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 - quite literally - scream 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.
And yet, a ubiquitous media chorus claims simultaneously that Katrina was Bush's worst hour and the press's best. That faultless paragon of media scrupulousness Dan Rather proclaimed it one of the "quintessential great moments in television news." Christiane Amanpour explained, "I think what's interesting is that it took a Katrina, you know, to bring us back to where we belong. In other words, real journalists, real journalism, and I think that's a good thing."
But in the race to prove the federal response incompetent, the "real journalists" missed some important details. As Lou Dolinar of RealClearPolitics.com 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.
Also left out of the conventional tale of Katrina is the fact that the hurricane hardly singled out New Orleans. Obviously, the flooding was worse because of the levee breaks. But, as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour noted, the people of his state and Alabama and Florida have the same federal government. And despite awesome destruction, they managed to do OK.
None of this is to say that the federal government and the Bush administration didn't make mistakes. But, if we're looking for poster children for arrogant incompetence in response to Katrina, there are better candidates than George W. Bush.
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