Last week, I wrote about the racism of the liberal media's Katrina coverage -- but that's only half the story. As I've been assessing press accounts of what was clearly the story of the year for 2005, it's become clear that press hysteria delayed rescues, prodded some politicians into making mega-billion dollar promises and may have created a long-term backlash.
How bad was the reporting? You probably saw and heard stories of mayhem at the Superdome and the Convention Center, and on the streets of New Orleans. You may have missed the admissions weeks later by NBC, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times that, as the Baltimore Sun noted, stories about "murders, rapes and beatings have turned out to be false."
"Hundreds of armed gang members killing and raping people" inside the Dome -- never happened. "Thirty or 40 bodies" stored in a Convention Center freezer -- not one. Rampaging "armed mobs" -- none. "Bands of rapists, going block to block" -- never happened. Geraldo Rivera's "scene of terror, chaos, confusion, anarchy, violence, rapes, murders, dead babies" -- well, that's Geraldo Rivera.
Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan said four murders occurred in the entire city during the week after Katrina hit, making it a typical week in a city averaging 200 homicides per year. Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lachney, a Superdome patroller, described press reports as "99 percent (expletive)." The Superdome had one shooting: a Louisiana National Guardsman accidentally shot himself in the leg. New Orleans Coroner Frank Minyard said he had seen only seven gunshot victims during hurricane week: "Seven gunshots isn't even a good Saturday night in New Orleans."
Why the hype? Official sources like the mayor and the police chief were hysterical, and some reporters merely became megaphones for them. Crying and yelling made for better ratings than calm assessments of damage. Network stars wanted to display what passed as compassion. Since few reporters knew what was happening, a pack mentality kicked in, as reporters congregated in places of safety.
Politics also played a role, with liberals framing the story as one of rich people not caring about poor people and whites not caring about blacks.