Newsweek's cover story this week is a new feature called their Giving Back Awards. Expecting a dose of unknown heroes, instead the magazine honors some famous faces, like Brad Pitt and CNN's Soledad O'Brien, honored for her passionate coverage of Hurricane Katrina. The headline called her "The Professional" and oozed in italics: "In a drowning city, who spoke out for those in despair? She did." But as he honored the CNN anchor, Newsweek's Jonathan Darman felt the need to insult every government rescue attempt:
Simple, human kindness—the kind you can teach a child—was embarrassingly absent in the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. As the country watched in horror as state and federal officials did little to help the stranded multitudes, television anchors, who so often act as though they're not of this world, for once understood the outrage. As the days wore on and the city continued to flounder, they articulated our astonishment at the vast incompetence we all witnessed.
The Cult of Katrina Coverage continues. The heroes are somehow not the rescuers, but the journalists, who brought their emotive poses and quickly blamed racism and the Bush administration for the damage. Newsweek also posted some CNN video to prove their point, but it's hard to see from the posted clip how O'Brien was more impressive than any other TV journalist on the scene. The horror of the scene brings out much more than the narrator. But Newsweek touted her Anderson Cooper-like "inner rage":
No anchor's transformation was more impressive than O'Brien's. With her calm voice and soft beauty, she is a perfect fit for easygoing morning TV. But, like that of her CNN colleague Anderson Cooper, O'Brien's reporting in the aftermath of Katrina displayed an inner rage that was surprising to viewers, and entirely appropriate for the occasion. Four days after the storm, O'Brien was the first to truly nail the haplessness of FEMA Director Michael Brown, asking: "How is it possible we have better intel than you?"
Off camera, O'Brien single-mindedly tried to tell the truth, and tell as much of it as she possibly could.
The headline for the cover story was "15 People Who Make America Great." Newsweek began by noting their award-giving philosophy:
With this issue, we launch our "Giving Back Awards" in recognition of people who, through bravery or generosity, genius or passion, devote themselves to helping others. From hundreds of nominations, these folks were chosen for imaginative approaches to difficult problems. We hope they remind you of someone—maybe yourself.
I'm puzzled as to where Soledad O'Brien's journalism brought "imaginative approaches" to New Orleans. Darman's article makes you wonder if "telling the truth" and "nailing the haplessness" of the Bush administration are the same thing in his eyes, and if whapping the Republicans is a working definition of giving back to America. More of Soledad's apparent liberal "inner rage" is here and here.