In a little over a week, August 29 to be exact, the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina will be observed. Expect some pretty extensive coverage on the cable channels, especially on a certain gray-haired CNN reporters’ program, about all the lessons learned over the past year. There should be plenty of discussion about what Katrina revealed about race and poverty in America and how it exposed weaknesses in the government. What I would like, but don’t expect to see, however, are exposes of the failures in reporting the story and some explanations of how such failures could occur. It would also be nice to hear some corrections to the flawed record so many Americans have come to believe as fact.
At a Duke University website I found that the “Duke faculty from a variety of disciplines offer their perspectives on some of the issues and challenges that still exist as the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches.” The list of issues faculty would be discussing included repopulation of New Orleans, lingering health issues, mental health issues, improving housing, Louisiana recovery efforts, and even “Are national disasters punishments from God?” and “Bush administration incompetence during Katrina, 9/11.”
What was not offered by the Duke faculty was an examination of journalistic incompetence during Katrina, much of which, I would argue, was the result of many reporters’ rush to pin all blame for the aftermath of the storm on the federal government and the Bush administration.
On the NOLA.com list of events set to mark August 29, is "Hands Around the Dome," a gathering “marking the ordeal of those who sought refuge in the Superdome.” Those at the Superdome and the Convention Center did suffer through a horrible ordeal, but some of the reporting of those ordeals was pretty horrible, too.
Reporting of unsubstantiated rumors was especially rampant in coverage of the New Orleans Superdome and Convention Center. Politicians repeating the stories gave them additional credibility and resulted in them receiving even more coverage. A month after the storm hit, the Los Angeles Times described some of the misreporting:
The New Orleans Times-Picayune on Monday described inflated body counts, unverified "rapes," and unconfirmed sniper attacks as among examples of "scores of myths about the dome and Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the media and even some of New Orleans' top officials."