Katrina, Cooper, and Katrina

While the hurricane-related headline on Time’s cover this week has a no-one’s-at-fault feel to it — “System Failure” — US News & World Report hopes to lure readers with a blunter question: “Who Screwed Up?”

But the blame-gaming gets a little murkier inside the magazine. “Katrina may have been a once-in-a-century hurricane, but the witches’ brew of bureaucratic incompetence it exposed resulted in almost the perfect storm,” reports US News’ Anna Mulrine. In sum, US News finds “lots of blame” to be apportioned to public officials at all levels, which is actually not too different from Time’s conclusion that a “fear of making mistakes hobbled the government at all levels.”

As its newsweekly peers zig, Newsweek zags with its cover story on “Poverty, Race & Katrina,” or “why a rising tide of people live in poverty, who they are — and what we can do about it,” by Jonathan Alter. Towards the end of his beefy report, Alter goes glass half-full and sees a legacy-building opportunity for President Bush: “… if he seizes the moment, he could undertake a midcourse correction that might materially change the lives of millions. Katrina gives Bush an only-Nixon-could-go-to-China opportunity, if he wants it.” (Of course this assumes Bush can burst through his “bubble” and gain the “situational awareness” to see the opportunity, to once again quote the Newsweek Bush-in-a-bubble story that we cited yesterday).

And you’d have to live in a hermetically-sealed bubble yourself not to have already seen more of CNN’s Anderson Cooper lately than you care to in your lifetime. Cooper “sticks out like a silvery human hood ornament,” after all, according to New York magazine, which this week adds another flattering article to the heap of existing pro-Cooper media hype. New York’s Jonathan Van Meter writes admiringly of Cooper’s “befuddled, sardonic style sometimes tipping over into adolescent excitability or deeply felt compassion” and notes that even before Cooper became endearingly “unhinged” on-air while covering Hurricane Katrina, “CNN was increasingly leaning toward an Andersonian emotionality, and seemed to be gaining some traction.” And so, the conventional wisdom goes, it won’t be long before Cooper is sitting in Rather’s or Jenning’s or Brokaw’s old chair. (More about this momentarily from CJR Daily’s Gal Beckerman.)

Finally, Matt Labash went to New Orleans and scribbled some “Notes from Under Water” for The Weekly Standard. While for a moment there, we thought Labash was headed the way of the “mawkish elegies” we complained about recently — “Go [to New Orleans] just once, and if you see the right things with someone who knows the place, it’s a city that sticks to you like a roux stain on white linen” — he recovers and recounts for readers with typical Labashian flair how he and MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson rolled into the affected region in a “giant [Ford] Excursion,” armed with “some rubber mallets and ball peen hammers,” and how everyone he spoke to “agrees that FEMA officials should spend their afterlives in the hottest part of Hell without any water breaks.” Of the New Orleans Convention Center Labash writes: “Many have said there are no words to describe the smell, but I’ll give it a shot since it’s my job. If you packed a trashbag with used diapers, rotten produce, and curdled milk, stuck it in your garage in the heat of August, and waited for a thick porridge to collect at the bottom of the bag, then poured that liquid all over the floor, you’d be about halfway there.”

So that’s what they meant in journalism school about showing, not telling.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.