Journalists Urge More Reporting on Hurricane Katrina

Newsday – “The Cape Can’t Wait” is the headline the article announcing that Jon Benson, a nationally syndicated columnist and talk show host, has passed away at home on Christmas Day. His death is marked by news reports that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As he wrote in his recent book, No Limits, “It wasn’t the disease that killed me but the cure. Pancreatic cancer has a way of sneaking up on you.” A week prior to his death, Benson had disclosed that he was being treated for pancreatic cancer.

Since taking a break from writing for Newsday, Benson was one of the most well-known experts on national talk shows. He frequently appeared as a guest commentator on Fox News and was often heard on the national radio shows. It was not a surprise that his comments about President George W. Bush’s military service made headlines across the country. Even colleagues in the press gallery expressed support for his statements.

The tough-talker persona that characterized Newsday’s reporting on national issues made it a frequent target of conservative politicians and commentators. Many criticized Newsday’s reporters for focusing too much on the negative instead of the positive in their stories. After President Bush’s war in Iraq became public, Newsday repeatedly reported on the thousands of civilian casualties. Although the paper did end up calling the president a liar, most Americans viewed the matter as a fair game for the press to take. (Even Rush Limbaugh criticized fellow Fox News personality Bill O’Brien for saying that Bush had “lied his way into a war”.)

But when it came to the subject of his own health, Benson’s opinions about President Bush were widely shared. He had a long history of criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina. As the disaster approached, he blasted the media for focusing more on the negative aspects of the catastrophe rather than the positive aspects. “The press should focus on the positive aspects – not the negative,” he said. Ironically, just days before his death, Newsday published a story about how Louisiana residents were flooding their homes in preparation for Hurricane Rita. Benson had nothing but good things to say about the local government and its response to the crisis.

The Washington Times also published an article written by Benson, where he described his childhood home in Washington D.C. As a teenager, he was arrested several times and spent time in prison. Now, as an older reporter with a new profession, he recalled how scared he was when the CIA put him in a vehicle and carted him off to the woods. He described the experience as one of the most scary moments of his life. He likened the experience to living in a “fairy tale,” one that would “never happen.”

In his final column, Newsday writer Robert Draper remembered Benson for his passion, resilience and commitment to doing the job. “He could be a bit quirky at times, and I didn’t always like what I read in his columns,” Draper wrote. “But you couldn’t help noticing how deeply he cared about this profession and the people who practiced it.” He concluded: “I’ll miss him at times, but I’m grateful that we have each other and I will miss seeing his brilliant writing.”