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Contemporary United States History, 1940-Present
Additional Resources for Writing Assignment

Sample Rough Draft-- Option I

This is a rough draft written by myself, attempting to follow the guidelines and goals concerning Option I listed in the writing assignment sheet. In no way should this be considered a "model" paper, or even a completed paper, but I think it does lay out, in a general way, what such a paper should discuss. At the very least, I hope it will provide some guidance for those of you uncertain as to what is expected of this exercise.
The focus is a day-by-day examination of the NBC Nightly News coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its impact on New Orleans (2005).

Sunday, August 28, 2005
Tonight's NBC Nightly News led with reports on the Hurricane Katrina and its approach to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. It's currently a Category 5 storm and the danger is such that a mandatory evacuation has been ordered by New Orleans authorities. It's considered particularly dangerous because of the city's below-sea level status, which could lead to massive flooding in case of a direct hit-in fact, one reporter on tonight's newscast used the phrase “ground zero” when referring to this possibility.
The reports emphasized the preparations being taken in advance of the storm, which is now scheduled to hit the Gulf Coast early tomorrow morning. Both New Orleans Mayor Nagin and President Bush were seen speaking on the crisis and footage from New Orleans showed crowds lining up outside the Superdome (it has been reserved as shelter of last resort for those unable to leave the city) and shuttered and boarded-up windows along Bourbon Street. All in all, the tone of tonight's broadcast was one of preparation and anticipation.

Monday, August 29, 2005
Anchorman Brian Williams reported from New Orleans tonight, and though the Superdome in the background had visible damage from Katrina's heavy winds, the overall impression from his and other reports was one of relief-common phrases were that New Orleans had been “spared”, that it had “dodged the bullet.” One city resident was even quoted as saying that the relative lack of damage was “pure New Orleans luck.” The city escaped the most destructive impact of the hurricane due to a last-minute shift in the storm's course toward the east of the city-in fact, much of the newscast was devoted to reporting on the massive damage inflicted on nearby Gulfport and other Mississippi locations, caused by the shift of the storm path away from a direct hit on New Orleans.
Though there is a definite tone of relief to tonight's reporting, things are not entirely normal in New Orleans. Power is out, and there was significant structural damage to many parts of the city.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Any optimism about the situation in New Orleans that might have been apparent yesterday was vanishing today. Brian Williams led with the news that 80% of the city was now flooded, and that two major levees had been breached over the past day. The water is still rising in many areas of the city, and the relative relief of the survivors in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane has begun to turn to panic, as people are trying to leave the city as soon as possible. But transportation out of town is still rare, and frustration among those stranded either at the Superdome or the convention center is beginning to spill over.
Footage on tonight's newscast illustrated the reports of the worsening situation. Several shots of dramatic rooftop rescues were shown on-air, along with still more footage of looting of abandoned stores that is apparently becoming more common in the city.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005
“City Underwater.” That is the lead message on tonight's NBC Nightly News, describing the situation in New Orleans. The most dramatic scenes shown tonight were of refugees attempting to survive amid the worsening chaos, and of the deteriorating conditions inside the Superdome and at the convention center, where thousands are essentially trapped waiting to be bused out of the city. Observers on the scene now estimate that due to the massive flooding and possible toxins in the floodwaters, large sections of the city may be uninhabitable for some time. It could take weeks the pump the floodwaters out of the city. In the meantime, “there is no quality of life” in New Orleans. Looting continues to be a problem in many areas, though those caught on camera insist that they are only doing what is necessary to survive.
For the first time tonight, the focus of the story began to shift to the federal response to the crisis. President Bush as shown several times, both on a “fly-by” of the flooded areas on Air Force One, and speaking at the White House on the situation. The message both from NBC reporters and from the President was that a massive federal response was underway, and Bush's statement detailed the amounts of supplies that were headed toward the afflicted areas.

