Monday, September 26, 2005

Inside the Dome

One lesson I thought I'd learned from September 11 is that what the press reports is often way off when the story is big. The press struggles to get a grip on the truth and rumors dominate the coverage.

I tried to bear this in mind during those emotional days immediately after Katrina hit New Orleans. Still, it was hard not to get caught up in what we were being told. One post-Katrina rumor was that the violence was rife inside the Superdome and the Convention Center. It turns out, it wasn't anywhere near as bad as we were led to believe according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
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.

"I think 99 percent of it is bulls---," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lachney, who played a key role in security and humanitarian work inside the Dome. "Don't get me wrong, bad things happened, but I didn't see any killing and raping and cutting of throats or anything. ... Ninety-nine percent of the people in the Dome were very well-behaved."
And, there was no surge in the number of murders in all of New Orleans. The four confirmed murders is consistent with a normal week in New Orleans.

So, what of the media's role in the foul-ups in post-Katrina New Orleans? Will there be any reckoning, any acknowledgement that the media's desire to sell papers and attract viewers led them to report every exaggeration, every rumor?

It's easy for the major media to wash their hands of responsibility, but in this case what if the media reports caused bus drivers to opt not to go to New Orleans to help get those people out of the Dome and Convention Center? It's pretty clear that the media's reporting created a climate of fear that diverted resources that could have been used to relieve those in the shelters and rescue those trapped throughout the city.

Will there be a mass media mea culpa? Will pigs fly?

Oh yeah, I should add that the Mayor and others in his office should have waited for confirmation before talking about people being raped and killed inside the Superdome.