August 30, 2006
Perspectives of the We Hate Mainstream Media Club
So we now
come upon the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the most
calamitous natural disaster in U.S. history. Thousands died, tens of
thousands lost their homes, a major American city was damaged possibly
irreparably, and Americans lost the confidence that any level of their
government would be there for them in the event of a major emergency.
But if you
ask certain conservative pundits, the worst thing of all about Katrina
was that the media totally misreported it. A columnist named Lorie Byrd
wrote earlier this month that on the hurricane’s anniversary: “There
should be plenty of discussion about what Katrina revealed about race
and poverty in America… what I would like, but don’t expect to see,
however, are exposes of the failures in reporting the story and some
explanations of how such failures could occur.”
Goldberg wrote a National Review column in May in which he took
it as a given that the media’s “mishandling of Katrina” was more of a
problem than President Bush’s “mishandling of Katrina.” “It is difficult
to think of a bigger media scandal in my lifetime than the fraudulently
inaccurate coverage of Hurricane Katrina,” Goldberg wrote.
As part of
a symposium at the end of 2005 on the question of what was the biggest
story of the year, radio host Michael Medved chose “the crash of
confidence in media,” adding that “Hurricane Katrina highlighted the
biggest story of 2005 - but that story had nothing to do with flooding
wrong. Hurricane Katrina didn’t highlight the biggest story of 2005.
Hurricane Katrina was the biggest story of 2005.
denying that reporters covering Katrina made some mistakes. They
reported a lot of things that government officials told them that turned
out to be wrong. They were covering an unprecedented, nightmare scenario
for which none of them had ever prepared, and as a result mistakes were
whatever mistakes the media made in their Katrina coverage pale in
comparison, significance-wise, to the hurricane itself and the many
people it killed. The deaths of thousands of people, many of which could
likely have been prevented, are worthy of genuine outrage. The mistakes
of a few reporters are worthy of some outrage, but much, much, much less
than the deaths.
were not raped in the Superdome, as Mayor Ray Nagin told reporters.
There did not appear to be any “bands of rapists, going block to block,”
as Paula Zahn said on CNN. And initial estimates of casualties were
considerably higher than the actual numbers (this happened with the 9/11
attacks, as well).
accepting all of that, the fact remains that thousands of people really
did die, even more people than that really did lose their homes, and a
major U.S. city, full of history, culture and people, really will never
be the same again. The government really did bungle the situation beyond
any reason, whether at the local, state or federal level. And all of
this is considerably more important and considerably more worthy of
attention - and anger - than a few screwups by reporters.
from being beside the point, the media-screwed-up-Katrina narrative is
full of holes. In fact, a whole lot of great reporting came from the
hurricane and its immediate aftermath. The New Orleans Times-Picayune
won multiple Pulitzer Prizes, all of them richly deserved, for
publishing amazing work for several months (on the website NOLA.com)
without the benefit of an actual newsroom. Reporters from all over
brought the hurricane story into America’s homes, and most of the time
did a decent job of conveying the abject horror of what happened in New
Orleans and elsewhere.
who don’t like academia generally and postmodernism specifically, the
media-bashing right seems to have embraced their inner Foucault. No
event these days is ever quite as important as its media coverage. And
to these people, liberal media bias is in every closet and under every
bed, and works as an ever-present Theory of Everything. It’s the same
attitude that says the most immoral thing about the Abu Ghraib scandal
was that the New York Times put it on the front page too
the press is going to make mistakes and get stories wrong. And when they
do – or even when they don’t – we can always count on the We Hate
Mainstream Media Club to club them over the head. But it’s necessary to
keep perspective, because life and death issues are important – much
more important than whatever it is the media says about them.
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