WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With Hurricane Rita battering the Gulf Coast and the Lone Star State, there is no doubt what the top story and the headlines are going to be about for the next several days. After the storm passes, the question remains -- how many relevant facts will be in the stories that follow? If Katrina is any indication, the real challenge will begin in the immediate aftermath of the tempest.
In this era of hand-portable cameras, miniature satellite uplinks and live broadcasts, television is the "instant medium." Whether it's a hurricane, sporting event, a Congressional hearing or a war, no other form of mass communication covers an incident "as it happens" better than cable television. Today, viewers can see "through the lens" what's occurring -- as it occurs. But the images are fleeting, memories are short -- and after the "live shot" cameras are gone, it is all too tempting for polemicists to use the "footage" and photos for their own purposes.
The Katrina coverage by the so-called mainstream media -- both print and broadcast -- is a remarkable example. The major networks, ABC, NBC and CBS all sent crews to the Gulf Coast as Katrina closed in. But only the cable news channels -- led by my employer, FOX News -- went to "wall-to-wall" coverage of the approaching storm -- and stayed with it 24/7. The older, larger and theoretically more experienced standard broadcast networks decided to stick with their regular programming and covered the storm -- along with its disastrous consequences -- on their newscasts and occasional updates as a story that needed "perspective." The assumption being perhaps that the "cable kids" were too "close" to the story.
The results should have been anticipated. While FOX News and other cable outlets sought out Coast Guard and other first responders heroically rescuing those who did not or could not evacuate, the "Big Three" descended on local politicians to start fixing blame. Cable camera crews documented the catastrophe at the Superdome as it occurred, the looting as it was happening, the breakdown of law and order while it was ongoing. Though these same images were available to ABC, CBS and NBC, their general approach was to re-broadcast the footage and "wrap" it in a political patina in order to give "depth" to the story.
There had to be someone to blame for this disaster -- and the logical target for most of the big broadcasters, newspapers and magazines became the Bush Administration. While the water was still rising in New Orleans and people on the Mississippi coast were pawing through the wreckage of their demolished homes and businesses, the blame-game began in the mainstream media's quest for relevance.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.