The L.A. Times looks to disparage New Orleans, one tragic utopian story at a time

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Utopians give New Orleans a bad name

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Photo lifted from the Los Angeles Times

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For the all the Wolf Blitzers talking on national television about how New Orleans is coming back, there is the constant specter violent crime in the city (though, statistically, the city is safer). And for every Spike Lee, Wendell Pierce and Chris Paul that brings great publicity and exposure to the city's ongoing recovery, there's a newspaper like the Los Angeles Times ready to undo it all.

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Just where do we begin on this article, "The Last Stop for a Young Utopian"? How about the sub-head: She traveled across the country with little but her conviction that a better world was around the bend. Then she came to New Orleans. OK, not the most encouraging start. But maybe this is a story about how her utopian dream ended because the saw the federal government's failure in protecting one of the United States' landmark cities.

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But no, the L.A. Times decided to take a different route.

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To be sure, the story of how Kirsten Brydum — a resident of San Francisco that took on a cross-country trip after college — is a tragic one. On just her second night in the city, Brydum was shot four times on her way back to a friend's house in the 9th Ward from a Rebirth show at the Howlin Wolf. Her purse, and the borrowed bike she was riding, were not found on the scene. For us living in New Orleans, it's a sad but all-too-familiar story. But for the L.A. Times, it seems like they took the opportunity to highlight every negative aspect of post-Katrina New Orleans.

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Some examples (emphasis added):

  • She rolled into town with a reservation of sorts at a punk-rock group house in the 9th Ward. They were friends of friends, white kids in a black neighborhood. Some dumpster-dived for food. Some were artists and musicians, and some hopped trains. Some had volunteered to help rebuild the city.
  • Many of the newcomers arrived with scant knowledge of the charming but insular city, which, by some measures, is plagued with the nation's highest crime rate.
  • When the news reached the Bay Area, some of her fellow activists wondered if there had been a conspiracy. Some suspected the CIA.

    "Kirsten's death looks more like a hit job rather than a random act of murder," someone called SF Activist commented on one blog, one of a number of similar comments. "New Orleans is still a militarized zone and it's quite possible she was targeted by hired guns."

  • "Hired guns?!" a respondent named Sterno wrote after an essay on xavierthoughts.blogspot.com. "Every murder here in New Orleans looks like a 'hit job', mainly because our criminals are professionals."
  • Other family members noted, with a disgusted irony, that the killer may have been covering up a robbery. Brydum's bag and bicycle were not found at the scene.

    "It's kind of pathetic," said Brydum's aunt, Catherine Page-Evans, of Woodland Hills. "Of course, she would have given it to them."

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Oh where to begin? How about with "white kids in a black neighborhood"? Forget that some of those "white kids" were dumpster diving and living in the same desolation as their neighbors; really just poor kids living in a poor neighborhood. Or how about newcomers that arrive here with "scant knowledge of the charming but insular city"? Because every post-Katrina arrival (including my own) was made in haste and based in whimsical notions that this is the secluded dream of Faulkner and Twain on the Mississippi.

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Worse yet is the blogs the Times decided to quote. New Orleans is "still a militarized zone"? That should be news to the city's residents. Or how about the quote from the New Orleans resident who said "our criminals are professionals." Truly representative of how people in the Big Easy view the plight of violence in the city. The only justifiable comment comes from Brydum's aunt, but even still it's used to show how "pathetic" the criminal — and to a greater extent, the city — is that killed Brydum.

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The article's biggest failing has to be what it doesn't talk about: the local reaction to the murder. As Alison Fenerstock noted on Friday, Brydum's murder has united the New Orleans bicycle community to action with the Brydum Tamden Project NOLA. Mention of the program got all of one forgettable paragraph in the Los Angeles Times piece, giving the city little redeeming quality. How sad. What impression could a casual reader of the Los Angeles Times feel about New Orleans after reading this article other than disgust at a violent city that took the life of a young, beautiful girl chasing her dream?

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Though I guess there's no such thing as bad publicity?

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