Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Katrina: grading the government & the media

As we approach the 2006 hurricane season, Jonah Goldberg reminds us that while it's easy to criticize the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, the vast majority of that criticism is wrong. And the media deserves the lion's share of blame for that misinformation.
As I’ve written before, virtually all of the gripping stories from Katrina were untrue. All of those stories about, in Paula Zahn’s words, “bands of rapists, going block to block”? Not true. The tales of snipers firing on medevac helicopters? Bogus. The yarns, peddled on Oprah by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and the New Orleans police chief, that “little babies” were getting raped in the Superdome and that the bodies of the murdered were piling up? Completely false. The stories about poor blacks dying in comparatively huge numbers because American society “left them behind”? Nah-ah. While most outlets limited themselves to taking Nagin’s estimate of 10,000 dead at face value, Editor and Publisher -- the watchdog of the media -- ran the headline, “Mortuary Director Tells Local Paper 40,000 Could Be Lost in Hurricane.”

In all of Louisiana, not just New Orleans, the total dead from Katrina was roughly 1,500. Blacks did not die disproportionately, nor did the poor. The only group truly singled out in terms of mortality was the elderly. According to a Knight-Ridder study, while only 15 percent of the population of New Orleans was over the age of 60, some 74 percent of the dead were 60 or older, and almost half were older than 75. Blacks were, if anything, slightly underrepresented among the dead given their share of the population.

This barely captures how badly the press bungled Katrina coverage. Keep in mind that the most horrifying tales of woe that captivated the press and prompted news anchors to scream—quite literally—at federal officials occurred within the safe zone around the Superdome where the press was operating. Shame on local officials for fomenting fear and passing along newly minted urban legends, but double shame on the press for recycling this stuff uncritically. Members of the press had access to the Superdome. Why not just run in and look for the bodies? Interview the rape victims? Couldn’t be bothered? The major networks had hundreds of people in New Orleans. Was there not a single intern available to fact-check? The coverage actually cost lives. Helicopters were grounded for 24 hours in response to media reports of sniper attacks. At least two patients died waiting to be evacuated.
But in the race to prove the federal response incompetent, the “real journalists” missed some important details. As Lou Dolinar exhaustively documents, the National Guard did amazing work in New Orleans. From the Superdome, the Guard managed some 2,500 troops, a dozen emergency shelters, more than 200 boats, 150 helicopters (which flew more than 10,000 sorties moving 88,181 passengers, 18,834 tons of cargo, and saved 17,411 survivors), and an enormous M*A*S*H operation that, among other things, delivered seven babies.
Goldberg adds that the government certainly made mistakes (including, I might add, some stupid comments from the president -- "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job!"), but the urban legend of legion incompetence belongs more with the media and Louisiana leaders than it does with Washington, D.C.


  • At 5/24/2006 3:38 PM, Blogger Capitol 3 said…

    Hello We was going to post something about kartina Storm:Do you think it is time to take God out of the nation when we have storms like this it seems like the time when our Nation needs God in it.Marriage should be one man and one woman no on civil unions to putting prayer back in schools to not taking God out of the pledge I think that when our nation has really bad storms earthquakes
    and that is a time as a country we need God

  • At 5/24/2006 3:39 PM, Blogger Capitol 3 said…

    Hello we was going to post something about the katrina storm Think of all of the churchs that helped during this time.


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