Harry Shearer on Media's Post-Katrina Coverage: 'It Was Grandstanding'

Humorist Harry Shearer produced the documentary The Big UneasyThe Big Uneasy, the new documentary from actor/humorist/radio personality Harry Shearer (pictured), is about the failure of the levees in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. But it's also about the failure of the public afterward to understand what had really happened -- that the disaster was the foreseeable (and foreseen) result of human negligence and stupidity, not a freak occurrence.

During a screening in downtown Manhattan Tuesday night, I asked Shearer how fine or poor a job the press did in investigating and telling the story.

Most of the Press Gets a 'D'

Shearer began by praising the work of Michael Grunwald, who covered Katrina's aftermath for the Washington Post and then Time magazine and who appears extensively in the film. Apart from that, he continued:
The Times did okay. I think the rest of the press gets a D, and probably a D-minus for their efforts at patting themselves on the back about how well they did speaking truth to power. Anderson Cooper ... giving a lecture to [Louisiana senator] Mary Landrieu, like that's the person you need to lecture. It was grandstanding and showboating in place of telling a story -- partly because they left. They left. Water leaves, story over. The [New Orleans] Times-Picayune won two Pulitzers for their work because they couldn't leave. They lived there. They had to stay.
Images of the Destitute, but No "Why?"

Shearer also offered a withering description of a "well-known anchor" who, when asked why he or she wasn't doing more to explain to viewers why the levees had failed, replied, "We just think the emotional stories are more compelling for our audience."

"So that's why you see lots of images of people destitute and unhappy but never get to find out why," Shearer says.

The Big Uneasy will have a one-night-only run in 150 theaters, screening on Monday, Aug. 30, on the fifth anniversary of the flooding. Asked about attempts to sell the movie to premium cable -- perhaps HBO, which often buys documentaries and has a new show, Treme, about post-Katrina life in New Orleans -- Shearer said, "HBO was supremely uninterested. They said, when we described it to them, 'Well, that's kind of National Geographic Channel, isn't it?'"

Correction, 8/26/10: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Mary Landrieu as a former governor of Louisiana.

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Runa Laila

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May 17 2014 at 2:03 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Show the photo of the school buses under water again....... What is Ray Negin up to these days ??? A Czar for Obama economy??? And then came November..........

August 26 2010 at 5:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

the city was built in a bowl and hurricanes are not man made.

August 26 2010 at 2:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Well, maybe Bush did not blow up the levees

August 26 2010 at 2:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Richard Potyka

You have got to be crazy -- the FED has no money to buy stocks -- NONE Putting more money into the consumer's hands will work. Hold a 1 year federal tax holiday including Social Security -- continue the Bush tax reductions for 3 years minimum. That will put the consumer back "on line" -- the rest will follow.

August 26 2010 at 12:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

If George Bush had been guilty of all the disasters Obama has visited on this nation the liberal media could never stop screaming. Instead they have to go back over the past and ignore the true disaaster obama and the democrates have brought on this country for years to come.

August 26 2010 at 11:34 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Please, if you would, tell us which 150 theaters will be presenting this documentary. We often wondered why this question was not addressed in the media. We felt the media didn't think their audience was wise enough to understand, nor did they feel we could handle the truth. It is a sad commentary.

August 26 2010 at 10:57 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I was driving from Denver to Boston during the immediate aftermath of Katrina. Alone in the car I kept clicking the radio dial looking for news coverage of what had happened and was happening in NO. Until coming in range of a Chicago station somewhere between St. Louis and Indianapolis all that was available were talk hosts from the Left and the Right, who had all done an immediate knee jerk into blaming those they opposed politically. The Left blamed Bush and his administration, the Right blamed the mostly minority citizens of NO for not having the good sense to leave when they had the chance. I learned that while newspapers may be in deep doo doo that even just "adequate" radio news coverage with very...VERY...rare exception is not there to be found.

August 26 2010 at 10:09 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lazbo1's comment

I was 4 hours drive away from New Orleans and I knew it was going to be a disaster a week ahead of time. We had plenty of warning. Those that chose to stay suffered the consequences but it was well known it was going to be trouble. Maybe 1000 miles away they didn;t think it was to important as it did;t effect them.

August 26 2010 at 11:37 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Not much of an article here aol.

August 26 2010 at 8:39 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply