The Veil Falls Yet Again

In her New York Times column today, Maureen Dowd delights in the fact that, for the Bush Administration, Hurricane Katrina might mean that the chickens might finally be coming home to roost.

“But now, when W., Mr. Cheney, Laura, Rummy, Gen. Richard Myers, Michael Chertoff and the rest of the gang tell us everything’s under control, our cities are safe, stay the course — who believes them?

“This time we can actually see the bodies.

“As the water recedes, more and more decaying bodies will testify to the callous and stumblebum administration response to Katrina’s rout of 90,000 square miles of the South.”

Not so quick, Mo.

According to a Reuters report this morning, FEMA is now saying that “it does not want the news media to take photographs of the dead as they are recovered from the flooded New Orleans area.”

We got an inkling of this last week when an MSNBC photojournalist reported on all the video he wasn’t taking. But that was self-censorship. This is something else.

Sensitivity for the dead and their family members is paramount, no question. But the press also needs to be careful that the administration doesn’t take political advantage of this sensitivity in order to shroud from the public the most tangible — and tragic — outcome of governmental ineptitude.

FEMA’s demand seems frustratingly similar to the Pentagon’s directive, at the start of the war in Iraq, that “there will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel returning to or departing from Ramstein [Germany] airbase or Dover [Del.] base, to include interim stops.”

It took the work of a lone blogger, The Memory Hole, to get the ball rolling on releasing the images of those flag-draped coffins, and a lawsuit, settled only this past April, to keep those photos coming.

Let us not let years go by before we see, firsthand, the ramifications of this cataclysmic catastrophe.

Gal Beckerman

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.