September 9, 2005
From Deference to Outrage: Katrina and the Press
Spine is always good, rage is sometimes needed, and empathy can often reveal the story. But there's no substitute for being able to think. What is the difference between a “blame game” and real accountability? If you’ve never really thought it about it, your outrage can easily misfire.
I was away from blogging when Hurricane Katrina hit and New Orleans went down, but people kept sending me stuff. The article most often sent to me was a commentary by Matt Wells of the BBC, “Has Katrina saved US media?” Possibly it has, he said: “Amidst the horror, American broadcast journalism just might have grown its spine back, thanks to Katrina.”
The “timid and self-censoring journalistic culture” in the U.S. is normally “no match for the masterfully aggressive spin-surgeons of the Bush administration,” Wells wrote. “But last week the complacency stopped, and the moral indignation against inadequate government began to flow, from slick anchors who spend most of their time glued to desks in New York and Washington.”
Other observers made the same point: national journalism was awakening after a period of intimidation, and finding its voice by voicing its anger. Typical was this Agence France Presse report: “In the emotional aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, US television’s often deferential treatment of government officials has been replaced by fiercely combative interviews and scathing commentary.”
In the New York Times, a review of TV coverage by Alessandra Stanley was headlined: “Reporters Turn From Deference to Outrage.” Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle remarked on it:
Bush and his administration have come under withering attack not only from a lengthy and bipartisan list of other politicians but also from anchors on nearly every channel — opinion-makers in the heat of the moment — whose voices abandoned objectivity and rose up in questioning tones as they took Bush and federal department heads to task.
Howard Kurtz saw not just a return of backbone, but a renewal of purpose: “Journalism seems to have recovered its reason for being,” he wrote. It’s a pity he didn’t say what that reason was. But in Kurtz’s mind, the recovery of mission was connected somehow with the display of emotion, like when CNN’s Anderson Cooper interrupted Sen. Mary Landrieu as she thanked some of her fellow officials for their hard work. “Do you get the anger that is out here?” he said. Kurtz:
This kind of activist stance, which would have drawn flak had it come from American reporters in Iraq, seemed utterly appropriate when applied to the yawning gap between mounting casualties and reassuring rhetoric. For once, reporters were acting like concerned citizens, not passive observers. And they were letting their emotions show, whether it was ABC’s Robin Roberts choking up while recalling a visit to her mother on the Gulf Coast or CNN’s Jeanne Meserve crying as she described the dead and injured she had seen.
The repeal of on-air reticence was good, he said. “Maybe, just maybe, journalism needs to bring more passion to the table — and not just when cable shows are obsessing on the latest missing white woman.” Two examples of bringing it to the table: this acid commentary from Keith Olbermann, courtesy of Crooks and Liars (“Let’s hope Olbermann does more ‘op-ed’ type segments on his show from now on”) and this more measured one from CBS’s Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation.
Alessandra Stanley said the renewed aggression is a reflection of public outrage, “but it is buoyed by a rare sense of righteous indignation by a news media that is usually on the defensive.” In this it made a difference that journalists were doing a demonstrably better job than government. “Viewers could see that as late as Thursday, television news crews could travel freely back and forth from the convention center, but water trucks, ambulances and officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency could not.”
Stanley’s colleague David Carr, media columnist for the business section of the Times, also saw a promising switch in direction. In his imagery, the press had hit a low point recently, and was now on the rise.
Mr. Cooper’s well-shaded outrage—he stopped just this short of editorializing—elicited the kind of anger that has been mostly missing from a toothless press. After a couple of years on the run from the government, public skepticism and self-inflicted wounds, the press corps felt its toes touch bottom in the Gulf Coast and came up big.
Big like it used to be, back in the day. Peter Johnson in USA Today: “Some observers say that Katrina’s media legacy may be a return to a post-Watergate-like era of tougher scrutiny of the federal government and public policy issues.” Gal Beckerman at CJR Daily wasn’t one of those observers. “What happened last week wasn’t anything like [Watergate]; it was a lot of agitated, incredulous reporters channeling the anger of the stranded people they were among, and delivering it to those who deserved to hear it.”
From the direction of the political left, the story was not the “recovery of backbone” but how could it take so long? Salon’s Eric Boehlert: “For years, frustrated news consumers have wondered what it would take to finally awaken the press from its perpetual, lazy slumber. Now we know the answer: one ravaged American city and a few thousand dead civilians.” The coverage was timid at first, he said. “Eventually, though, the pictures from New Orleans became too ghastly to ignore and reporters turned angry.”
“We sometimes find ourselves at a loss as to whether we should be more appalled at the Bush Administration’s ideological obsession, its incompetence, its arrogance, its anti-intellectualism, or its dishonesty,” wrote Eric Alterman at his MSNBC perch. “In New Orleans, we see all of these forces at work in a manner that the mainstream media finally finds itself unable to ignore.”
Both Josh Marshall and Arianna Huffington pointed away from backbone recovery to ask how the Washington Post allowed itself to be used by a nameless Bush official peddling the “fact” that as of Sep. 3rd, Lousiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency. (Newsweek also had it.) This turned out to be wrong. She declared an emergency on Aug. 26.
“The unquestioning regurgitation of administration spin through the use of anonymous sources is the fault line of modern American journalism,” said Huffington. “It’s time for the media to get back to doing their job and stop being the principal weapon in Team Bush’s damage control arsenal.” It is indeed inexplicable that a false fact from an off-the-record source—charging a dereliction of duty in the opposite party—gets into the Washington Post. That sounds like the behavior of a palace press.
Meanwhile, in the Media Blog at National Review Online, Stephen Spruiell said he expected to see “a lot of these stories about how journalism has ‘gotten its spine back’— by which they mean that journalists are acting like a bunch of know-it-alls to whom the solution to every problem was obvious all along.” In his view, a pre-existing inclination to “blame Bush” was simply allowed more room to express itself.
Spruiell thought it was a highlight that “reporters put a lot of passion into their stories and brought the drama right into your living room.” But then the lowlight: “The reporters put a lot of anti-administration animosity into their analysis, failing to provide the context of state, local and federal failures and settling on the easy story: Blame Bush.”
Why did Giuliani get the credit in New York after 9/11, while Bush gets the blame in New Orleans? That’s what righty Hugh Hewitt wanted to know: “Who is in charge when bad things happen to big cities?”
The MSM’s answer seems to be: Cities, when things go right and the mayor is courageous and telegenic; the President when the locals are in way over their heads. Not a very satisfactory answer, but MSM is hardly searching for answers, only ratings.
