NY Times calls both BP spill and Katrina ‘natural disasters’

Flood damaged home in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana (Jan 2006)

Levees.org believes in the media, and that is why we try so hard to work with reporters and help them get the story right about the metro New Orleans flooding.

But after four and a half years, it seems the New York Times – the paper with the third highest subscription rate in America – does not appear to care about telling the story accurately.

A few days ago, in a letter to a freelance reporter, senior editor Greg Brock with the New York Times defended an NYT reporter’s general description of the 2005 flooding as a ‘natural disaster.’

Such a simplification is inaccurate. Metro New Orleans was flooded by levee and floodwall failure, due to shoddy engineering, a Man-made Disaster not a ‘Natural Disaster.’

But here’s the shocker. Mr. Brock closed his letter with this:

“I think all the families who were displaced and who lost loved ones would agree that a hurricane did exist.”

Feeling that those very people deserve a chance to respond to Brock’s assumption, Levees.org has called upon its nearly 25,000 supporters and invited them to contact the New York Times.

Engaged people can write to Clark Hoyt, reader representative for the Times. Please copy and paste this email address: public@nytimes.com

Or you can sign this petition.

Click for subject letter:

6 responses to “NY Times calls both BP spill and Katrina ‘natural disasters’”

  1. Kevin says:

    fyi – The public editor for the Times is Clark Hoyt, not Carl Hoyt.

  2. S. Rosenthal says:

    Thank you for pointing out our error! We have changed the blog post to reflect the correct spelling of Mr. Hoyt’s first name.

  3. Mr. Scribbles says:

    I realize NOLA peeps are sensitive to this issue, but I wonder if there was as much indignation when Exxon Valdez wasn’t called a “man-made disaster” or when earthquakes are called “natural disasters” even though the man-made buildings that collapse are the most common killer in earthquakes. I don’t think this is a big issue, considering how much federal money has indeed poured into the region (including NOLA). Whether you think the money has been spent wisely or not is another matter; but clearly there is no prevailing national sentiment that NOLA is just a place where people shouldn’t live. The article — which you don’t link to — also use the terms “domestic disaster,” “disaster” and, in reference to Valdez spill, simply an “accident.” Nobody has any problem with calling hurricanes and typhoons “natural disasters” when they hit and kill people in Third World crap-holes (even if in fact the calamity could be considered “man made” due to poorly build infrastructure). In effect: an oil spill is a natural disaster, unless you think cleaning up beaches; a hurricane is a natural disaster even if the damage to NOLA is caused by crappy infrastructure. Besides: who says human nature isn’t “natural” anyway? Ya’ll just need to chill out about this. The most important thing to realize is this: Nobody who matters is saying NOLA should sink into the Gulf because people shouldn’t live there. You are getting angry about a few fringe-y schmucks who have no lives who go online and blather about how NOLA should be allowed to sink into the Gulf. They don’t matter. Ignoring these mental midgets is the best thing to do. Again: follow the money and tell me that the rest of the country doesn’t care. BILLIONS have been spent — proof of otherwise. I like your organization, but can we please put to rest this stupid semantic debate that gets us nowhere?

  4. S. Rosenthal says:

    Mr. Scribbles, thank you for your kind words, and we wish you were right. But every day, new sources all over America are saying the flooding in New Orleans was a ‘natural disaster.’ Noted author John McQuaid points out that such talk conjures up thoughts of ‘what were those people doing living down there’ and harms our recovery.

    Saying Katrina flooded New Orleans is like saying traffic broke the I-35 bridge. You don’t see anyone going around saying that, because it’s silly.

    Btw, we sure do have a link to the subject article. It’s at the close of the blog post.

  5. Mr. Scribbles says:

    Sorry, I missed the link. I would say the analogy would be more fit if your analogy was comparing a tornado breaking a bridge that wasn’t built to acceptable standards. I just think making a big issue out of this silly article is superfluous to the bigger issue this organization represents. To me, the biggest offense of this article is trying to force the idea that this oil spill to be “Obama’s Katrina Moment” which it clearly is not. Also I don’t think anyone out there is arguing that the cause of the flooding was not failed infrastructure and carved up wetlands. There are trolls out there who denigrate New Orleans and whine about federal spending on stuff they don’t think is worth it. I don’t think its necessary to play wack-a-mole with these views. They eyes should be on the prize of keeping the heat on the issue of infrastructure failings and not how some people spin the issue. Anyhoo, keep it up, gang.

  6. S. Rosenthal says:

    Dear Mr. Scribbles,

    Levees.org created its petition for two reasons: 1) The NYTimes routinely refers to Katrina BOTH generally and in New Orleans as a natural disaster, and 2) to give displaced New Orleanians an opportunity to respond to Mr. Brock’s assumption about them.

    Sadly, I am afraid many out there continue to say the cause of the flooding was not failed infrastructure and carved up wetlands. Just 2 weeks ago, US Senator Byron Dorgan called the flooding in New Orleans the result of a natural disaster and declared the people of N.O. should thank the Corps of Engineer for fixing the levees post-K.

    Again thank you for the kind words. We won’t give up

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