The deluge in New Orleans elicited a deluge of wish fulfillment in the media, as though the hurricane was a biblical sign that something was very wrong in George W. Bush's America. "Everything changed" because of Katrina, insisted CNN's Anderson Cooper. Translation: We're going to tell the story we want to tell about the country from now on. Race and class became the chief prisms for viewing the disaster. Katrina was even portrayed as the result of global warming, which (of course!) is Bush's fault.
During last week's bonfire of Katrina navel-gazing, there was virtually no mention of the hyperventilating and inaccurate media reports, even though these facts are by now well-established. Terms such as "rape gangs" and "snipers" do not appear in virtually any of the mainstream media's retrospectives. It's as if it never happened.
Why? I think the answer is complex, but three factors are surely involved. One, the media are often good watchdogs of government but rarely of themselves. While recycling old complaints about government is permissible, dwelling on your colleagues' failures - or your own - just isn't done.
Two, the media have convinced themselves that they did a wonderful job of covering Katrina, showering themselves with awards in response. Dan Rather spoke for his colleagues when he said, "Everybody across the board did such a good job." It was one of the "quintessential great moments in television news ... right there with the Nixon-Kennedy debates, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate coverage, you name it."
Well, as the disgraced former news anchor might say, that makes as much sense as a cat working as a rocking-chair inspector.
And, lastly, journalists are invested in the dominant narratives of Katrina, and they'll be damned if they'll let go, particularly if it comes at the expense of their own credibility, or make Bush's mistakes seem a little less horrendous.
No, it would be better, and much easier, to print the legend.