AP Story on 'Poor Appear Harder Hit By Flooding In Tenn.' Disappears From Its Web Site; Why?

May 9th, 2010 11:59 PM
NashvilleFloodPhoto0510On Friday, in the course of a general complaint about the relative lack of coverage of the flooding in Nashville and much of Tennessee, the Associated Press received a deserved compliment for its coverage from Investors Business Daily, which correctly implied that AP can't make its subscribers publish its output.

But IBD missed one item, and understandably so. On Wednesday, the AP ran an article whose purpose seemed to be either to arouse class envy at a time when people should be pulling together, or to criticize the state and federal relief effort's priorities. That article is no longer present at AP's main web site. Why?

The item can still be found in about 150 places as of 11 p.m. Eastern time. (That may seem like a lot, but in context it isn't.) Once you see the tenor and tone of the coverage, you'll understand why the wire service might have wanted to pretend it never published the coverage of reporters Sheila Burke and Travis Loller.

Unfortunately, since I didn't do a screen grab, I'm not sure of the exact title AP used at its main site. But here are examples of headlines employed at subscribing sites, one of which is probably the one the AP's main site also used:

  • Dubuque Telegraph Herald -- "Flood Swamps the Poor"
  • Salt Lake Tribune and most others -- "Flood recovery worries poorer victims in Nashville"
  • WCBS in New York -- "Poor Appear Harder Hit By Flooding In Tenn." (oddly, the window title is "Crews Search for Bodies and Waters Recede in Tennessee After Deadly Flooding"
  • Dallas Morning News -- "Residents feeling slighted in flooded north Nashville"
  • Northwest Herald -- "Victims feel alone in Nashville"
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch -- "Flood response bypassed some"
  • Deseret News -- "Flood recovery worries less-affluent victims in Nashville"
  • At several TV stations -- "Nashville's honky-tonks quieted by deadly flooding"
  • About a dozen CBS-affiliated outlets (example here) reworked the headline that appears at Google to "Dozens Killed Across South After Severe Flash Flooding" without changing the underlying report. But when one visits the actual report, the title is "Poor Appear Harder Hit By Flooding In Tenn."
  • The Washington Examiner reworked the headline, which is consistent between Google News and the Examiner's web site, to "Nashville's famed music quieted by flooding."
Here are key paragraphs from the longer version of Burke's and Loller's report (bolds are mine):

Raging torrents had shot furniture through walls and pushed houses into the street near Nashville's historically black Fisk and Tennessee State universities. Only a few tents tops poked above the floodwaters on Wednesday where dozens of homeless once lived along the still-swollen banks of the Cumberland River.

As the city's vibrant country music scene gets the attention, less affluent victims wondered Wednesday how they will recover from the deadly floods.

"Being a minority we're the last on the list. That's just the way it is," said Troy Meneese, a 47-year-old custodian, as he aired out water-logged shoes, a couch and chairs in his yard in front of his brick one-story home in north Nashville.

... The flooding caused by record-breaking rains of more than 13 inches in two days sent water rushing through hundreds of homes, forcing thousands to evacuate -- some by boat and canoe -- affecting both rich and poor in this metropolitan area of about 1 million.

In Meneese's neighborhood, some residents and community members said they felt neglected, especially compared to the attention they believed country music attractions and more affluent neighborhoods were receiving.

... Police conducted house-to-house searches in some parts of north Nashville on Wednesday, but some wondered if they should have come earlier.

"Search and rescue teams seem like they just got here. It's a little late," said Howard Jones, 47, a pastor who came to the area to see if he could help. He said the neighborhood was particularly vulnerable because many elderly residents lived there.

... Nashville's mayor and other officials visited a relief center in the north Nashville where food, water, tetanus shots and recovery information are available. The mayor, who has identified the area as one of the hardest hit, said it was important for officials to be on the scene checking on the response effort.

Searches on key word strings in the article at AP's main web site (all without quotes) comes up empty ("Raging Torrents"), empty ("As Nashville's Cumberland River continued to recede Wednesday"), and empty ("some residents and community members said they felt neglected").

There seem to be only two plausible possibilities as to why the article has disappeared at AP's main site, neither of them complimentary:

  • The better explanation would be that the wire service was embarrassed by the bitter comments it reported. It's perfectly understandable that people who have just lost everything might lash out and say things they would never ordinarily say; it's another thing to opportunistically report them to create more generalized resentment and anger. But such reporting should never have occurred in the first place, and as noted in the list above, AP can't just close Pandora's box and pretend it never happened.
  • The worse explanation would be that comments such as those reported bear an eerie resemblance to some of the understandable but overheated rhetoric that came out of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The anger quickly got directed at President George W. Bush, even though local and state authorities were primarily responsible for poor preparedness and early lack of response. Perhaps AP higher-ups saw some potential for blowback into the Obama administration, and put the kibosh on Burke's and Loller's work to minimize that possibility.

Neither explanation is acceptable. What AP published is part of the historical record (the "first draft of history," if you will), and should stay out there. The wire service has no good justification for trying to make it disappear.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.