The coronavirus pandemic represents, among other things, a lesson about the importance of competent government leadership.
But we’ve learned this lesson before.
Last year, Vann R. Newkirk II, one of our staff writers, and our podcast chief Katherine Wells, came to me with an idea for a thorough reassessment of Hurricane Katrina, 15 years later. We knew that the story of Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans was a crucial one to tell. We knew that it was a way to explore our climate future, and our relationship with nature itself. We knew that it would help explain issues of race and class, and truth and lies. But we did not know then how chillingly relevant it would be. Katrina marked a breakpoint in the history of our country, a moment when Americans came to understand that, sometimes, the cavalry isn't coming.
Floodlines, the mesmerizing podcast series that grew out of these conversations, is The Atlantic’s first foray into narrative audio. For 163 years, The Atlantic has specialized in great storytelling; Floodlines builds on this tradition. Vann, Katherine, and their team have taken a story we think we know and have made it dramatically, shockingly, new. They unearth human stories that take us to the heart of the tragedy; they investigate the failures of politicians and the media; and they question the officials who were in charge: the tormented former police chief of New Orleans, and the former FEMA chief Michael Brown—“Brownie”—among them. They achieve something great here, the deepest understanding of what Vann calls “an unnatural disaster.”
I thought I knew most of what there was to know about Hurricane Katrina. But then I listened to Floodlines.