoted, sports champions will be made, fashion will change. But we’ll all be better served if journalists refrain from mentioning the specter of Katrina unless it is relevant. To do otherwise is a cheap stunt, an attempt to steal relevance from a staggering disaster and apply it to topics so light that they threaten to float off the page.

Edward B. Colby

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.