Letters: Covering the Hurricane Katrina Crisis

Madeleine Brand and Day to Day senior producer Steve Proffitt review listeners' comments about the plight of Hurricane Katrina's victims and the show's coverage of the crisis.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And finally today, the story that dominates our news has also been the subject of comments, questions and tips from our listeners. DAY TO DAY senior producer Steve Proffitt joins me now to share some of what you've written us about Katrina.

STEVE PROFFITT (Senior Producer): First, Madeleine, controversy over using the word `refugees' to describe people displaced by the disaster.

BRAND: Right. Most news organizations, including us, here at NPR, used the term and then changed to `evacuee' or `survivor.'

PROFFITT: Although our reporter Mike Pesca argues that refugee is a legitimate term, and he made that argument in an article published on our Web site.

BRAND: Listener Kimberly Bernardiss(ph) of Los Angeles thinks the word `refugee' serves to separate the rest of us from those affected by the tragedy.

PROFFITT: She writes, `Let's see if the media calls the residents of Santa Monica and Malibu refugees when the Pacific Ocean rises up one morning and decides to attack the West Coast.'

BRAND: And Tom Nosane(ph), who's from Pinckney, Michigan, takes issue with terms such as pre-planning, pre-positioning and other `pre' stuff. `There's no difference,' he points out, `between a pre-plan and an ordinary plan.'

PROFFITT: We also got some tips from listeners. After a discussion last week about the historical precedence for evacuating an entire city, Erin Hamafin Burg(ph) wrote to say that in the late 19th century, Memphis, Tennessee, was all but abandoned due to a yellow fever epidemic.

BRAND: `So much so,' she says, `the city lost its charter as a municipality.'

PROFFITT: And Jonathan Taylor(ph) sent us a link to an article that ran in National Geographic magazine in October of last year, which in eerie detail predicts the events this September in New Orleans.

BRAND: It was by Joel Bourne. Here's part of what he wrote about the disaster he said was waiting to happen. Quote, "A liquid brown wall rushed over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward. Thousands drowned in the murky brew contaminated by sewage and industrial waste."

PROFFITT: Mr. Bourne's Geographic article--again, this was written last year--continues, `It took two months to pump the city dry. A million people were homeless. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.'

BRAND: And thank you for that interesting tip from listener Jonathan Taylor. Finally, many of you wrote about the interview Alex Chadwick did yesterday with an electrician from New Orleans.

PROFFITT: Yes. Binny Baxter(ph) told his story about how he'd been stuck up on the roof of his house in Metairie. Finally made it to Baton Rouge and ended up in Los Angeles at a mission called The Dream Center.

BRAND: Listener John Chestnut(ph) said the story brought him to tears. Jennifer Guphill(ph) wrote to say, `Thanks for not letting me forget that thousands still need our help.'

PROFFITT: Madeleine, Binny's already looking for a job here in LA, but he told Alex he's itching to get back home.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. BINNY BAXTER: And when I do go to work, I want to work there, not California.

ALEX CHADWICK: Yeah.

Mr. BAXTER: I don't want to build California. I want to build my hometown, my town where I'm born and raised. You know? I love California, Arizona, New York. I love the United States. It's where I'm from. But I'm from New Orleans, you know, that's where I live at. That's my home. And I'm proud to be from there, and I want to be the one that helps rebuild it.

PROFFITT: And that's Binny Baxter in Los Angeles, displaced by Katrina.

BRAND: If you have comments, questions or suggestions, write to us.

PROFFITT: Just go to our Web site, npr.org, and click on the `contact us' link. It's at the top of every page.

BRAND: And thank you, NPR's Steve Proffitt.

PROFFITT: You're welcome.

(Credits)

BRAND: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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