Monday, September 19, 2005

NY Times Skewers Media Inaccuracies In Katrina Coverage

Tomorrow's New York Times will carry an article by David Carr entitled, "More Horrible Than Truth: News Reports."

The article concerns the rumors, hearsay and urban legends that grew out of the post-Katrina chaos in New Orleans and found their way, often with "attribution," into radio, television, print and internet media.

The central point of Carr's article is this:
Victims, officials and reporters all took one of the most horrific events in American history and made it worse than it actually was.
Where were all the rapes? None have yet been substantiated (although two attempted rapes have been documented). Where is the 7 year old girl who was raped and had her throat slit? Where are all of the murders in the Convention Center (none) and the Super Dome (one)?

Yes, a police officer was shot. Yes, a National Guard soldier was shot in the leg. Yes, some idiot did take a shot at a rescue helicopter and, yes, police from Gretna, La., did in fact turn back hundreds of fleeing refugees.

The situation was not helped by outbursts such as these from New Orleans Police Chief Eddie Compass and Mayor C. Ray Nagin on the September 6 "Oprah." Compass on the Super Dome: "We had little babies in there, some of the little babies getting raped." Mayor C. Ray Nagin concurred: "They have people standing out there, have been in that frickin' Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people."

Fox News and MSNBC are also cited for allowing on-site reporters to broadcast unconfirmed reports live on national broadcasts. After one outburst, Fox News' John Gibson was honest enough to concede, "we have yet to confirm a lot of that."

Even bloggers are cited as spreading false reports and giving them legitimacy.

It is hard, however, to find fault with any news source that uses direct quotes from Police Chiefs, Mayors and National Guard troops as story material. If media cannot assume that these folks know what they are talking about, who should they consider to be a reliable source?

In any case, there were, throughout the entire ordeal, places where folks could go to get the unadulterated facts. In the on-line world, bloggers such as Michelle Malkin, Irish Trojan Blog, Right Wing Nut House, etc., provided detailed and breaking news direct from a variety of sources, leaving it up to the discerning reader to determine what was wheat and what was chaff.

Carr's closing words express the feelings of many of us who were both tantalized and frustrated by the media's hyperbole:
Even now, the real, actual events in New Orleans in the past three weeks surpass the imagination. Who needs urban myths when the reality was so brutal?