From Our Archives, a Reminder of How Conservatives, Contractors, and Developers Cashed In on Katrina

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

Each Friday, we bring you an article from our archive to propel you into the weekend.

Fifteen years ago, almost to the day, the White House released a report titled “The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned.” Frances Fragos Townsend, assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, wrote in a letter to President George W. Bush a tale playing out again today in Texas. It was a disaster that could, if studied, be prevented from happening again. Yes, Katrina was “a deadly reminder that we can and must do better,” Townsend wrote. But he was confident: “We will.”

We have not. And we never did.

As James Ridgeway (who recently passed away) and Jean Casella documented in a timeline of events published for this magazine in 2007, the lessons of Katrina fell short. What is occurring in Texas now, what has been occurring in California, what is still every day visible in a New Orleans refurbished but certainly not fixed, is that whatever lessons the massive state failure of Katrina offered did not stick. Bush was blamed (rightly) for a bumbling response. But the aspirational redefinition of the political landscape to address problems of poverty and racist policies was cast aside.

As they wrote in 2007 of this switch:

Within just a few weeks of the hurricane, something had changed in the press coverage and the public response: As the floodwaters receded, so, too, did the powerful images—the portraits of racially segregated suffering, of death by poverty. America’s—even liberal America’s—focus appeared to be moving away from the experiences of Katrina victims and the deep, systemic problems they revealed. In the end, the leap from pathos to policy was never made. Instead, a narrower lens was focused on the foibles of the Bush administration—for instance, its hiring of a political crony, Michael Brown, to head FEMA (and, later, Brown’s infamous emails about wardrobe choices and dinner plans as New Orleans residents were literally drowning in their homes). Democrats were quick to attack President Bush, but when it came to advancing meaningful policy changes, they came up short on momentum.

The timeline is a damning indictment of what could come next for us. Our coverage on Katrina is all worth a read to understand how the unnatural is spun as “natural” disaster. We’ve also reported on the horrific statistics making clear that there was no end for victims of Katrina—and we’ve shown that this was clear for anyone who visited New Orleans, no matter the “happy face” some attempted to put on the new New Orleans.

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate