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Did the Media Exaggerate What Happened at the Superdome?:
I'm not sure what to make of this report, but it's potentially important:
  That the nation's front-line emergency management believed the body count [at the New Orleans Superdome] would resemble that of a bloody battle in a war is but one of scores of examples of myths about the Dome and the Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the media and even some of New Orleans' top officials, including the mayor and police superintendent. As the fog of warlike conditions in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath has cleared, the vast majority of reported atrocities committed by evacuees have turned out to be false, or at least unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law enforcement, medical and civilian officials in positions to know.
  Any thoughts? Hat tip: The Corner.
TC (mail):
While Congress is investigating the Katrina response, who is going to investigate the media blowhards?
9.26.2005 3:41pm
The Drill SGT:
At some level hype by the media of violence is analogous to "yelling fire in the crowded theater". It exacerbates the situation and cause the government to mis-allocate scarce resources that result in hardship and death someplace else.

I don't know how to draw the line, but there ought to be anti-awards for the worst hyped stories. The Anti-Pulitzers. Like "10,000 dead in NOLA".
9.26.2005 3:57pm
Chris Scoggins (www):
If there is one thing that needs to be learned, it's that EVERYTHING gets exagerated in times of crisis, it's not even necessarily the media's fault. When the public is desperately seeking ANY news they immediately stick to the most sensational and the media propogates that story. The same thing happened during 9/11, the run up to the Iraq War, the aftermath of katrina (10K dead anyone), the actual Iraq War, Vietnam, WWII, the list goes on and on.
9.26.2005 3:59pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
What? Say it ain't so!! No way the media would exaggerate what happened in New Orleans! Somehow Karl Rove staged those rapes and murders for reporters to see and then had them cleaned up before anyone could confirm them. There is no other possible explanation.
9.26.2005 4:07pm
Eric Wilner (mail) (www):
Hmmm... wasn't there some fuss about high-level Federal officials not being aware of things that were all over the TV news?
Now we learn that a lot of the things that were all over the news just weren't true. OK, it was true that there were people sheltering at the Convention Center, and that's something that the top officials should have been aware of. Still... if the head of FEMA had been watching TV instead of relying on information passed through official channels... how much wrong information would he have had? How much of the wrong news would he have acted on?
At least this is coming out now, not ten years from now... so there's a chance we won't see major policy changes based on spectacle-driven, small-picture news coverage this time.
9.26.2005 4:08pm
Cecilius:
Strangely, this makes me think of economics. The ruthless competition between news outlets is generally a good thing. News is still free for the most part. And there is some desire for news organizations to cover each others' errors, such as the Jayson Blair/ Stephen Glass/ Dan Rather affairs. Still, it's this competition for up-to-the-minute-late-breaking-news-first-Now-Now!-NOW! that causes organizations to rush out the latest rumors and whispers without thorough and level-headed fact checking. After all, news has no shelf life, so if a competitor gets a story on rapes and atrocities at the Superdome out first, then everyone else is just reporting someone else's news story. And the first news outlet to break it will preen and brag about it ad naseum so nobody forgets it, either. So much of the false or exagerated reports are the result of a hyper-competitive, round-the-clock, cable-radio-Internet-network-newspaper news market and thus constitute a market failure. The only problem is that, while most people advocate government intervention to correct market failures, I can't possibly think of a thing the government could do about it without creating a cure that's worse than the disease.
9.26.2005 4:18pm
42USC1983 (mail):
According to a couple of (I think) law profs, things were bad at the "pit." Whitewasihng the Black Storm
9.26.2005 4:22pm
von (mail) (www):
No comment on the report -- except to say that, as always, I'm prepared to believe that the media screwed this one up. Yet, the most idiotic reaction generated thus far has been John Hinderaker's reaction at PowerLine (http://powerlineblog.com/archives/011792.php). Here's hoping it's a Swiftian satire:

It's time for some accountability here. The conventional wisdom is that no one performed particularly well in the aftermath of Katrina--not local, state or federal authorities, and not considerable numbers of private citizens. But it now appears clear that the worst performance of all was turned in by the mainstream media. Congress should promptly investigate, and try to get to the bottom of the following questions:

* How did so many false rumors come to be reported as fact?
* Do news outlets have any procedures in place to avoid this kind of mis-reporting? If so, why did their procedures fail so miserably?
* To what extent were the false rumors honest mistakes, and to what extent were they deliberate fabrications?
* To the extent that the false reports were deliberate, did the press pass them on through sheer negligence, or did some reporters participate in deliberate fabrication?
* Did the widespread breakdown in accurate reporting stem only from a failure to follow proper journalistic standards, or did it also reflect a deliberate effort to damage the Bush administration by passing on unconfirmed rumors as fact?
* In deciding what stories to report, did the news media consider the likelihood that passing on false rumors would damage the rescue effort?

It is vitally important to get to the bottom of these questions, so that future natural disasters are not similarly mis-reported.
9.26.2005 4:48pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
I fail to see the idiocy... hyperbole, perhaps, but idiocy is over the line. Powerline found its niche in media accountability. You can't really blame a blog devoted to MSM accountability for overreacting to a MSM screw-up.
9.26.2005 4:54pm
A.S.:
I, too, would like to know why any of that is "idiocy". Seems to me that calling it "idiocy" is simply blaming the messenger.
9.26.2005 4:59pm
mistermark:
I don't know if I'd refer to Powerline as "a blog devoted to MSM accountability". It might be better described as a blog devoted to promoting the Republican Party and the Bush Administration. Promotion of either or both of those two things isn't necessarily a bad thing, depending on one's point of view, but I don't think one can characterize Powerline as being some sort of disinterested blog whose main purpose is to act as a media watchdog, a la Spinsanity or something like that.
9.26.2005 5:13pm
Shelby (mail):
Somehow it seems entirely too predictable that reporters would credulously accept the worst horror stories without proper sourcing, then would distort those stories to blame the feds, then the feds would figure if they're going to get the blame they should damn well have the authority. Hence, sweeping new federal powers.

Were I conspiracy-minded I'd blame Karl Rove, but I'm more a fan of Occam. In any event, it's remarkable how this has played out in an intense media glare, leading to a consensus opinion so contrary to reality.
9.26.2005 5:14pm
rayabacus:
Something seems to be lost to the media today - during a national emergency the media's responsibility to accurately report is even more important. The media hysteria and inaccurate reporting of the conditions at the Convention Center may have delayed relief efforts.

General Blum in his DOD briefing said that the NG delayed in securing the Convention Center until they has assembled an overwhelming force.
9.26.2005 5:27pm
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
OK, maybe I'm stupid. I was sure I saw somebody from some television network (maybe more than one) reporting from the Superdome.

You'd think the "reporters" on the scene would at least get it right. Guess you'd be wrong.
9.26.2005 5:32pm
The Drill SGT:
Von and Shelby,

One of the major complaints about Federal response was that they were slow and based their decisions on official reports what were slow in coming when they should just have turned on CNN and gotten accurate up to date info direct from the disaster scene. Now it turns out that some if not many of those "accurate up to date" reports from on-scene "professional" reporters were garbage. It's fair in any after action analysis to evaluate information sources and channels in order to improve the way the Feds get their info for the next disaster. This hyper-scoop journalism brings you bad election night reporting and exit polls. The Houston Evacuation Hype was a repeat. It's fair to ask questions about how news outlets source and screen rumor from fact.
9.26.2005 5:34pm
42USC1983 (mail):
This is fun. One media outlet is being used to refute claims by other media outlets to prove that "the media" is unreliable. It's also funny that hero-media outlet's story (which proves how unreliable "the media" is) is based in large part on interviews with government officials. Could government officials have an interest in spinning or misrepresenting facts? Could they have an interest in saying, "Hey, it wasn't that bad." There's more fun in the story:

"Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan said authorities had confirmed only four murders in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina - making it a typical week ...." How many people were in the Superdome? How many people live in NOLA? If there were half as many people in the Dome, then didn't the murder rate double? If NOLA has a murder rate of 200 per 1.2mm people, what is the murder rate when 4 of 30,000 (the number of people in the Superdome) are murdered? Who knows? Who cares? It's typical!

I like the latest news story (and therefore, it's true) because it confirms that I can't rely on the media. I also suffer not dissonance in saying that.
9.26.2005 5:35pm
von (mail) (www):
Chapman and A.S.:

"But it now appears clear that the worst performance of all was turned in by the mainstream media"? The "worst performance"? Assume that the MSM screwed up as badly as this report suggests; who in their right mind would nonetheless contend that the "worst performance" was put in by the media? Was the MSM responsible for the utter lack of planning prior to Katrina? Did the MSM fail to mobilize NO's resources? Whom did MSM's actions, or lack of actions, kill?*

At worst, the MSM overhyped and sensationalized a story; if it shocks you that the MSM (or any other media, for that matter) might do something like that, I have a bridge to sell you. But it certainly does not require "Congressional hearings" to get to the bottom of it.

von

*I happened to believe that the local authorities are most to blame in this; thus, given that New Orleans will continue to be a disaster waiting to happen for the foreseeable future, I'm particularly concerned that the attention not be deflected by idiotic calls to "investigate" the media's reporting.
9.26.2005 5:47pm
The Drill SGT:
Ultimately, since we live in a country with a free press, only market forces are going to cause a change in media behavior. Ratings losses and professional embarrassment are good motivators. My take on the Powerline questions is that hearings would not result in any legislation, but would and should call out the most egregious examples of media hype for ridicule. Nothing your TV anchor likes less than to be made a laughingstock on national news on the other guys network. Like "Absence of Malice" when AAG Wells says something like: "and when we get done, we're gonna have a statement, Ms Carter. You ain't gonna like it much.. its gonna say Mr Quinn here.... You may not print it, but somebodies going to.."
9.26.2005 5:47pm
von (mail) (www):
The Drill SGT:

I agree with each of your points. My basis for calling "stupid" on Mr. Hinderaker's proposal to hold Congressional hearings to investigate media sensationalism is, well, based on the fact that he's calling for Congressional hearings to investigate media sensationalism. That is, he is calling to replace the serious business of governing with some new brand of gover-tainment. (Perhaps E! will carry it.) Passing for the moment that I tend to (1) like my governments small and (2) prefer, all things equal, that Congress not act as uber-ombudsman for private media companies, it is very difficult for me to conceive of a sillier thing to suggest.
9.26.2005 5:52pm
von (mail) (www):
My take on the Powerline questions is that hearings would not result in any legislation, but would and should call out the most egregious examples of media hype for ridicule.

Pass everything else for the moment: Don't you think this is far better done by, say, other media outlets? Or PowerLine itself? Why spend taxpayer's money "exposing" media sensationalism? I mean, this ain't some dire new problem that suddenly appeared.
9.26.2005 5:55pm
von (mail) (www):
Turning from the idealistic to the political, let me give you two word description of the political fallout from this Republican Congress holding day (week? month?) long hearings, in which they play media ombudsman:

Terri Schiavo.
9.26.2005 6:00pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
von: Actually, the word was "idiocy." If you're going to quote yourself, at least try not to distort it. I don't attempt to defend the obvious "hyperbole" (see? quoting myself!) of equating the media's failure to the government's, but you're in for a busy life if you embark on a crusade against hyperbole on the internet. And for the record, you take it for granted that a MSM mistake can't kill anyone. It can. People rely on the news. In the hypothetical situation that "media sensationalism" does hurt people (note: I am not saying this is it, so y'all can put away your flamethrowers), then an investigation would be in order.

Mistermark: Powerline was voted "Blog of the Year" by Time magazine and got nearly all of its fame from its work on the Dan Rather scandal. Your personal views aside, that is what was successful for them, and they will try to repeat that success. Nothing in "MSM accountability" implies a lack of bias.
9.26.2005 6:10pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
You know, I don't like it when people constantly denigrate the decisions of people who are forced to make split second decisions under incredible time pressure in conditions which are filthy, miserable and deadly. I'm usually defending the troops and their higher ranks, but now I'm defending the reporters and their higher ranks. Or am I the only one to notice the resemblance?

Maybe we need more embeds in National guard units over here, so reporters will understand the military better and report natural disasters and wars better. And maybe we need some sergeants, captains and majors embedded in the press so the Pentagon can understand the media better, so we can start winning that front.

I think that reverse-embed idea is teetering on the edge of genius or stupidity. Any votes for which?

Yours,
Wince
9.26.2005 6:39pm
Shelby (mail):
Drill Sgt: I can't see where I disagreed with any of your points. Why call me out?

42USC: Four murders in N.O., not in the Superdome. No known murders in the Superdome; one alleged in the convention center. So, about the expected rate (if no more come to light that can be attributed to that week). Or do you have counter-counter-(super-duper)-media to the contrary?
9.26.2005 6:40pm
Nobody (mail):
I suspect the body count is so low because the dead have been eaten.
9.26.2005 6:42pm
alanw:
Just a reminder: The Times-Picayune is the MSM. It's owned by Newhouse/Advance publications.

Maybe instead of bunching all news outlets together, we could yell at cable news (CNN/Fox/MSNBC), or network news (World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News) or national newspapers (NY Times/USA Today/WaPo), or big city newspapers (LA Times/Chicago Tribune), or whatever.

Yeah, it's stupid, but so is sneering at the MSM based on a report in the MSM.
9.26.2005 7:08pm
Milhouse (www):
Eric Wilner wrote:
OK, it was true that there were people sheltering at the Convention Center, and that's something that the top officials should have been aware of.

How should they have been aware of it?
9.26.2005 7:24pm
von (mail) (www):
von: Actually, the word was "idiocy." If you're going to quote yourself, at least try not to distort it.

I wasn't trying to quote my prior comment; I was quoting myself in the present (so to speak): i.e., I'm "calling 'stupid'" on that (Another example, so you get my intention: "I say 'that sure is stupid.'") Also, I'm not sure how switching from the word "idiocy" to "stupid" is a "distort[ion.]" Certainly, my meaning remained the same.

And for the record, you take it for granted that a MSM mistake can't kill anyone. It can. People rely on the news. In the hypothetical situation that "media sensationalism" does hurt people (note: I am not saying this is it, so y'all can put away your flamethrowers), then an investigation would be in order.

If you're looking for me to agree that there may be an appropriate time to call for an investigation of media sensationalism (such as, for instance, the media appears to have been the willing tool in the perpetration of a criminal fraud), you have it.

For clarity, my purpose is to douse this very silly (&stupid, &idiotic) idea, launched by a very influential right-wing blogger, before it has any chance to catch fire. Partially, this is because I think that the idea is stupid as a matter of policy; it's also, however, because I think that the idea is stupid as a matter of politics. I do, after all, share a political bed with Mr. Hinderaker (I sleep on what passes for the center-left side of it). I have an interest in seeing that my right-side bedmates do not, among other things, light the bed on fire. And their track record has not been impressive of late.
9.26.2005 7:38pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
My purpose was to point out that "idiocy" in your original post was a little over the top and no more. I'm not trying to defend the idea of an investigation of the media, but your original post pretty much said "Hey look at this idiocy: " Since then you've made a much stronger policy argument and backed away from your flaming. I can't say that I disagree with you about anything else.
9.26.2005 7:58pm
Steven:
Powerline is no more about media accountability than I am. They are about promoting Republicans and Republican issues. They are more than happy to spin the latest Republican tale to the media, whether it's true or not.

