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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Has the Blogosphere Properly Acknowledged the Mainstream Media's Katrina Corrections?

Check out New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Brian Thevenot's superb and lengthy analysis in the current American Journalism Review looking at the reaction of the mainstream media to his newspaper's Sept. 26 piece debunking many of the myths reported as fact during the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Remember the stories about bodies being stacked up in a freezer at the Superdome? Thevenot explains how that story happened and why - he accepted the word of two National Guardsmen when he should have looked for himself - and what happened in the weeks after his paper corrected it and many more of the myths reported throughout the mainstream media, both print and broadcast/cable.

"I retell this story not to deflect blame - factual errors under my byline are mine alone - but as an example of how one of hundreds of myths got reported in the early days of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.
"I corrected the freezer report - along with a slew of other rumors and myths transmitted by the media - in a September 26 Times-Picayune story coauthored by my colleague Gordon Russell.
"In that piece, we sought to separate fact from fiction on the narrow issue of reported violence at the Louisiana Superdome and the Convention Center.
"We hadn't anticipated the massive shockwave of self-correction that story would send through the international media. The examination of myths of violence - and their confirmation by New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and then-Police Superintendent Eddie Compass - became the story for days on end, a moment of mass-scale media introspection that ultimately resulted in a healthy revision of history's first draft.
"The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post followed up with similar, well-researched efforts debunking myths and coming to essentially the same conclusion we had:

"While anarchy indeed reigned in the city, and subhuman conditions in the Dome and the Convention Center shocked the nation's conscience, many if not most of the alarmist reports of violence were false, or at least could not be verified.
"Dozens of other newspapers and television outlets joined in, offering news and opinion pieces, many doggedly questioning what they and others had earlier reported."

Thevenot goes on to detail the massive amount of self-criticism that occupied a prominent place in the MSM's reporting for several weeks and looks at how the critique was reported by the same MSM. It makes for fascinating reading for anybody interested in how MSM journalists reacted to the criticism and reported - or mis-reported - it.

Thevenot also makes this point about the response of the Blogosphere:

"Even as I became temporarily famous (for the standard 15 minutes) in the television news world, I was taken aback to find myself vilified by a few bloggers. In the blogosphere, I served as a target for a seemingly unquenchable disdain for the MSM.
"Some branded me a hypocrite for writing about myth-making after I'd earlier reported one of the myths, the '30 or 40' bodies. But what's curious about much of the criticism is that reporters from the dreaded MSM often did a more thorough and sober job of correcting mainstream reports than did their sworn enemies in the blogosphere.

"Indeed, because most bloggers do little or no original reporting, they used my story about myths, along with those of The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, as the tools with which to beat us about the ears. They clubbed us with our own sticks.
"Some blogs offered fair criticism, but others hyperventilated with unchecked rage that contributed little or nothing to the larger public good of finding out what had really happened. Some simply piled myth upon myth, developing media conspiracies out of what in the vast majority of cases were honest mistakes."

I believe Thevenot has a valid and important point that deserves serious discussion in the Blogosphere, discussion that, incidentally, has yet to take place. That fact deserves some discussion, too.

HT: Romanesko

UPDATE: On the other hand ... why is MSM ignoring this Times-Picayune scoop?

The MSM has been notably silent about the continuing revelations by the Times-Picayune of apparent incompetence (or worse, it being Louisiana) in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work in building the New Orleans levees.

Wizbang's Paul has been all over this since before the first of many T-P articles on the issue appeared. Why is it significant? Consider just this one point:

"This makes the case against the Corps (i.e. the federal government) seem to be a slam dunk. Contrary to what the arm-chair lawyers will tell you, the government can be sued for negligence. I've been saying it since days after the storm, we are going to see a lawsuit against the feds the likes of which we've never seen before. (Can you cay $300 billion?)"

And this:

"It simply amazes me the MSM is missing this story. 60 Minutes runs some whackjob who claims New Orleans is sinking but they ignore who flooded New Orleans?!?! I can't help but wonder who is making those calls.
"If there was an engineering failure on a aircraft that made 3 of the same model aircraft crash and it killed 1000 people, the media would be in full circus mode."


It will also be interesting to see how the professional journalism organizations treat the Times-Picayune's reporting on this story when it comes time to hand out awards. More to come.

UPDATE:

Polimon agrees on the need for the Blogosphere to address the issues raised by Thevenot and offers this observation:

"Did I contribute to the hysteria after Katrina? Yes, at least once that I am aware of. Interestingly, that particular blog entry was carefully crafted, in hopes of getting some security into an isolated (and apparently forgotten) part of New Orleans.
"It worked, too, because the very next morning saw the troops roll into Algiers. However, it was also a very scary piece, because although it was fundamentally factual, there was a fair amount of hyperbole.
"I was called out immediately by one of my readers, who commented: 'please do not post speculation. People are worried enough.'"