In just 24 hours, Chicago Tribune editorial writer/columnist Kristen McQueary moved from relative obscurity to national infamy, all because she wished a horrible disaster would wreak the sort of havoc and chaos, on Chicago that Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans almost exactly ten years ago.
The op-ed In Chicago, wishing for a Hurricane Katrina was published Thursday afternoon. It begins…
Envy isn’t a rational response to the upcoming 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
But with Aug. 29 fast approaching and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu making media rounds, including at the Tribune Editorial Board, I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops.
That’s what it took to hit the reset button in New Orleans. Chaos. Tragedy. Heartbreak
The understandable reaction to McQueary’s callous attitude about what happened in New Orleans, where more than 1,000 people died, tens of thousands were left homeless and the economy was destroyed, was outrage.
“Apparently it takes a Katrina (or, more accurately, a federal levee disaster) to clean up what McQueary calls Chicago’s ‘rot,’” Kevin Allman of the Gambit, a New Orleans alternative weekly, wrote. “Not surprisingly, social media is going nuts in both cities. Is McQueary a troll, a cheap provocateur or just … I dunno?”
McQueary promoted her work on Twitter. Twitter, was not amused.
Though some tried to see the bright side…
The creative readers of Rich Miller’s CapitolFax weighed in
When you have screwed up to such a large degree that NO ONE is defending you, it’s important, if you are ever hoping to get back some credibility, to admit error and say “I’m sorry.”
Many readers thought my premise — through my use of metaphor and hyperbole — was out of line. I certainly hear you. I am reading your tweets and emails. And I am horrified and sickened at how that column was read to mean I would be gunning for actual death and destruction.
See, the readers had the problem. She doesn’t even agree her premise was “out of line.”
Sam R Hall, columnist for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, gets the last word.
Yes, I suppose we read her “wishing for a Hurricane Katrina” and “praying for a real storm” to mean what those words LITERALLY MEAN. After all, she took the time to further explain what she meant by adding, “an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops.”
As an editor and a columnist, I feel compelled to offer Kristen McQueary an alternative lead to her non-apology apology column:
When I wrote a column Thursday about Hurricane Katrina, and how I wished Chicago could face a similar storm — to be jolted in a new direction — I offended the entire city of New Orleans, the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast and beyond. I used the hurricane as a metaphor for the urgent and dramatic change needed in Chicago. It was inappropriate, and I am sorry. I meant no offense to anyone, and I certainly didn’t mean to belittle the lives that were lost or forever changed in the terrible devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While I believe we need an awakening in Chicago, I should have found a better metaphor than the one I used.
Or, she could have simply written:
To the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and to anyone else I offended with my column, I’m sorry. It was insensitive, and I apologize.
I think most people understood what she was trying to say; we just couldn’t understand why anyone would think saying in that was in any way appropriate.
At this point, I’m not sure what’s worse, that McQueary wrote the Katrina column in the first place or that she completely whiffed on the follow-up piece where she should have apologized instead of trying to explain away her mistake.