March 6, 2006
Popular Mechanics Takes on Katrina MythsBy Noel Sheppard
Last week's Associated Press release of a video, taken just prior to Hurricane Katrina's arrival in New Orleans last August, has generated a new round of second—guessing and finger pointing regarding who is to blame for the supposedly slow, poor response to this natural disaster. Falling under the fold was an in—depth cover story on this subject by an unlikely source, Popular Mechanics.
In its March issue, PM took on virtually all of the media myths and misnomers that were so drilled into the citizenry by press representatives that many have become part of the public psyche. Thankfully, its authors made it clear right in the first paragraph that they planned on pulling no punches:
How mistaken? Well, PM and its staff put together a list of seven myths concerning Katrina that have been purported by the media, and like a good mechanic, quickly isolated the flaws inherent in the press coverage while making much—needed repairs.
Myth #1: ''The aftermath of Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history.''——Aaron Broussard, president, Jefferson Parish, La., Meet the Press, NBC, Sept. 4, 2005'
For those that have forgotten, Broussard is the man that cried on Meet the Press the Sunday after Katrina hit, claiming that a co—worker's mother died in New Orleans as a result of the delay in the rescue effort. Broussard's claims were later thoroughly discredited. In addition, Broussard was responsible for dismissing all of the pump operators in Jefferson Parish before the storm arrived, and is in the middle of a lawsuit filed by parish residents that claim this decision was largely responsible for the flooding.
That said, PM didn't agree with Broussard's assertions regarding this matter either:
Certainly, it seems hard to categorize 100,000 workers as an abandonment. Unlike many in the media that make such bold statements without verification, PM backed up its position with actual facts. How refreshing:
As the proof is often in the pudding, PM bolstered its view on this myth with the following conclusion:
It's amazing how quickly the press forgot their own highly publicized casualty estimates in the tens of thousands, and saw no victory in that number coming in 90 to 95 percent less than they had advertised.
Myth #2: ''This is a once—in—a—lifetime event.'——New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, press conference, Aug. 28, 2005'
Regardless of how this storm was being hyped at the time, we now know that Katrina's wind—strength significantly diminished in the final hours as it approached New Orleans. As PM put it:
The reality is that had the levees held there would have been comparatively little damage to New Orleans as a result of this storm. However, in PM's view, there is another issue raised by this disaster that has gone largely ignored:
Myth #3: ''Perhaps not just human error was involved [in floodwall failures]. There may have been some malfeasance.'——Raymond Seed, civil engineering professor, UC, Berkeley, testifying before a Senate committee, Nov. 2, 2005'
There's been a lot of second—guessing and finger pointing concerning the levee design, and who was responsible for their failure. According to PM, these were all built according to specifications:
Myth #4: ''They have people ... been in that frickin' Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people.'——New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Sept. 6, 2005'
Some of the most pathetic and shameful reporting on Katrina dealt with the supposed violence occurring in both the streets and at the Superdome. As PM declared, almost all of these reports turned out to be similar to the rubbish that piled up around New Orleans:
Both public officials and the press passed along lurid tales of post—Katrina mayhem: shootouts in the Superdome, bodies stacked in a convention center freezer, snipers firing on rescue helicopters. And those accounts appear to have affected rescue efforts as first responders shifted resources from saving lives to protecting rescuers.
In reality, although looting and other property crimes were widespread after the flooding on Monday, Aug. 29, almost none of the stories about violent crime turned out to be true. Col. Thomas Beron, the National Guard commander of Task Force Orleans, arrived at the Superdome on Aug. 29 and took command of 400 soldiers. He told PM that when the Dome's main power failed around 5 am,
What were some of the other numbers?
Some mayhem, huh? And how about the supposed anarchy in the streets, or snipers shooting at rescue operators?
Myth #5: ''The failure to evacuate was the tipping point for all the other things that ... went wrong.'——Michael Brown, former FEMA director, Sept. 27, 2005'
This myth is particularly delicious given the press's newfound adoration of Brown, even though their complaints about his performance in September got him fired. Regardless, when you look at the arithmetic and the facts, this really was a very successful evacuation. PM agreed:
Another myth in this regard was that the only people that didn't evacuate were those that couldn't. Not so according to PM:
Myth #6: ''We will rebuild [the Gulf Coast] bigger and better than ever.' ——Haley Barbour, Miss. Gov., The Associated press, Sept. 3, 2005'
There's been much discussion in the media concerning what should be done with New Orleans after its destruction. PM offered a bold view in this regard. Its premise was that the current National Flood Insurance Program rewards people who live in coastal areas subject to floods, with some making multiple claims for very large sums of money:
By contrast, the government doesn't view tornado or earthquake damage with anywhere near as broad a scope:
Great question. So, what's the answer that PM offered which few media would have the guts to espouse?
Great idea, folks. Let's see that one get through a contentious Congress.
Myth #7: ''You have a major energy network that is down ... We could run out of gasoline or diesel or jet fuel in the next two weeks here.'——Roger Diwan, managing director, Oil Markets Group, PFC Energy, Business Week, Sept. 1, 2005'
Probably not unintentionally, PM saved the best myth for last. Some of the worst media reporting surrounding this hurricane was directly related to energy prices. In fact, we quickly heard how this was going to cause massive job cuts around the country, lead to a recession, send gasoline to $5 per gallon, and kill the Christmas shopping season.
Much like most economic predictions from the media, none of these prognostications materialized. And, according to PM, the media were all wet regarding how much damage was done to the nation's energy complex:
Beyond this, the subsequent storms of Rita and Wilma had a larger impact on our energy complex than Katrina, though neither garnered the same media attention. However, even with all this damage, things were repaired much quicker than expected — especially by the media that never see any good in anything:
Not surprisingly, the media didn't see it that way, and continued to talk about Katrina—related higher fuel prices negatively impacting the economy right through the end of last year.
As a result, like virtually no members of the antique media, PM adroitly demonstrated just how wrong the press were about this horrible disaster, and continue to be. Leave it to a group of mechanics to identify where that awful clanging sound was coming from...in this case, America's pressrooms.��
Noel Sheppard is an economist, business owner, and contributing writer to The Free Market Project. He is also contributing editor for the Media Research Center's NewsBusters.org.� Noel welcomes feedback.