The Media's Katrina Malpractice

Jonah Goldberg has a great column in the Los Angeles Times in which he takes the media to task for their selective memory in replaying what happened in New Orleans 2 years ago this week when Hurricane Katrina hit that unfortunate city.

Amidst all the wailing about the government's inadequate response to the disaster in their retrospectives, Goldberg points out that the media has forgotten one very important aspect of their narratives when rehashing those momentus days; the media blew it:

Few of us can forget the reports from two years ago. CNN warned that there were "bands of rapists, going block to block." Snipers were reportedly shooting at medical personnel. Bodies at the Superdome, we were told, were stacked like cordwood. The Washington Post proclaimed in a banner headline that New Orleans was a "A City of Despair and Lawlessness," insisting in an editorial that "looters and carjackers, some of them armed, have run rampant." Fox News anchor John Gibson said there were "all kinds of reports of looting, fires and violence. Thugs shooting at rescue crews."

TV reporters raced to the bottom to see who could moralistically preen the most. Interviewers transformed into outright scolds of administration officials. Meanwhile, the distortions, exaggerations and flat-out fictions being offered by New Orleans officials were accelerated and amplified by the media echo chamber. Glib predictions of 10,000 dead, and the chief of police's insistence that there were "little babies getting raped," swirled around the media like so much free-flowing sewage.

It was as though journalistic skepticism of government officials was reserved for the White House, and everyone else got a free pass.
Goldberg says that Katrina "unleashed a virus of sanctimony" while creating many urban legends that later proved to be simply untrue. And to make matters even more incredible, the media even patted itself on the back at the time for what they believed was a job well done. Dan Rather said that Katrina was one of the media's "finest hours," likening  coverage to the Kennedy assassination. And buttressing Goldberg's case for "sanctimony" was Rather's further comment that the press "spoke truth to power" - as if that were the job of the media in the first place. 

The institution that is most impervious to self examination in American society is the press. From war coverage to its political reporting, the old Mainstream Media continues to creak along oblivious to the changing news reading habits of Americans who more and more look to the new media and the internet to learn about what is going on in the world. One would think that their mistakes in Katrian coverage - well documented less than a month after the storm hit New Orleans - would have sobered them up and caused an examination of their beliefs and methods.

But for that to occur, a modicum of introspection is required. And frankly, the media didn't get it then, they didn't get it afterwards, and as Goldberg shows, they don't get it now.

Hat Tip: Ed Lasky
Jonah Goldberg has a great column in the Los Angeles Times in which he takes the media to task for their selective memory in replaying what happened in New Orleans 2 years ago this week when Hurricane Katrina hit that unfortunate city.

Amidst all the wailing about the government's inadequate response to the disaster in their retrospectives, Goldberg points out that the media has forgotten one very important aspect of their narratives when rehashing those momentus days; the media blew it:

Few of us can forget the reports from two years ago. CNN warned that there were "bands of rapists, going block to block." Snipers were reportedly shooting at medical personnel. Bodies at the Superdome, we were told, were stacked like cordwood. The Washington Post proclaimed in a banner headline that New Orleans was a "A City of Despair and Lawlessness," insisting in an editorial that "looters and carjackers, some of them armed, have run rampant." Fox News anchor John Gibson said there were "all kinds of reports of looting, fires and violence. Thugs shooting at rescue crews."

TV reporters raced to the bottom to see who could moralistically preen the most. Interviewers transformed into outright scolds of administration officials. Meanwhile, the distortions, exaggerations and flat-out fictions being offered by New Orleans officials were accelerated and amplified by the media echo chamber. Glib predictions of 10,000 dead, and the chief of police's insistence that there were "little babies getting raped," swirled around the media like so much free-flowing sewage.

It was as though journalistic skepticism of government officials was reserved for the White House, and everyone else got a free pass.
Goldberg says that Katrina "unleashed a virus of sanctimony" while creating many urban legends that later proved to be simply untrue. And to make matters even more incredible, the media even patted itself on the back at the time for what they believed was a job well done. Dan Rather said that Katrina was one of the media's "finest hours," likening  coverage to the Kennedy assassination. And buttressing Goldberg's case for "sanctimony" was Rather's further comment that the press "spoke truth to power" - as if that were the job of the media in the first place. 

The institution that is most impervious to self examination in American society is the press. From war coverage to its political reporting, the old Mainstream Media continues to creak along oblivious to the changing news reading habits of Americans who more and more look to the new media and the internet to learn about what is going on in the world. One would think that their mistakes in Katrian coverage - well documented less than a month after the storm hit New Orleans - would have sobered them up and caused an examination of their beliefs and methods.

But for that to occur, a modicum of introspection is required. And frankly, the media didn't get it then, they didn't get it afterwards, and as Goldberg shows, they don't get it now.

Hat Tip: Ed Lasky