http://mediamatters.org/items/200509060011
9.26.2005 8:07pm
Travis (mail) (www):
Funny thing to me is that I watched a lot of TV coverage and read lots of newspaper articles at the time, and I don't recall seeing the news that the report is questioning. I saw reporters reporting that the people at the shelter were reporting some violence and some gang behavior. The reporters were generally good at giving me the impression that they didn't know the information first-hand. The news they were really reporting was the spoken thoughts of the scared, destitute populace at the shelter. They did say there were some dead bodies at the convention center, and they kept showing the same two bodies over and over again (presumably old people; one was sitting, wrapped in a sheet, in a wheelchair). While they dwelled upon that, I don't recall them implying that there were many more. There was an implication that there could be many more if help did not arrive soon, but no more than that.

Similarly when authorities finally went looking for bodies, I do recall headlines about how many could be there. I also saw headlines about how comparatively few were actually found.

While there surely could have been serious errors and hyping, I've not yet seen evidence that it was horrible and extreme. I imagine some people make unwarranted assumptions, reading too much into the media reports. And then blame the media for there own self-deception.
9.26.2005 8:21pm
von (mail) (www):
Since then you've made a much stronger policy argument and backed away from your flaming.

Good point. My first post was not a model of good blogospheric behavior, and you were right to note it.
9.26.2005 9:10pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
"Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media."

http://mediamatters.org/etc/about.html

*sigh* And the beat goes on... :)
9.26.2005 9:56pm
The Drill SGT:
Shelby,

My apologies. I was making a reference to your post for expansion, not a criticism. I thought it would be obvious.
9.26.2005 10:06pm
Eric Wilner (mail) (www):
Milhouse (regarding my assertion that top officials should have been aware that people were sheltering at the Convention Center):

How should they have been aware of it?

Through official channels: word ought to have been passed along from the local officials who made the decision to use the Convention Center, on up to those who were coordinating rescue and relief efforts.
It appears that, somewhere along the line, the word didn't get passed. This means somebody in the official hierarchy didn't do his job.

Perhaps my wording was a bit off: my intended meaning was that those at the top should have been made aware of the situation, by those who were on the scene. I didn't mean to imply that top officials should have picked up that information on their own.

On the other hand, perhaps FEMA should have some people monitoring the news reports for information that might be important if true... and then attempting to confirm it before passing it into the official information pool. However, if the signal-to-noise ratio in the immediate news stream is low enough, this could prove ill worthwhile.
9.26.2005 10:25pm
Milhouse (www):
word ought to have been passed along from the local officials who made the decision to use the Convention Center.
Well, yeah, that would have been nice, if the city officials, who decided late on Tuesday to start sending people to the convention center, would have bothered telling anyone. But they didn't.
On the other hand, perhaps FEMA should have some people monitoring the news reports for information that might be important if true
Which they may very well have done - they did find out about it at about the same time that it began being reported on the news. To be precise, the first mention of people being at the convention center was on CNN, very late on Wednesday night. Chertoff was interviewed by NPR on Thursday morning, and hadn't yet heard about it. Nor had most people, since the major networks hadn't picked up on it yet. Later on Thursday, Brown was interviewed, and said that he had just learned about it a few hours earlier - about when it started being widely reported on the news - and had already begun preparing appropriate aid.
9.27.2005 1:04am
Shelby (mail):
Drill Sgt: No problem.
9.27.2005 2:14am
Observer (www):
Right: Post-Katrina NOLA was so orderly that the federal government mandatorily excluded reporters from the scene. Apparently, they didn't want any "blowhards" filming the lack of carnage and documenting just how exaggerated those claims of carnage and destruction.

If there was nothing to hide, then why officially censor information gatherers? You tell me: was this simply bad judgment in a nation where government transparency is an essential component of democracy, or was this a deliberate obfuscation?
9.27.2005 11:30am