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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Katrina Proving Toxic to Mainstream Media's Credibility; Will There be Consequences in the Nation's Newsrooms?

The Washington Post reports this morning on page A6 that experts have concluded the floodwaters that swamped New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were not nearly as polluted as was widely predicted would be the case prior to the disaster.

The discrediting of the toxic floodwater claims is merely the latest in a long list of major story points that dominated the mainstream media's Katrina coverage that have since been exposed as false. Among those points were the piles of dead bodies allegedly stacked in the Superdome, including a seven-year-old girl who had been raped and whose throat was slashed.

The most significant thing about the Post story, though, is what it doesn't include. Not a single mainstream media editor or academic journalist is asked about the growing list of discredited story points in the Katrina coverage.

Perhaps the Post is planning such a story. If so, here are some of the basic questions that should be addressed, as a minimum: Why did so many sensational but false claims play such a prominent role in the coverage? How much checking was done by the reporters and editors producing the flawed stories? Why didn't the much-vaunted editorial backup systems and layers of accountability prevent the flawed stories from being published or broadcast? Who was responsible and will they be disciplined in any way?

If the White House was found to have falsified - either through carelessness or other non-intentional reasons - several major claims, the Post and the rest of the mainstream media would be at full howl. Consider the continuing drumbeat about the Bush administration's failure to find WMDs in Iraq.

My prediction is we won't hear much of a whimper about the toxic floodwaters myth or any of the rest of the Katrina urban legends of the mainstream media newsrooms. And they wonder why their credibility is shot?