The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Emergence of a Disturbing Pattern

Well it has worked so well so far, why not keep using it until the well runs dry?

Once again the right wing blogosphere has leapt upon a few incidences of inaccuracy in a media accounting to try to discredit all coverage and accounts which emerged post-Katrina. The implicit message? "If one thing is true you cannot believe any of what you heard. The stories coming out of New Orleans and other places were fabrications of the liberal media." Tim Grieve underscores the emerging theme/meme.

Tim Grive @ Salon.com - War Room

It's quickly becoming conventional wisdom: The media reporting from Hurricane Katrina was largely false, and conditions in New Orleans weren't nearly as bad as the press made them out to be. The right is gloating about another Rather-gate triumph over the liberal media and saying that it's the press, not the federal government, that ought to be investigated. At the National Review Online, Fox News contributor John Podhoretz says that the media is guilty of "retelling fiction as fact." Rush Limbaugh says the press is still spreading false stories about Katrina with the "express purpose" of dividing the nation. And bloggers like Gateway Pundit -- proudly checking in "from the heart of JesusLand" -- are cataloging the "folklore vs. fact" of Katrina.

But before this goes too far, perhaps we should take a look at just what it is that the media got wrong. According to stories in the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Los Angeles Times -- the reports on which the "it's the media's fault" meme seems to be built -- the press failed by passing on exaggerated claims about the violence that was occurring in New Orleans. The Times-Picayune says: "As the fog of warlike conditions in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath have cleared, the vast majority of reported atrocities committed by evacuees have turned out to be false, or at least unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law enforcement, medical and civilian officials in positions to know." Building on the Times-Picayune's analysis, the Los Angeles Times reports on conclusions that "newspapers and television exaggerated criminal behavior in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, particularly at the overcrowded Superdome and Convention Center."

So the media, oftentimes relying on rumors that spread through overcrowded evacuation centers and were then repeated by government officials, overstated the death toll of the storm and the barbarity of some of its victims. That ought to be good news and vindication for the citizens of New Orleans, who were often made out to be opportunistic looters and savages -- particularly by voices on the right who seemed to think that criminality was the biggest problem facing that city. But what do these reports say about the government's response to Katrina? How do they undercut criticism that the Bush administration cut funding for levee work, that Republican policies have exacerbated the problems of poverty and race, that the president was slow to return from his vacation, that FEMA bungled matters left and right? They don't. They simply don't say anything about those issues at all.


The same message also appeared yesterday on the Huffington Post. But in all cases the truth is that the poor black folks villified by the media and the Right post Katrina were not as badly behaved as they were depicted. So far, no one has steped forward to contradict the pathetic response of state, local and Federal officials. The Right is asking people to disbelieve their eyes -- of hundred of families perched precariously on rooftops waiting resuce sometimes for days. Of bodies rotting and swelling and floating in the streets. Of looting that went on before our eyes. Of people bearing arms and forming groups out of fear and an effort to stay alive in the mayhem. And what of the distortions?

This Huffington Post is somewhat guilty of glossing over the sordid reality by minimizing the situation. The author notes that only6 people died at the Superdome and far fewer people were raped than we were led to believe. Well, for one thing, I always thought the worst horrors were at the Convention Center, not the Superdome. Second, what kind of world do we live in where we minimize this kind of reality by saying '' it's really not that bad." The truth that should matter is not how badly behaved were citizens (turns out not that bad) but how badly did officials handle the situation. Recently resigned police chief Eddie Compass highlights the situation. He notes he responded to a rumor of gang raping at the Ritz Carlton by rushing over there himself since his daughter was staying there. But as the main official in charge of security -- where was he supposed to be? If the military this is called desertion. I have sympathy for a father's concern, but the police chief can also send officers over there. The Police aren't supposed to curry favoritism in their responses -- recall how many times we have heard stories of police arriving to save a colleagues family member and then leaving everyone else to fend for themselves.




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