View Full Version : The Media Did a Horrible Job Covering Katrina

12 Oct 05,, 04:19
Katrina spawned plague of misinformation
By Mark Memmott, USA TODAY
One thing can be said for certain about what it was like in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina roared through:

Much of what was reported as fact by government officials and the media during the chaotic first week afterward turned out to be fiction.

Myths and misinformation multiplied, from how many people died to what conditions were really like inside the Louisiana Superdome.

"If you don't have accurate information ... you could be making bad decisions and just creating the next disaster," says Ken Murphy, director of Oregon's Office of Emergency Management and a director at the National Emergency Management Association.

Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, generated a number of false reports. Among them:

•The death toll. Mayor Ray Nagin warned the city's toll could reach 10,000 dead, a figure repeated often in news accounts. As of last week Louisiana had confirmed 1,003 Katrina-related deaths in the entire state.

•Lawlessness. City officials, police and others said they were told of crime sprees at the Superdome and Ernest P. Morial Convention Center, where tens of thousands of people had taken shelter. The reports put the Bush administration on the defensive and sparked a massive movement of troops to the city. But an investigation by The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune found no evidence to support claims that babies were raped and armed gangs were on a murderous rampage in either place.

•Draining the city. Federal officials said it would take three months to drain the city. Six weeks later, New Orleans is largely dry.

John Hinderaker, co-author of the widely read conservative weblog Power Line, and other media watchers say the media need to take a hard look at their behavior.

"When the mayor said there might be 10,000 bodies, he was distraught, he was in the midst of a crisis," says Hinderaker. "What was shocking was that news organizations would just pick it up and keep repeating it when there'd really been no basis for it."

Experts in emergency management and communications say the real problem was a collapse of conventional communications systems, like phone systems. Those who had good information had no way of transmitting it. They say it's time to create a system that allows facts to be conveyed more quickly to decision-makers.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., have introduced legislation that would give telecommunications companies financial incentives to build crisis information systems into their Internet and cellphone networks. That way, information could be sent to multiple battery-powered laptops and cellphones via e-mails and text messages.

Reed Hundt, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, advocates designating a part of the wireless Internet spectrum known as Wi-Fi to a new emergency broadcast network.

"Wi-Fi networks can be run on batteries in times of crisis," Hundt says.

"You can float the antennas on boats. They can be dropped on to rooftops by helicopters," he says. "And laptops run by batteries too. There are darn few TV sets out there running on batteries."

Hundt also advocates equipping all police, fire and other emergency personnel with Wi-Fi-based, handheld communication devices.

Contributing: The Associated Press


12 Oct 05,, 13:01
I think the article was generally on target. However, I thought that the draining the city part was very weak. While the proposed death toll was off by 10-20 times, draining the city was off by only 2 times the amount it took and was based off of the ability to be able to restore power to the pumps.

12 Oct 05,, 18:16
I think the article was generally on target. However, I thought that the draining the city part was very weak. While the proposed death toll was off by 10-20 times, draining the city was off by only 2 times the amount it took and was based off of the ability to be able to restore power to the pumps.

Well, that's a pretty low standard of accuracy you got there, shek. ;)


But did you guys read what Rather said about the quality of the coverage? Nothing but praise.

I'll see if I can find the quote.

12 Oct 05,, 18:19
Well, THAT was easy. Here it is, along with some VERY good commentary by - who else? - Mark Steyn:

Media deserve blame for New Orleans debacle

October 2, 2005


Dan Rather was on ''Larry King Live'' the other night and was asked about the Katrina coverage. Now, say what you like about Dan, but he knows his meteorological phenomena. I've always thought there was something quintessentially American about Dan's hurricane editions of the CBS news -- not the part of the show where he's reporting on the actual hurricane, but the bit where he says "And today's other headlines,'' as if it's the most normal thing in the world to be reading "The Dow closed 19 points down today" while wrapped around a lamppost in your sou'wester with a rusting doublewide flying over your shoulder.

Yet Hurricane Dan professed himself delighted with his successors. "They took us there to the hurricane," he told Larry. "They put the facts in front of us and, very important, they sucked up their guts and talked truth to power."

Er, no. The facts they put in front of us were wrong, and they didn't talk truth to power. They talked to goofs in power, like New Orleans' Mayor Nagin and Police Chief Compass, and uncritically fell for every nutso yarn they were peddled. The media swallowed more bilge than if they'd been lying down with their mouths open as the levee collapsed. Ten thousand dead! Widespread rape and murder! A 7-year-old gang-raped and then throat-slashed! It was great stuff -- and none of it happened. No gang-raped 7-year-olds. None.

