Two things emerged last week as South Louisiana dealt with with a deluge of over 20 inches of rain in 72 hours: the scope of the damage was much worse than originally thought, and the American media proved ill-equipped to cover it.
The raw statistics of the terrible downpour is enough to give anyone pause. Forty thousand homes flooded, 20,000 people rescued from their homes by boat or special flood vehicles, 7,000 people in shelters, 70,000 registered for emergency federal insurance, 13 dead.
Some people have the misconception that, as with Hurricane Katrina, the flooding occurred because the victims were living in low lying areas. This is not so. Baton Rouge is 53 feet above sea level. Not mile-high, to be sure, but high enough for flooding to be rare in that part of the state.
The area needs help, and a lot of it, but from all reports the federal response has been adequate. Unlike Katrina, where standing water persisted for weeks, in the Baton Rouge area the floods have receded, which means getting emergency help to those who need it has not been as difficult a task as it was in 2005.
The Red Cross has called it the greatest American disaster since Hurricane Sandy, four years ago. The devastation is serious, and it deserves serious national attention.
But here is the problem: It has not gotten serious national attention. The flood waters started rising on Friday, August 12th and there was little or no media attention until the following Monday. And even then, it was anemic.
The Flood of 2016 had the misfortune of occurring during the Olympics, the Donald Trump campaign, and wildfires in California. It had much to compete with.
This exposes a serious problem in the American media, which at times seems so vast, but in reality is very limited. The media concerns itself mainly with personalities, conflict, and photo-ops, not to natural disasters that don't feature the face of Ryan Lochte or the Donald himself. The media is conditioned like Pavlov's dogs to respond to certain stimuli, but not to others. Since Baton Rouge didn't provide the right kind of story, the necessary sound bites, it was not paid attention to.
When a police officer shot a black man in Baton Rouge a month ago, the media roared into town. When the city was hit with a all-time record rainfall, it couldn't be bothered to get up in the morning.
I wonder how we go forward as a country when our media has to have ice water poured on its head to pay attention to truly important events, instead of ones that merely titillate. It won't be easy. Our current choice of presidential candidates is proof that the media can't focus on the important things. Otherwise we wouldn't have the candidate with the most donor money and the greatest ability to buy attention on one side, and the candidate with the biggest and foulest mouth on the other.