Chron: don't blame media for exaggerated New Orleans reporting

Yet one more example to keep in mind the next time the Chronicle editorial board (made up of, you know, editors) wants a shield law:

Working in a chaotic environment, reporters repeated some of the accounts as fact. The accounts were thoroughly backed, however, by New Orleans' top officials. In a televised interview, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin told Oprah Winfrey that "hundreds of armed gang members" were raping women and committing murder in the Superdome. The occupants, he said, were in "an almost animalistic state." Police Superintendent Eddie Compass who resigned Tuesday went further, telling Winfrey, "We had little babies in there ... getting raped."

This week, careful studies are establishing reality. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, officials have found evidence of one murder. No witnesses or victims have substantiated rape claims at the Superdome or convention center. In Houston, only six evacuees have reported violent crimes occurring in New Orleans.


But the hyperbole spouted by Nagin and Compass created a special obstacle. Both men were understandably distraught. Both tried wildly to attract attention from a federal government that for days effectively abandoned them. Even so, their reckless words breathed life into the stereotypes that helped make New Orleans a disaster. Perhaps they blindly accepted the worst rumors because they matched their own assumptions about the poor.

First off, Nagin effectively abandoned his own city. The feds are not and never have been first responders. It is up to local and state officials to be ready for the immediate aftermath of any disaster.

Second, the media also "blindly accepted the worst rumors because they matched their own assumptions about the poor," or else the media would have been more cautious about what it put into news stories.

Nope, the Chron can't lay the blame solely on New Orleans' city officials -- the Chron has told us before that it is the media's JOB to be skeptical.

The professional media needs to own up to its own failings in the aftermath of Katrina.

UPDATE: Don't miss Hugh Hewitt's critical take of the professional media's reporting:

There weren't stacks of bodies in the freezer. But America was riveted by this reporting, wholesale collapse of the media's own levees they let in all the rumors, and all the innuendo, all the first-person story because they were caught up in their own emotionalism. Exactly what Keith was praising I think led to one of the worst weeks of reporting in the history of American media, and it raises this question: If all of that amount of resources was given over to this story and they got it wrong, how can we trust American media in a place far away like Iraq where they don't speak the language, where there is an insurgency, and I think the question comes back we really can't.

Hewitt has one of the best talk shows (both intelligent and entertaining) on the radio. In case you aren't already a devoted listener, locally he's on KNTH-1070 AM from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Online you can listen to him live here and then from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. (delayed obviously) here.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 09/30/05 08:28 AM | Print |

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