Thursday, September 1, 2005
Today's broadcast contained the most disturbing images yet regarding the worsening situation in New Orleans. In fact, conditions have deteriorated to the point that anchorman Brian Williams implied that it was no longer safe for the Nightly News crew to remain in New Orleans proper to produce the newscast (Williams opened the program from the New Orleans suburb of Metairie). But that was trivial compared with the depiction of chaos in the streets. For the first time, footage of dead bodies was shown on-air, from outside the convention center where thousands were still stranded and the conditions overcame many weaker and elderly refugees. “People are dying in New Orleans,” Williams stated. Another reporter said that the situation “has hit bottom.” The frustration of those left behind is more and more apparent, as they ask the rest of the country “are you watching?” and ask for help. But no help appears to be arriving, and the situation remains tense. Referring to the scene at the convention center, one reporter stated “they say it won't be long until this place explodes.”
Two themes previously absent from the coverage were seen for the first time tonight. The first was an explicit reminder that the great majority of the stranded refugees, at the Superdome, convention center, and all around the city, were poor and African-American. Though the images of the past several days have tended to give that impression, tonight was the first time that on-air reporters have commented on it directly, and implicitly noted that there was a great racial and class division between those able to evacuate the city and those left behind. The second point was an incredulousness that the type of desperation and social collapse evident in the streets was occurring in the United States, not in a foreign, “third-world” nation. As one reporter stated, “this is not Iraq-this is home.”

Friday, September 2, 2005
The theme only hinted at on last night's broadcast was placed front and center tonight, as Brian Williams led with the statement that the aftermath of Katrina was likely to prompt a national discussion on the role of (among other factors) race and class in the United States.
There was some good news from New Orleans tonight. After days of waiting, the first groups of refugees were able to board buses that took them from the “staging areas” of the Superdome and the convention center to be transported to other cities. But this optimism was limited. Reporters stressed that there were possibly tens of thousands still trapped in the city, and anger in the streets still threatened to boil over. More shots of dead bodies in the street were shown, testifying to the long wait for medical help to arrive. The sense was still that refugees felt abandoned by the system.
The other main focus on tonight's broadcast was on the federal rescue response, and specifically the delays in transportation arriving and of supplies getting to the needy. For the first time since the crisis began, pointed questions were asked about the slow response. The term “breakdown of the system” was used in reference to the reaction of the government. President Bush's visit to hurricane -damaged areas was also covered tonight, though it was noted that Bush did not visit New Orleans, where conditions appeared to be the most chaotic. Opinions on the Bush visit were sharply negative from New Orleans residents. The impression is that disdain for the president because of the slow federal response is running high, and one local news station declined to broadcast live coverage of the president's visit to Katrina-damaged areas in Mississippi.

For the most part, the NBC Nightly News did a good job in describing the changing situations in New Orleans after Katrina. However, in retrospect, there are several areas where initial coverage may have been misleading or incomplete.
The first point is in reference to the cause of the massive flooding of the city. From the news reports, it was unclear what had led to the flooding. The natural assumption from a viewer would have been that it was due to the storm itself, but on the other hand, the first reports (from the broadcast of Monday the 29th) suggested that the storm had largely spared the city. On Tuesday, a brief mention was made of the break in two levees, but there was little if any follow-up in subsequent days. In fact, the levees had already been breached by the time Monday's broadcast was on the air and optimism was still the order of the day. There was also no sense given of the nature of the levee breach itself. Again, a natural assumption might have been that it was due to the effects of the storm, but later evidence suggests that the levees survived the initial impact of the storm. Rather, they were “breached” after the storm had passed due to structural flaws in their construction. Also, no specific mention was given to the numerous neighborhoods that had been nearly entirely put underwater by the levee failures. For example, the words “Lower 9th Ward” were not heard during the days following Katrina's impact, whereas that neighborhood later became infamous as possibly the worst-hit area in New Orleans. While understandably the immediate focus was on those stranded in high-density areas downtown, there was little coverage of the flooding in other areas of the city and of the levee failures themselves.
             Secondly, NBC was relatively slow to pick up on the delays in rescue supplies arriving in New Orleans, and on the way this reflected the confused response at a federal level. Early in the week, NBC had reported that a “massive federal relief effort” was underway, but by the end of the week this had shifted to questions about the federal response.