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The media meme on disaster coverage depends on which party is in the White House.

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The Media’s Katrina Fantasy

The media meme on disaster coverage depends on which party is in the White House.

It’s been five years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans—and helped shred the remaining respect consumers had for the mainstream press.

Covering natural disasters isn’t easy. In the swirl of the chaos some facts get misrepresented, or lost, through human error. And some news anchors distinguished themselves with their coverage, including Anderson Cooper who forged his current cred with his reportage.
But the media memes which quickly caught fire in the wake of the hurricane weren’t unforced errors. They were part of an ongoing plan to sabotage a Republican administration reeling from a tragedy like no other.

The hurricane’s fifth anniversary makes as good a time as any to recall the media’s treatment of the tragedy. And, given the recent shoddy reportage regarding the Gulf oil spill, looking back makes perfect, and yet depressing, sense.

Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture with the conservative Media Research Center, says the press’s biggest bungle during Katrina concerned the global warming connection. The press eagerly tied the tragedy to the Earth’s “fever,” to quote the king of Global Alarmism, Al Gore.

The media, including CBS News and the New York Times, partly blamed Katrina’s wrath on global warming. And even though respected groups like the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would blow holes in the global warming connection, press outlets wouldn’t let go, Gainor says.

Some even tied Bush’s lack of support for global warming legislation for the hurricane, even though the Clinton administration didn’t sign on to the Kyoto Protocol years earlier.

The hurricane’s initial death toll, fueled partly by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin‘s bald declaration that thousands had died, also took hold even though it was quickly debunked.

“[The death toll] was made worse by the media as a way to beat up on the Bush Administration. It was plenty bad … they didn’t need to do that,” Gainor says. “I wasn’t even the deadliest storm in American history,” he says, pointing to one in Galveston, Texas in 1900.

Other fantastical reports, including a string of rapes and sniper attacks, proved to be more fiction spread through gullible media outlets.

Some stories didn’t get the attention they deserved. Gainor says the press loves to beat up on corporate America, but they gave little attention to the millions of dollars businesses donated to help the region bounce back.

“Businesses and churches were able to respond far faster than the U.S. government,” he says.
Even when reality bumped up against the anti-Bush narrative it didn’t cement into a new meme. When six evacuees at the Houston Astrodome were asked by an ABC reporter if they were mad at President Bush for their plight, none took the bait. Instead, they held city and state officials more accountable.

Nagin also dodged media critiques after commenting he wanted New Orleans to maintain its racial characteristics as the city recovered. Imagine if a white mayor had said the same thing about a majority white city which suffered a devastating natural disaster, Gainor asks.

Perhaps the most egregious story to hit at the time involved rapper Kanye West declaring Bush a racist for not helping the area more. Imagine if a similar claim had been aimed at President Obama—the press would have bent over backwards to refute it, just like reporters did when talk show host Glenn Beck made similar claims regarding Obama’s feelings toward white Americans.

The problems found in Katrina reporting are part of an overall pattern with the MSM, Gainor says. It’s rare that journalists go back and check their predictions or fix their mistakes.

We’re seeing it again with the Gulf oil spill.

The press’s coverage of the spill differs from Katrina based on the letter affixed to the President’s name at the time, Gainor says. The press only waited a few days after Katrina hit before it began to blame President Bush for the recovery effort. After the recent spill, the press held their fire for weeks before starting to mildly question President Barack Obama’s response to the crisis.

The land affected by the spill is federal territory, which means the administration has a more direct responsibility to step in.

And when BP and the government tag-teamed to keep reporters out of certain oil-soaked areas, the media briefly complained and moved on. When complaints were raised, the blame fell on BP.

“Where were the reporters who would have gladly been arrested to make Bush look bad,” he asks.

The fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina should be a time for reporters to reflect on, and apologize for their mistakes. Don’t hold your breath, Gainor says.

Today’s reporters need to be their own ombudsmen, constantly checking their reporting for accuracy and correcting the record as needed, Gainor says.

“You shouldn’t wait for organizations like ours. You should be the first ones out there to say, ‘our reports were wrong,’” he says.

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Written By

Mr. Toto is a freelance reporter and film critic for Movies in Toto, the movie community at washingtontimes.com. His work has appeared in People magazine, MovieMaker Magazine, The Denver Post, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and The Washington Times. He provides movie commentary for the nationally syndicated Dennis Miller Show and runs the blog What Would Toto Watch?

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