“In the wake of a mortifyingly slow government response to the Gulf Coast disaster, the press is demanding answers from the White House with unprecedented vigor,” wrote Dan Froomkin in his White House Briefing column. (See the Tuesday and Wednesday sessions with Scott McClellan.) The “post-Katrina press awakening,” as he called it, “is not the result of reporters expressing their personal or political opinions so much as it is about their asking tough questions based on what they, and others, have seen with their own eyes.” He continues:
Bush and his aides are finding it impossible to wave off the incontrovertible facts and heart-rending images emerging from the lake that was once a great American city. They’re finding it harder to set the news agenda. And the scathing criticism is becoming increasingly bipartisan, freeing reporters from the obligation to make every White House story sound like one with two sides equally based in reality.
A good example is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich: “As a test of the homeland-security system, this was a failure.”
In Peter Johnson’s USA article I was quoted thusly: “Journalists seem to be much more effective than the administration in representing the public’s reactions to the disaster,” Rosen says. “Clueless federal officials seem to know less about what is happening than the journalists do, and sometimes less than an average TV viewer. This tips the balance of power toward the press, which is why we see such aggressive questioning and on-air criticism close to jeering.”
A balance-of-power shift that is specific to the Katrina situation is, I think, more descriptive of what’s happened with the press than the sudden discovery of “spine,” a recovered sense of outrage, or the return of Watergate-era confidence. This part Johnson did not quote from our e-mail interview: What appears to be a struggle between the White House and the press is always a triangular relationship among journalists, the Administration and the public. Each leg—the President and the American people, the White House and the press, the press and the public—counts. If we look at two sides without reckoning with the third we’ll always go wrong.
Froomkin last week pointed to the gulf “between what [the] administration says it is doing and what the American public is watching on television.” This is the kind of explanation that makes sense to me. That visible gulf—which was as wide as it’s ever been last week—changes the balance of power. Sheelah Kolhatkar and Rebecca Dana elaborate in the New York Observer: “The combination of a sudden catastrophe, diminished communications and a lack of any authority on the ground for days to disseminate, filter or spin Katrina’s aftermath has remade the press, and its relationship to the Bush administration.”
That too is getting there. Even more to the point was this from the Observer:
“For the most part, we generally arrive at this type of story either just after or as the first responders are responding,” said David Verdi, a senior vice president for NBC News. “We’re usually standing shoulder to shoulder with the firemen or the policemen or the Marines, which allows us to record the incident. In this story, however, we were here before there was a first responder, and what made this particularly tough was that after Day 2, when it became very apparent to us that there were people in need, there were no first responders that we could see.”
The press gained back some of its missing authority because in this situation public authority was missing.
So that’s what they’re saying about the news media and the Gulf Coast crisis.
Now here is what I think. Spine is always good, outrage is sometimes needed, and empathy can often reveal the story. But there is no substitute for being able to think, and act journalistically on your conclusions. What is the difference between a “blame game” and real accountability? If you have no idea because you’ve never really thought about it, then your outrage can easily misfire. This is from Kurtz:
On television, the frustration boiled over at different times. Fox’s Shepard Smith shouted questions at a cop who refused to answer, saying: “What are you going to do with all these people? When is help coming for these people? Is there going to be help? I mean, they’re very thirsty. Do you have any idea yet? Nothing? Officer?”
PostWatch comments: “I saw that clip live, and kudos to a brave Shepard Smith for charging into the disaster. But the cop he was chasing was obviously entirely out of the loop and in no position to answer any of Smith’s questions.” Did it matter, then, if the questions were tough?
What are the proper reponsibilities for city government, state government and the national government? If you haven’t thought about it, and drawn the necessary conclusions, all the backbone in the world won’t tell you where to aim your questions. The New Yorker’s press critic is Nick Lemann, who’s from New Orleans. He observes:
The wetlands that protected the city on the south and west have been deteriorating from commercial exploitation for years, thanks to inaction by Louisiana as well as by the United States. It isn’t Washington that decided it’s O.K. to let retail establishments in New Orleans sell firearms—which are now being extensively stolen and turned to the service of increasing the chaos in the city.
What is realistic to expect in a chaotic situation like New Orleans faced in the week after the hurricane? It’s not an easy question. An intelligent and nuanced answer to that is worth a lot more to journalists than righteous indignation, because if your rage overcomes your realism you will eventually sound ridiculous even to those who share the feeling.
What are the differences in the way our political system handles a problem that is real and manifest (present to the senses) vs. a threat that is real but not manifest at all (abstract until it’s right upon us)? If you haven’t thought about it, you might find “lack of preparation” inhuman and incomprehensible. If you have, lack of preparation begins to seem all-too-human, and not to plan looks more like a policy choice.
Jeff Jarvis said anger wasn’t the best part of journalism’s performance after Katrina. “I think the best of it is that journalism knows it has not done its best. That is new.”
Last week, as the horror of it only started to rise, Aaron Brown turned his langorous gaze to the camera and tried to ask a correspondent whether we — CNN, reporters, all of journalism — yet had our hands around the story, the size of it. He didn’t get an answer — bad communications got in the way — but that didn’t matter, for the question was the answer. No, we did not nearly know what the story was.
Brown was asking his person to think.
I include in that thinking politically about the press itself. Perhaps an “activist stance” (Kurtz’s term) is a sustainable direction. (Or perhaps it isn’t.) I once asked if we were headed for an opposition press. How can it be avoided if, say, we begin to see the press locked out of New Orleans as the authorities assert control? Maybe scathing commentary should come to the forefront, in the manner of a front page editorial that becomes a permanent feature. Or maybe it’s reporters acting like concerned citizens all the time.
If you can think with the situation it doesn’t matter (for your journalism) if you break down and emote. If you can’t think, and can’t draw conclusions that influence your reporting, then bringing passion to the table isn’t going to change a damn thing. And I don’t believe Katrina has “saved” the news media from itself, either, although I agree that nola.com, by turning itself into an online forum, has been an inspiration.
Finally, the challenge for American journalism is not to recover its reason for being, but to find a stronger and better one. The world has changed. It’s not enough to be tough.
After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…
(Oct. 27, 2005) NBC’s Brian Williams in a documentary months later: “The government couldn’t tell us that things were O.K. We were there standing next to the things that were not O.K.”
“Journalism seems to have recovered its reason for being,” he wrote. It’s a pity he didn’t say what that reason was. Howard Kurtz responds in his Media Notes column (Sep. 9):
Of course being “tough” isn’t an end in and of itself. Just getting mad or yelling at people may make for good television, but it isn’t necessarily good journalism. My point (and I say this during campaigns, wars and other major stories) is that journalists must hold those in authority accountable, and demonstrate (through reporting, not opinion) when they are misleading the public, and that there’s nothing wrong with showing passion in this endeavor. This is harder and riskier than passive, he said/she said reporting. In the case of Katrina, the gap between what officials were saying and what journalists on the ground were seeing was so great that it spurred them on, but that approach need not fade with the storm’s aftermath.
The writer Nora Gallagher in the Los Angeles Times:
We got the story of what is really happening in the United States right between the eyes. We got the story of how poor people live and are treated in this country by watching them suffer and die. We got the story because it happened so fast, and right in front of our faces, and no one could put a spin on it quickly enough. We got the story because television reporters were openly outraged on camera. We got the story because reporters asked real questions and demanded real answers, rather than throwing softballs and settling for the fluff and the spin that pass for news. It was raw, it was awful, and it slid under the skin of our sleepy, numb, feel-good lives.
Bill Quick at Daily Pundit replies:
I think Jay Rosen either misses or downplays a rather obvious prediction as to the behavior of that “third leg.” Every time the media permits itself the luxury of releasing pent-up dislikes in an explosion of Bush-bashing, whether partly merited or not, the result of the over-the-top emotions on display is almost invariably a further hemmorhage of readers and viewers. Does anybody think this abrupt display of “spine,” or, as Jay would have it, a change in the balance of power, is going to do anything to reverse or even slow what seems to be the mainstream media’s inexorable downward spiral?
I did Hugh Hewitt’s radio show (Sep. 8) and we talked about this post. Transcript.
Show of hands: who thinks that United States military authorities (who already have checkpoints in place) will close to camera crews and reporters all of New Orleans, thereby taking journalists away from the story of what happened there? See Kurtz on it (Sep. 9). And see this account from a San Francisco Chroncile reporter: “It is essentially martial law in the Big Easy.”
I read several dozen media pieces about Katrina and none of them talked about what my NYU colleague Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist, talked about in Slate: news that was capable of reaching the storm’s victims, the people trapped in New Orleans.
The media coverage of Katrina has been more critical than the coverage of the Chicago heat wave. Yet little of the most valuable coverage, local radio broadcasting, is available inside New Orleans. Without TV, Internet access, newspapers, and telephones, people are depending on radios—battery-powered, in automobiles, or hand-crank—for emergency information. But as of Thursday evening, only one station, Entercom’s WWL-AM 870, had its own reporters on the air.
Klinenberg notes that Clear Channel, which dominates the market (six stations) didn’t even attempt to cover the story, putting virtually no resources into original reporting as New Orleans went down. The radio stations were the only ones who could get through, but only one tried. What does that tell us?
The AP reports as follows: (David Bauder, Sep. 9)
Thirteen radio stations owned by Clear Channel Communications and Entercom have banded together to run a single broadcast out of Baton Rouge, La., with personalities from powerful New Orleans news station WWL-AM taking the lead.
The New Orleans television station WDSU-TV, an NBC affiliate, has signed a deal with Paxson Communications to have its signal carried through next Tuesday on the Pax television station in Houston, which has absorbed many evacuees from the hurricane-stricken city.
Meanwhile, CBS affiliate WWL-TV is having its signal carried on Yahoo and on several digital cable outlets across the country.
Andrew Cline responds at Rhetorica:
Now, one might think that, being communicators of a certain sort, journalists might be pretty good at using the social network as a big brain with which to think. You’d be mistaken, at least in part. This is how I see Rosen’s complaint. I have a difficult time being too critical of journalists working “on the ground” (I hate that metaphor) in horrendous circumstances. But there exists, or should, a social network behind them…
If that interests you—a social network behind them part—you must see Doc Searls, The War on Error in the wake of Katrina. And Jeff Jarvis, Recovery 2.0.
Mark Jurkowitz, formerly of the Boston Globe, now of the Boston Phoenix, wrote a strong piece. The Media Gets its Bark Back.
Down in the hell of New Orleans — where reporters risked life and limb and were literally shocked by what they saw — they finally found the courage to believe their own eyes. CNN’s usually mild-mannered morning anchor Soledad O’Brien roasted FEMA director Mike Brown, who claimed not to know of the despair at New Orleans’s Morial Convention Center until he heard news reports.
I love that phrase: the courage to believe their own eyes. The heart of the story is yet to come, Jurkowitz says.
In the days to come, tougher questions will be asked as journalists switch from chronicling the scope of the disaster to piecing together how it happened. (The new issue of Newsweek describes a “strange paralysis” that set in at the White House, which wasted time in lengthy debates over “who was in charge.”) Even more important than the answers they find is the fact that journalists now smell blood in the waters of Bush’s troubled second term.
Paid content heads… This post also ran at the Huffington Post, which ran it as a featured post, and syndicated it to Yahoo News, where it could move on the most recommended and e-mailed lists, which are all RSS feeds.
“Unashamed to show their outrage.” Nikki Finke in the LA Weekly:
No one could have anticipated that, suddenly, TV’s two prettiest-boy anchors would be boldly and tearfully (CNN’s Anderson Cooper and FNN’s Shep Smith, to their immense credit) relating horror whenever and wherever they found it, no matter if the fault lay with Mother Nature or President Dubya. The impact was felt immediately. The depth of their reporting, along with that of other TV newscasters who were similarly unashamed to show their outrage, bested almost anything written by the most talented and experienced newspaper reporters.
Eric Alterman in The Nation:
Even the infamous media whores of cable news, caught the fever, unapologetically pointing to race and class as fundamental dimensions of the unfolding catastrophe. Perhaps they had no choice but to notice; perhaps their professional shame had grown unbearable during the years—even the post-9/11 years—of covering to death every missing little blue-eyed, blond white girl; perhaps, caught inside the tragedy, their human spirits collided with their professional selves. No matter the reason, it was a sight to behold.
Posted by Jay Rosen at September 9, 2005 1:49 AM
It really is difficult to have any respect for you Mr. Jay Rosen.
You've buried a one liner in a mass of bullshit. But then that's your speciality.
'Don't be rash. Think.'
Saves ink, trees and in this case electricity and bandwidth.
But even that bullshit filtered gist of your words is still bullshit. You use an example of a newsperson, Shepard Smith, chewing out a cop over something the cop apparently lacks knowledge about and is powerless to effect. I could embellish on the possible circumstances that might have brought on Smith's (what to you apparently is excessive) emotional questioning. There's no need though. Smith realized that he and the cop could leave at any time. Go back to the "truck" and get some water and a snack and go home to some relatively peaceful and secure circumstances when the shift was over. The mass of people surrounding them could not.
What was that cop doing? Was he helping those people in any way? No. Apparently that cop was doing the exact opposite. That cop was maintaining those people under circumstances that were slowly and surely killing them. No food. No water. No escape. The no escape part was likely that particular cop's job. Other cops and military were doing the job of 'no food and no water.' Get off your vacationing ass and read what has been happening. Read about the military, police and paramilitary units preventing aid from entering New Orleans and preventing victims from escaping. Then think.
And things have changed since that particular event. Now that "cop" would give Smith the butt of his rifle and probably a few boot kicks for added respect. Read about it Rosen. Think. The Mayberry Machiavellis are now controlling the military. Karl Rove is directing the military. Thousands and probably tens of thousands of people will be disappeared rather than have died due to negligence and criminal abuse. The old ghetto line that the police are an occupying army seems strikingly accurate. America is occupied by Rove's army. The "volunteer army" is now obviously a mercenary army with allegiance to the paymasters and no one else.
Think Rosen. Think about the famous scene of a man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. Rosen the analyst should recognize that there are at least three elements to that scene. The man standing in front of the tank. The man in the tank. And the man behind the camera capturing the scene. (No gender slights implied by "man".) The man in the tank would not roll over his countryman. That military man had some sense of citizen, nation and what his role as a citizen soldier was.
What was the totalitarian government's solution to the Tiananmen Square scene? Bring in military units from other areas. Units with no sense of camaraderie with the local citizens. Also, remove the man with the camera from the scene. What's happening in New Orleans right now?
Can you imagine if National Guard troops from New Orleans were on the scene and saw military or police units actually firing weapons to prevent their brethren from escaping deadly circumstances? Can you "think" of that? Can you think of those people as your own and view yourself watching military like units facilitating their deaths? Can you think of that? That's what's been happening in New Orleans. Wal-Mart tractor trailers of food and water were prevented from entering New Orleans. That's just one example. One fucking example. And escape was also prevented. Now every ugly detail of "no escape from New Orleans" will be disappeared. Rove will tell the story and where will you be?
You're a sorry excuse for a hack and your presentation of yourself as some guidebook for journalistic standards reeks worse than the rotting body and oil slicked feces filled waters of New Orleans. That's not based on emotion. It's based on a thoughtful examination of your thoughtless words.
It has been a trying and telling period for the Administration, the MSM and America. It was hard not to be struck by the timidity with which the MSM dipped its toe into the waters of controversy, the temerity with which they began to question the Administration response. I had the distinct sense that Bush got off his ass only when the political storm threatened to engulf him, as he seemed content to let the natural storm run its course over the peoples of the Gulf Coast, no matter what the cost. In that sense, press coverage was critical to spur the Administration on to act.
But this Administration has alway been first about politics, specifically about message control and information suppression. In Katrina, they finally met their match. There was no way to cover it up, or to control access to the unfiltered, unembedded imagery. Of course, the Bush Administration was woefully inept at responding to the crying human need under siege in N.O., but they were also flat-footed and out-of-water in responding to the news. The story outstripped their ability to spin. Without the ability to restrict access and levee off the flow of information, they were naked and exposed in all their self-dealing ineptitude. With the Administration staggering and lurching stiffly around, the MSM were, for the first time in years, without their daily spoon-feedings and discovered they could feed themselves.
The attempted open lie about the timing of the Governor's declaration of emergency was revealing, in that its brazenness spoke to the routine and confident use of this device by the Administration in the past, but also, the ability of a sentient MSM to deflate a Big Lie. A similar attempt was made with regard to the state of Administration knowledge about the forecasts of Katrina's landfall strength, but again, that was quickly and emphatically put to the lie, rather than coated in false ambiguity. The NHC Director had the video to back him up, but even that smoking gun would have gone unheard and unseen prior to this.
You can tell the Bush people worry that this will have been a sea-change, by the way in which FEMA and DHS have tried to shut down the coverage of the recovery of the bodies. In evacuating N.O., they are also closing down the pirate station of a newly independent MSM. It will be interesting to see how the MSM responds to this challenge. The Adminstration has regained its footing enough to start spinning again, and the effort to misdirect responsibility is making headway.
Jay, I particularly like the fact that Dem Gov. Blanco did declare a state of emergency; and Josh linked to it; and in Section 2 it states:
"The state of Louisiana=s emergency response and recovery program is activated under the command of the director of the state office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to prepare for and provide emergency support services and/or to minimize the effects of the storm's damage."
I am disappointed that there is no name of this director of the state office of HS. Chertoff? Not clear.
I am disppointed, but not surprised, that your list fails to mention any outrage that Dem Mayor Nagin had hundreds of NO busses available, but unused -- and then flooded; that there was a video of the looting of a Wal Mart, including a black cop that was supposed to be maintaining law & order, but was clearly allowing the looting, and other black cops that were joining in the looting.
I haven't read much of Nagin's power, authority, and responsibility on a day by day basis; nor of Blanco's. Carl Pope of the Sierra Club has a reasonable, more subtle Bush-bashing timeline of "what could have been" -- best I've seen so far, but utterly failing at the reality of cat 4 levee break; now what.
I read that NO and LA had plans, but did not follow them. I haven't heard of tough questions by reporters about those plans, and who was responsible for implementing them, and what was followed and what not followed. (Plans are available on-line)
I read (via anti-media) that NO had no plan for the prisoners -- so let them go. Have you heard this? If true, and not widely reported, isn't that a HUGE failure of the press? (Haven't checked on it myself yet.)
It's unPC to mention the fact that so many looters are black, and so many of those who stayed behind are black, and so few of those blacks are effective at taking care of themselves.
Yet this preponderance of incompetent actions by black people has already been accompanied by attack-dog charges of racism by many of those "professional victims" -- maybe more of the facts about the worship of "victimhood" in poor black areas are about to be honestly addressed by the press (but since it doesn't fit with a Bush-bashing agenda I won't be surprised if not.)
Two weeks ago, the fact that the NO levees were rated at Cat 3, but not Cat 4, were known to all who were interested. At that time there was some probability of Katrina destroying NO. At that time the unknown future could be described by the probability of NO being flooded, and the probability of it not being flooded. The probability stayed below 50% (how to measure?) until Katrina hit Biloxi as Cat 4.
Maybe the fact that the future is uncertain, and is best described in probabilities, will get more news time. But I won't be surprised if it doesn't much. Too complex. (long. boring. Like me? at least I'm real, in an uncertainty oriented way.)
I, for one, think its funny the way media people are congratulating themselves on what they think is such a fine job, just because they've showed their biased outrage at President Bush. With the Internet, we can once again see all the information the media leaves out and their complete lack of interest and curiosty about anything that doesn't fit their template - in this case, the ongoing attempt to somehow "get" President Bush.
I don't know who gets the award for the biggest media buffoon in this. There have been so many of them. Keith Olberman I just have to turn off. All of CNN was despicable.
But Tim Russert was a complete A.. on his show this past Sunday. Holding up the Homeland Security Plan and cutting into the the head of homeland security. Well, we've all seen on the net the New Orleans and Louisana Hurricane Response Plan and it was not followed at all by the state and local officials. Russert and all his media buddies could just have easily held up that document and asked a few hard questions of Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin. Instead, they've let these weak leaders get up there and cry on the their program and curse and generally make fools of themselves in an effort to direct all attention away from themselves and their failures and to project blame onto the federal government and President Bush.
I have the lowest opinion of the media I've ever had in my life. You never get the truth from them. They use their platform to try to "create" the perception they want people to have to suit their agenda. I wasn't amazed that the first "poll" to see if their effort was working came out only a few days into the hurricane. And when it showed that only 13% of the people blamed the President despite their best efforts, that should have been the banner headline, but of course, it wasn't. They buried that bit of information in the story and have gone right on with their gameplan.
It was interesting in the poll too that President Bush was the only specific name polled. They grouped Blanco and Nagin in as nameless "state/local" officials. What could better illustrate their agenda in the poll and their purpose for their coverage. They are so full of themselves and their own sense of importance and their own political views It's sickening.
I wonder why the media never conducts a poll to ask people what we think of them and their performance?
I also think the media themselves have can share in some of the blame for the hurricane loss of life. They go wall-to-wall with coverage of every hurricane with no context. Then when the hurricane goes somewhere else or isn't as bad as they trumped it up to be, people start to tune out the media and the warnings. I think that is why many people stayed in New Orleans. They had just heard it all before so many times.
And the media helps to create a divide in this country by the sensational and one-sided way they cover stories.
Contrary to Jay, I think this story demonstrates the continuing evolution of the public's view of the press from "objective voice of the people" to self-interested political party. (Ie., it is not a sign that there can be better times for the press ahead.)
Jay's summation of the press-on-press coverage, I think, proves this view; the press is very concerned with how it played--how it is seen--in the living rooms of America on its coverage of this disaster. And it is looking at its coverage as a potential PR "victory." When it describes the coverage, it does not praise itself for getting the story "right" but for writing stories that stand up to Bush, for getting "spine" and challenging administration officials. That may be a great thing, but I think that would be only incidental to the true first order of business for a truth estate, which is presenting an accurate view of reality. Instead, this pride in "standing up" to Bush is the way a political party thinks, and I think the general public gets that, on some level.
Next, if you look at the polls--the vast majority of Republicans think Bush did OK on this disaster, while the vast majority of Dems think it performed horribly. Now, I am not saying Bush did a great job, but I am saying that the press's "standing up to" Bush, getting a "spine" when it comes to going after him (or whatever it means when one says the press has gotten "spine"), has not had much impact on most of the citizens of this country.
In other words, the "spine" shown toward Bush has been utterly unconvincing to one set of voters (Repubs) and has just reinforced what the other set (Dems) would have believed anyway. Quite simply, the reporting has had little to no effect on public opinion.
One would imagine that a press respected for getting the story right would move a good sized majority of the people, independent of party, toward some view. Instead, we see a partisan divide in perception as if the only information out there was partisan and one-sided and viewer's were merely self-selecting info sources that in some biased fashion reinforced what they already believed.
The press: thinking like a political party (or a couple of them) and being regarded that way.
Is this a wrong view?
So Jay, that's why I ask the question about showing piles of dead bodies. What for? I think there are good reasons for doing so, and equally good reasons for not doing so.
But the reasons depend on the position and intent of the press.
Several posts above, someone noted that the laudatory coverage by the press of gay marriage had not changed public opinion. Wait a minute. Is that the goal of the press...to change public opinion? Or is the press objective, fact tellers?
Then let's think about the pictures. If the point is to impress upon the public that hurricanes are very dangerous, that's a good fact. If it's to show that FEMA blew it, or Nagin blew it, or Blanco blew it, well...I'm not sure those are objective facts.
All of this transcends the tiring ideological screeds and fingerpointing that have leaked into this thread, as usual.
I used to think an opposition press was a good thing--at least there would be transparency. But wouldn't it just throw more gasoline on this fire that consumes all public discussion. The us versus them, pinning blame. The tendency of public officials to see cooperationg as weak, despite the damage to the community.
On the other hand, objectivity is hopeless, particulary when holding up babies and stirring up emotional response is good for the media business.
I don't know. It requires looking at the press not as arm of some political party, or a cavalry that rides around on white horse. You have to look at the press as part of the larger system of public discourse. I'm not sure that's a easy or as fun as screeching about ideology.
Will FEMA etc. try to keep journalists away from embarrassing images and stories? From my own brief career in journalism and journalism education, I learned that this is the kind of question journalists find urgent.
As a FORMER journalist now doing something else, it comes across to me as a very 'in-house' question: rightfully important in a venue like PressThink, but not nearly as interesting to outsiders as it is to insiders, and a little disconnected from my own life.
Has journalism found its voice again? Another in-house question, appropriate for insiders but not particularly interesting to outsiders. Kurtz should be writing about that in PressThink or CJR (instead of Lovelady, whose leap to the language of genocide takes my respect for his work to new lows). Are American cars better now than in the eighties? I hear they are, but I wouldn't know for sure. I drive a Honda.
I watched a little TV coverage during and after Katrina (compared to none at all on a typical day), but learned very little. I spent my usual time working through a handful of well-linked blogs, generally on the right but also on the left, and learned a ton. In fact, I learned much more than my colleagues did who stuck to the usual publications and channels.
On-the-ground journalists are indispensable. High-quality analytical journalism is indispensable. But what I as a reader noticed AGAIN is how much I benefitted from my trusted 'managing editors', reporters, analysts, and ombudsmen in the blogosphere. With astonishing efficiency they continue to push the stories, ask the questions, and offer the perspective that matter most. The time I spend with them keeps reinforcing my sense that less than 1% of coverage is worth my attention, but that less-than-1% is well worth it. I have more of a desire to be informed than ever, but even less of a desire to become a regular viewer of cable news or a subscriber to a newspaper.
If my experience is representative in any way, then the implications for journalism and journalism institutions are pretty significant. How much will we pay for CrackerJacks if all we want is the little prizes inside and others are giving away just the prizes?
Journalistic practices and ethics seem to be finding homes beyond the borders of traditional journalistic institutions. Some of those new homes are stronger than many of the old ones. I don't begrudge discussions of whether Katrina turns into a coverup or catalyzes a revival of journalistic spirits, but the continuation of this trend seems to have more profound long-term consequences.
I'm impressed with how Josh Marshall is covering this story. He's establishing a timeline and he's actively looking into the requirements of existing law. Blanco says she asked for all they had and no one told her there were more hoops to jump through. The White House apparently demanded complete control to send active duty troops rather than national guard units. There is another military official who says the laws were streamlined in August so this sort of nonsense was no longer required. Northcom could send anybody anywhere to work with local officials.
Administration invocation of the insurrection act could have been a result of ignorance of the revised laws, a trumped up political obstacle, an honest misinterpretation of the law, or an accurate reading of the law and a failure to solve the problem it posed by a combination of actors.
Figuring out what the demands of the legal and bureacratic situation were can be done without much regard for political party loyalty. It would also be a requirement of congressional oversight if we had functioning checks and balances rather than one party rule that puts party above all else.
One thing is already extremely clear. Thousands of Louisiana national guard troops being in Iraq rather than Louisiana made an enormous difference. Louisiana had 3,000 and Mississippi had 4,000 in Iraq. That is 40% of the total for Mississippi. This is the core of the crisis that the 9/11 plan didn't anticipate in Louisiana--that national guard units would not be in country.
There is a further side of the story that relates to the issue you raise about media access to New Orleans. In most circumstances outside New Orleans, media coverage of the Bush regime is irrevocably biased along partissan lines THAT ARE LARGELY OUT OF THE MEDIA'S CONTROL:
The Bush administration's systematic refusal to grant the public (including the media) access to relevant data about what they are actually doing (regardless of relation to security) makes sober assessment of administration performance extraordinarily difficult. To do it well, the press would essentially have to recreate the bureaucratic branches of government whose reports the administration so predictably quashes or has rewritten by media advisors. The administration's consistent cooking of statistics, benchmarks, and scientific research has irrevocably undermined the credibility of anything they release absent confirmation from less predictably distorted sources.
There is NO attitude adjustment on the part of the press that will give them access to the facts about administration behavior and results absent the Bush administration behaving more like a representative democratic government and less like a military dictatorship in the name of responding to the emergencies the disaster president keeps creating for us.
Absent Seymour Hersh type leaks, accurate treatment of a one party state that refuses to reveal what it is actually doing is impossible by definition. Accuracy and facts are the enemy of incompetent totalitarians. So of course the press is their enemy, regardless of how much they toady up to the administration and blithely repeat bald-faced, counterfactual spin from "anonymous White House sources" without consequence.
One way out of the media bias cage is to point out as you do that the administration is one leg of the triangle and when one leg of the triangle is a an entire government increasingly run on the model of the Office of Special Plans because they don't require the minimal and nearly inoperative democratic oversight exercised over the CIA (contracting in Iraq and New Orleans perfectly adhering to the top secret no-competition model), effective news coverage would call for counterintelligence operations rather than an unbiased, fair press. The Bush admininstration has declared the people of the United States to be their enemy and currently conducts disinformation and special ops against us, sometimes through press channels like Judy Miller, sometimes against the press as well as the people.
The first step to restoring responsible and thoughtful press coverage to the nation would be restoring constitutional checks and balances and transparency that might potentially challenge the tyranny of the one party state. Just as the press success of Watergate required state cooperation at some level, the disastrous collapse of democratic pretense under the Bush administration has radically undermined any role the press might play in public life under the Bush administration. The press can't really work well again until the government works again. The goal of Bush administration policy is to prove that government doesn't work (by privatizing tax dollars as gifts to their friends who don't really offer services to anyone outside the Republican party), so don't expect much before 2008.
Thanks for entertaining my question, Jay.
I think every one of those common answers from newsies, curmudgeons, and skeptics makes a valid point.
Yes, my demographic is self-selected rather than fully representative. But are we a fringe market or an emerging market? I think we are some of both, but more the latter than the former. A lot has happened in five years.
Yes, blogs depend on traditional journalism reporting. Not 100% of our sources are traditional journalists, but they dominate, and for good reason: the cream of that crop is very good, even unrivaled. But what I have started to notice is that very little of the crop is cream. This is a problem journalism institutions will need to address, because all that inferior product is very expensive to produce and irritating to audiences.
Berkshire's Warren Buffett likes businesses that have 'moats' competitors cannot cross. Journalism's moat is much wider where reporting is concerned than where analysis and commentary are concerned. There traditional journalism loses most of its advantage. Do I want to wade through the words of an army of undereducated reporters trying hard to understand the significance of an approaching hurricane before an approaching deadline, or do I want to click right to a Brendan Loy who happened to be able to connect these particular dots?
Because so much 'reporting' involves analysis, it means non-journalists are encroaching not only on editors' and editorialists' turf but on part of reporters' turf too. Their moat is narrower than it once was.
And some bloggers do gather data as well as interpret it. Much of those data are inferior; some are cream.
Yes, ethics and standards are uneven in the blog world. Quite uneven. But it is no secret to audiences that they are uneven in traditional journalism institutions as well. 'Journalism' describes alt weeklies, local television news, tendentious news magazines, cable networks, supermarket tabloids, and entertainment magazines as well as broadsheets and nightly network newscasts. These institutions have family resemblances but a wide variety of ethics and standards. Are these newsies forgetting that they themselves filter the credibility of these sources, trusting some a lot more than others? Do they really not believe that non-newsies can do the same, not only with traditional news sources but also with emerging news sources?
Yes, newsies are right that bloggers will not take over for career journalists. There is too much value in a fine journalist's career-long acquisition of skill, training, and wisdom. But this response misses my argument that the Internet has evolved a way for people like me to sift through their work and place it alongside the work of many others in ways that are superior to the old delivery systems of newscasts, newspapers, and magazines. A judiciously shaped diet of blogs and other Internet sources is less expensive, more efficient, and more informative. I think talented individual journalists still have bright futures. It is journalism institutions that are being most directly threatened.
I wonder if we are seeing a set of pressures that will force individual career journalists to reorganize themselves radically in order to support what they do. Maybe their institutions will end up looking less like a department store and more like a Costco. Or an Ebay. Who knows.
Finally, as for traditional journalism institutions starting blogs, that effort seems unlikely to succeed. It is as if Sears decided to start a 'store' on Ebay. I am more sanguine about the chances of individual career journalists, or colleges of journalists, starting successful blogs. But as this is (at best) an emerging market, there will still be too much money and audience in traditional institutions to woo many career journalists away. They will stay and do better even in declining institutions than they would otherwise. Though it is way too early to tell, I would not be surprised to see a new generation of journalists create a new set of news organizations that competes with, and might even supplant, the old ones.
No wonder your set of newsies' responses, considered together, reads as defensive rather than creative or constructive. Traditional journalism's brightest hope seems to be the possibility that I am describing a mere fringe or fad. Perhaps it is; I am not a blog triumphalist. But what if it's not? What if my way of getting the news is really better, not just for me but for a lot of news-hungry people?
Show of hands: who thinks that United States military authorities (who already have checkpoints in place) will soon close to camera crews and reporters all of New Orleans, thereby taking journalists away from the story of what happened there?
Me for one.
This takes a bit; sorry. Background --
One of the things soldiers do when idle is sit around in bull sessions, and one of the most popular subjects of the bull sessions is fantasizing what they might do if they had a free hand. Nobody really expects that it will ever come to pass, and a goodly number (probably a majority) would be appalled if it did, but it's a way to while away the time. In my day it was a land invasion of North Viet Nam. Today --
My son, home on leave, tells me that the current milporn fantasy is "true for one year." That is, take all the lefty exaggerations, lies, misconstruals, and misconceptions, and really, truly make them Policy. Imperial ambitions, torturing prisoners, grabbing the oil; you know the lot. All true, for one year.
Oh, and "targeting journalists". Under "true for one year" the NYT would have a complete change of personnel within a month -- it would take that long to get around to it, after purging CNN.
I don't think you, or journalists, have any really clear idea of just how much the troops on the ground, in Iraq and Afghanistan especially, hold you in genuine contempt. And I'm quite sure you have no feel for how many people there are who have done their year in the "sandbox". I don't think George Bush much gives a damn whether you take pictures of bodies or not; it's clear that what you want is to drag the corpses into a mound, so you can kick their faces climbing up to shout "I hate George Bush!" more effectively, and he (and I) know what the reaction is likely to be. But the troops --
I find the story ami quoted quite believable, even reasonable, especially if you keep in mind that the female cop described might well have done her turn Over There, and in any case associates regularly with people who have -- the Guard and Reserves include a lot of law enforcement officers. The "federal government", the "military authorities", and Bush's appointees won't stop you from going in, but the soldiers might try. They'll get punished for it, and they know that, but they'll try anyway.
Journalists, while you're combing the suburbs of Metairie and the low terrain north of downtown searching for exactly the right combination of youth, decomposition, worms feeding, etc., to capture and use to attract that Pulitzer, I'd advise you to keep in the back of your mind that it's very likely that the young fellow in the green suit over there doesn't much distinguish between you and somebody with a raft full of plasma TVs, and may consider the bald-faced looter morally superior. He's almost certainly well-trained enough that he won't shoot you. Almost certainly.
Ric: I'm sorry, but I simply don't understand what you're saying. I asked you, Ric Locke, to whom does the "you" in these sentences refer, and what makes you, Ric, think that "you" is here to address? I quote:
...you seem well on the way to completely discarding the process of mere reporting as useless, dispensible, and beneath your dignity. Your sacred duty to lay the meaning of events before a public deemed grateful for your condescension leaves you with no need whatever to actually describe the events. Having already declared your readers and viewers to be contemptible slugs of no discernable intelligence, you conclude that that's easy: "If it bleeds, it leads." Thus your ghoulish fascination with corpses.
Who's the you, Ric, and what makes you think they are here, at PressThink? Because my blog has the word "press" in it I deserve to be your target?
Now I pointed out that the "you" isn't likely to be Mark Anderson. His profession isn't journalism, it's academics. On top of that he isn't a defender of the press, at all-- 90 percent of his comments here are critical of journalists from the Chomsky-inspired left (my characterization, not his); and, knowing Mark, he would be as disgusted and cynical about "If it bleeds, it leads" as you are. So I really don't get it.
If your point is, newspaper reporters, networks news producers, college professors, press critics, who cares? They're all "left," they're all responsible for what I hate, they're all detested by the people I trust, and they're all going down... why should we respect that? That's like walking into someone's house and taking a shit.
If you really really really want to tell journalists in the big media how much they're despised, I would kindly ask that you don't use my blog's conversation thread to do it. The American Society of Newspaper Editors meets in April every year at the JW Mariott in Washington DC. You'd be better of standing in the lobby with a sign or something.
Getting back to hurricanes and press:
There's a lot in this post about reporters trusting their own eyes and having the courage to report what they see. Okay, I buy that.
But now there are some reports that things aren't maybe as bad as reporters saw. The bodycount, which everyone (reporters, officials) said would be high, might not be so high. So who actually saw bodies? Reporters did, sure. And folks in town, who reported seeing bodies to reporters. But how many bodies is a lot? I mean, if a reporter saw four bodies, does that mean there are "bodies everywhere"?
Some of the outrage was mayeb that reporters have never seen bodies, and it's disturbing. But the reporter's disturbance doesn't change the scope of the tragedy, just the reporter's perspective. So what we hear from the TV report is emotion, and the reporter's perspective on what he sees, which may be completely out of context in terms of what really is.
Then there's the Convention Center. I heard horror stories about rapes and children being murdered, and all that. But now the police chief is saying that some of these stories aren't true. But I heard them reported. Did the reporter see them? Did the reporter just pass along a rumor? If a reporter was outraged about something that turned out to be a rumor, is it really news? Does it change the scope of the disaster?
I wonder if reporters aren't, maybe, unused to seeing tragedy. This looked terrible because it is, but perhaps the reporters' reactions were overblown. We might applaud them if their overblownness matched our own view.
I had a hunch that the media hysteria would give way to facts that were less outrageous. And it seems to be happening. I don't care either way, but I think for the press, it presents a problem.
Dave McLemore says:
Did all those blogs also mention how exactly local officials were supposed to contact all those drivers for all those buses? Many people with access to transportation had already left by Sunday. Katrina's winds knocked out the phones and the cell service was worthless. There was no power and no way to get to the buses, which flooded out Monday after the levee broke.
C'mon, the whole Times article is about the failure of emergency planning. Has anyone in the press asked whether the local officials of this below-sea-level city, which is threatened by hurricanes from June through November of every single year, had any kind of plan for moving its buses to high ground BEFORE the levee broke, while the hurricane was still out in the Gulf? Or for arranging IN ADVANCE to have drivers (maybe Louisiana National Guard or other emergency personnel who stay behind) on stand-by to drive the buses for emergency evacuation when a hurricane is forecasted to hit New Orleans?
If the city didn't have such plans, has anyone in the press asked why not? And if the city did plan ahead, has anyone in the press asked why the plans weren't followed?
