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National Press Club

Shearer: News "template" obscured true Katrina story of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' failure

March 14, 2011 | By Terry Hill |

Comedian-filmmaker Harry Shearer (center), National Press Club President Mark Hamrick (right), Speakers Committee Chair Melissa Charbonneau (left)

Comedian-filmmaker Harry Shearer (center), National Press Club President Mark Hamrick (right), Speakers Committee Chair Melissa Charbonneau (left)

Photo/Image: Al Teich

Locking itself into a news coverage “template,” the mainstream media focused solely on the emotional aspect of damage caused to New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and deliberately avoided the major culprit of the disaster — flooding enabled by flawed U.S. Army Corps of Engineer design and construction, comedian-filmmaker Harry Shearer charged during a National Press Club luncheon on March 14.

Shearer, most famously known as the voice of several characters of the popular animated television show, "The Simpsons," is releasing a 90-minute documentary of the disaster, "The Big Uneasy." The feature-length film, which includes segments by actor John Goodman, is promoted as an “inside story of a disaster that could have been prevented from the people who were there.”

Shearer said the coverage template was formed by news editors and producers in New York who had followed the storm closely, saw it slam into coastal Mississippi, blow out windows of a major New Orleans hotel, flood the city and force thousands into the Superdome for refuge. The storyline was locked down: a city below sea level with thousands of poor black victims.

New Orleans is not, as reported, a city below sea level, Shearer said. According to geological studies, only about half of the city resides at that level. But this was another fact ignored by the media, Shearer said. Many of those in the city who suffered were not harmed by the storm but by their proximity to failed levees.

Since the disaster, two major investigations have confirmed the scientific facts of the city’s flooding, both pointing clearly to the historical failure of the Corps of Engineers to adequately design and build levees that would withstand such a storm, Mr. Shearer said.

Similar levees, he said, exist in Sacramento, Calif., and Dallas, Texas, potential disasters themselves allowed by a government agency that operates within what he called a “culture of impunity,” with no accountability for its performance.

"The Big Easy" opens in theaters around the United States over the next several months.