Here is what happened. A level 4 hurricane hit the Gulf Coast just east of New Orleans, and devastated large chunks of Louisiana and Mississippi. To compound this misery, two levees – dikes holding back the primal waters from New Orleans, a city built largely below sea level – burst in flood. Many are dead: exact number, unknown. Many are stranded. Some have seized the situation to break the restraints of civilized behavior. Looting and murder have been reported.
What is to be done? The average citizen can do little, other than give: we should give generously. Blogs like Instapundit and moveon.org, from opposite ends of the political spectrum, have provided extensive information how and where to donate money. They represent the best of the American spirit.
Public and private schools, colleges and universities, should offer to take on the displaced studends, teachers, and professors, and whenever possible assist them in finding housing. Many are doing so already.
Public servants, whether elected or appointed, must concentrate on their own sphere of authority, and reflect how, within that sphere, they can best assist the victims, protect the economy, and promote the reconstruction of the devastated areas. In their actions and statements, they should maintain grace under pressure. They must not, under any circumstances, seek to place blame for partisan reasons or evade their own responsibilities.
The mainstream media, for which I usually have nothing but contempt, have an important part to play in this fluid, chaotic information moment: reporters must try to connect facts, rather than, as usual in this business, stand in front of people in misery and pontificate. In Louisiana and Mississippi, hard information is at a premium; its communication can, quite literally, save lives.
That should be the job of every reporter. Sensationalism, the exploitation of human suffering to sell newspapers or win ratings points, is morally disgusting and must be loudly condemned by the paying consumers.
As for the talking heads, their job is to impose historical perspective during a frightening and confusing event. They should not use their privileged positions, which they have assumed without consulting the electorate, for finger-pointing, scandal-mongering, or the prediction of political pogroms to come in the wake of the hurricane.
As I write this, there seems to be a war between those talking heads who seek to improve a bad situation, and others, including some of my favorites, who wish to use the disaster for self-glorification or settling political scores. Let us hope the American spirit triumphs here as well, and quiets the noises of loathsome and self-interested ghouls.
Aristotle wrote that the character of an individual is revealed in action. When disaster strikes, all pretense and hypocrisy are blown away, and the bedrock of character becomes visible to all. As a nation and as individuals, we are being tested. Strength and compassion are, in this case, one and the same.
Those who in any way, however small, help to assist, to understand, to forgive, to improve, to embrace, have become, as individuals, moral bulwarks that protect our way of life much as those levees protected New Orleans from catastrophe. Those who yield to the temptation to sensationalize, score points, or exploit for profit or partisanship the suffering and death of thousands are, from a moral perspective, no better than the looters and murderers who roam the ruins at night.
UPDATE: Sophistpundit expresses perfectly my thoughts on this matter, with fewer words.