Who’s Inept?

Following up on our post yesterday on the media malpractice that characterized Hurricane Katrina coverage, Jonah Goldberg has more. His NRO column is subtitled: “Katrina revealed ineptitude—of the press, that is.”

As I’ve written before, virtually all of the gripping stories from Katrina were untrue. All of those stories about, in Paula Zahn’s words, “bands of rapists, going block to block”? Not true. The tales of snipers firing on medevac helicopters? Bogus. The yarns, peddled on Oprah by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and the New Orleans police chief, that “little babies” were getting raped in the Superdome and that the bodies of the murdered were piling up? Completely false. The stories about poor blacks dying in comparatively huge numbers because American society “left them behind”? Nah-ah.

Jonah argues–persuasively, I think–that the press’ bungled Katrina coverage actually cost lives:

This barely captures how badly the press bungled Katrina coverage. Keep in mind that the most horrifying tales of woe that captivated the press and prompted news anchors to scream—quite literally—at federal officials occurred within the safe zone around the Superdome where the press was operating. Shame on local officials for fomenting fear and passing along newly minted urban legends, but double shame on the press for recycling this stuff uncritically. Members of the press had access to the Superdome. Why not just run in and look for the bodies? Interview the rape victims? Couldn’t be bothered? The major networks had hundreds of people in New Orleans. Was there not a single intern available to fact-check? The coverage actually cost lives. Helicopters were grounded for 24 hours in response to media reports of sniper attacks. At least two patients died waiting to be evacuated.

And yet, an ubiquitous media chorus claims simultaneously that Katrina was Bush’s worst hour and the press’s best. That faultless paragon of media scrupulousness Dan Rather proclaimed it one of the “quintessential great moments in television news.”

With another hurricane season just around the corner, keep in mind how badly the press blew it last year. Watch for them to do two things this year: 1) repeat over and over, as if it were an established fact, that the federal response to Hurricane Katrina (they won’t talk much about the state and local response) was inept, and 2) seize on any pretext to claim that the feds still haven’t got it right notwithstanding the universal outrage over Katrina.

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