Most of the media are still in Dan mode, sucking up their guts and congratulating themselves about what a swell job they did during Katrina. CNN producers were advising their guests to "be angry," and there was so much to get angry about, not least the fact that no matter how angry you got on air Anderson Cooper was always much better at it. And Mayor Nagin as well. To show he was angry, he said "frickin'" all the frickin' time so that by the end of a typical Nagin soundbite you felt as if you'd been gang-fricked. "That frickin' Superdome," he raged. "Five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people."

But nobody got killed by a hooligan in the Superdome. The problem wasn't rape and murder, but the rather more prosaic lack of bathroom facilities. As Ben Stein put it, it was the media that rioted. They grabbed every lurid rumor and took it for a wild joyride across prime time. There was a real story in there -- big hurricane, people dead -- but it wasn't enough, and certainly not for damaging President Bush.

Think about that: Hurricane week was in large part a week of drivel, mostly the bizarre fantasies of New Orleans' incompetent police chief but amplified hugely by a gullible media. Given everything we now know they got wrong in Louisiana, where they speak the language, how likely is it that the great blundering herd are getting it any more accurate in Iraq?

Four years ago, you'll recall, we were bogged down in "the brutal Afghan winter." By "we," I don't mean the military but the media. The line on Afghanistan was that it was the white man's grave. Actually, it was the grave that was white; the man was more of a blueish color thanks to temperatures "so cold that eyelids crust and saliva turns to sludge in the mouth," according to Knight-Ridder's Tom Ifield. "Realistically," reported New York's Daily News, "U.S. forces have a window of two or three weeks before the brutal Afghan winter begins to foreclose options."

Er, no. "Realistically," U.S. forces turned out to have a window of four years, which is how long they've been waiting for the "fast, fast approaching" (ABC's ''Nightline'') brutal Afghan winter to show up. It's Knight-Ridder's news reports that turn to sludge on your lips. The "brutal Afghan winter" is a media fiction.

How many times does this have to happen before the press seriously examines why so many of them get the big stories wrong in exactly the same way? After decades of boasting about "hiring diversity," everybody in America's newsrooms is now so remarkably diverse they all make exactly the same mistakes. Oughtn't that to be just a teensy bit disquieting even to the most blinkered journalism professor?

How appropriate that it should be Dan Rather, always late to yesterday's conventional wisdom, to bless the media's fraudulent coverage of Katrina. Dan was back, along with his dismissed producer Mary Mapes, to defend his fake-memo story from last year. Another interviewer, his former CBS colleague Marvin Kalb, sympathized at the way Rather's terrific story had somehow gotten lost in a lot of tedious quibbling about the fact that the 1970s typewritten memos amazingly used the default font of Microsoft Word: "The focus was not on the substance of your story," complained Marvin to Dan. "The National Guard aspect of the whole thing sort of dropped to the side, and this media focus was on you."

The critics had, as Mary Mapes puts it in her new book, "nothing beyond a cursory and politically motivated examination of the typeface." To this day, as Dan likes to moan, the White House is still refusing to address the substance of the story.

There's a reason for that. If I say "King Zog of Albania today launched a blistering critique of the CBS News Division," and you point out that King Zog of Albania died in 1961, that's it -- it's over. Doesn't matter how blistering the critique is. And that goes for the hurricane, too. You can't indict Bush for failing to respond when you've spent the previous week demanding he respond to fake crises -- mass murder, mass child rape, five-figure body counts.

Oh, well. Even at CNN, hurricane fever can't last forever. According to the headline writers at the network's Web site on Thursday:

"Bush Narrows Supreme Court List: Judges, Lawyers Being Considered, Analysts Say."

Well, those "analysts" lent a devastating blow to those of us who thought the president would push the envelope, think outside the box and appoint a busboy or exotic dancer. But no. After two centuries of the same-old same-old, it's still "judges, lawyers being considered." But it's good to know the media are reverting to ponderous statements of the obvious after a wild and wacky couple of weeks' worth of statements of the obviously wrong.

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12 Oct 05,, 18:47
Well, that's a pretty low standard of accuracy you got there, shek. ;)


But did you guys read what Rather said about the quality of the coverage? Nothing but praise.

I'll see if I can find the quote.

Yeah, same with Gore. What a pair of schlongs.


12 Oct 05,, 19:55
Yeah, the local news media also screwed up the evacuation of Houston. They basically were fanatical and told everyone to leave, which is what caused all of the traffic jams. There were only supposed to be certain high risk zones evacuated until the storm got closer and we knew exactly where it was going to hit.

12 Oct 05,, 20:53
Media embelishment/fabrication...whats new?!!