You tell me. Are these questions unreasonable? Does the public have no interest in answers to questions like this? Do they have no place in this very long article by the Times, which emphasizes the importance of buses for emergency evacuation? And if they are valid questions, when is the press going to start asking them? It's stunning to me that pictures like this would surface, and NOBODY wants to ask any questions about them.
Things don't always go smoothly in a disaster. I'll grant you, the photo of flooded buses was certainly dramatic. But to see it as proof of governmental malfeasance or the media's rush to judgment seems, well, an unfounded rush to judgment.
Actually, I'm trying really hard not to rush to judgment. I don't believe I have anywhere near the facts needed to arrive at any judgment. I'm just wondering whether I ever will get enough facts to make something approaching a fair appraisal.
Maybe there are good answers to the questions I'm asking. Maybe somewhere, someone in the press has asked these questions, and I missed the report. If so, I'd appreciate a heads-up.
As I see you have determined, the "you" in my screed is the exemplary or practicing journalist. You, Jay Rosen, are a teacher of journalists and a theorist of journalism. Do you suppose that what you teach and theorize has no effect upon the practice on the ground? But in future comments, if any, I shall attempt to respect your elevation above the fray.
So far as I am aware I don't hate anybody. There are a goodly number of folk I despise, but I neither have nor wish the power to do anything about it other than not contributing to their welfare. I don't watch the TV news when I can help it; I don't buy the newspapers; and when I have the choice I don't buy the stuff they advertise. I have no intention of going farther than that, even if I were able to do so.
In the matter of Mark Leonard, I of course respect your opinion. I do note, however, that Mark has posted prominently on his website, and endorsed, an essay by E. L. Doctorow purporting to be a polemic against the person and character of George W. Bush. The screed fails utterly in its purpose because Mr. Doctorow makes assumptions which are utterly invalid. (For example, George Bush does not hate poor people, and you have no notion whether he feels compassion for them or not. He does not promote or endorse the measures you prefer because he regards them (as do I) as somewhere between "ineffective" and "criminal assault". He does not emote about them in public because his culture (which is also mine) regards people who do so as villainous opportunists promoting their own egoes. The rest is in the same vein.) The result is that the polemic's supposed target feels nothing -- it might as well be addressed to some tentacled octopoid on a planet far away.
Directly addressing Mark: the power you suppose George Bush has arrogated has existed for some time. Abraham Lincoln, for instance, suspended the right of habeas corpus against some thousands of Southerners, imprisoned them, and confiscated their property. I have a great deal of difficulty sympathizing with you in this matter, having lived a good bit of my life listening to relatives and neighbors complaining about "the Lincoln dictatorship" on precisely the same grounds. Otherwise --
Did the media invent "special renditions"?
No, but I find the complaint curous in the light of other advocacy. You presumably endorse the notion of "cultural relativism", which holds that people's actions and attitudes must be considered nonjudgementally against their cultural background. "Special rendition" simply places the person to be interrogated squarely within the culture from which he comes, thus comporting precisely with your stated ideals. It is, in fact, exactly what you demand. Whence the objection?
Did the media invent the Gonzalez memo?
No, but the poisonous (and largely nonsensical) interpretation of it you appear to endorse is pretty much their creation.
Did the media invent US protection of the Iraqi oil wells, the oil ministry, and NOTHING ELSE--while WMD (plastic explosives and uranium) were looted and Baghdad was razed to the ground?
WTF? There were no WMD; you and the media have been banging with that hammer since summer of '03. How can the nonexistent be looted? And there was certainly no uranium -- Joe Wilson says so, and he found out at a cocktail party, so his word cannot be doubted. As for "razed to the ground" and "protecting the oil wells", I do hope you never accuse me of hyperbole. There was a great deal of looting, and the military didn't do enough to stop it, being shorthanded, overextended, and possessing the Pollyannaish expectation that the Baghdad cops might hang around for a bit. You clearly have no experience of oil wells whatever, so the other part is simply laughable.
It's always interesting to read a missive that disproves itself by its very existence. Why aren't you in jail, Mark? Any self-respecting dictatorship would have slung you in the slammer in a heartbeat.
Dave McLemore says:
Guys, we're not two weeks into the storm that wreaked disaster across a region the size of Great Britain. The reporting is far from over. Why this rush to 'understand' why the entire story has yet been told.
That said, there has been reporting on the the local disaster plan and there's been reporting looking at the action of governors and mayors, as well as the feds. That reporting isn't finished either.
I agree with you -- this is a massive story, with a geographical scope 90,000 square miles beyond the City of New Orleans, and there's been nowhere near enough time for complete investigation and reporting of the governmental response, much less for drawing of conclusions.
But from where I sit, as a consumer of news, it appears that there is little media energy being directed to state and local deficiencies that may have contributed to the disaster. The Times piece, which I'm assuming was intended to provide the beginning of objective analysis after the initial crisis has passed (which is what the Times normally does), has a big, gaping hole in it where this reporting should have been.
I realize that it's only two weeks since the storm. I also realize that, in this country, far too many storylines get set in stone within two days, and never seem to budge thereafter.
One thing about it, we'll all get to see how the coverage develops. There either will be the same level of scrutiny brought to bear on all three levels of government, or there won't. My own preference would be for the press to investigate with the intensity of a plaintiff's lawyer with a billion-dollar complaint in his pocket and three potential defendants in his sights. I have zero interest in shielding the feds from scrutiny (just in case that needs saying), but I feel no inclination to excuse state and local officials, either.
The big 5,000 word article begins with what is called a "feaure lead," as against a "hard news" lead. This means a little story that is supposed to stand for part of the larger story to come, but not summarize the essential facts, which are too complicated to capture in a first paragraph:
The governor of Louisiana was "blistering mad." It was the third night after Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans, and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco needed buses to rescue thousands of people from the fetid Superdome and convention center. But only a fraction of the 500 vehicles promised by federal authorities had arrived.
Ms. Blanco burst into the state's emergency center in Baton Rouge. "Does anybody in this building know anything about buses?" she recalled crying out.
To me, that shows a governor out her depth and overwhelmed. If some of you read that passage as a press release from the governor's office I cannot help that, nor do I have anything to say on it. People are dying; she's the chief executive of the state but knows nothing about getting busses, and in fact failed to get them.
The summary (news lead) for what the story found is this, not a simple "blame Bush" story line:
The fractured division of responsibility - Governor Blanco controlled state agencies and the National Guard, Mayor Nagin directed city workers and Mr. Brown, the head of FEMA, served as the point man for the federal government - meant no one person was in charge. Americans watching on television saw the often-haggard governor, the voluble mayor and the usually upbeat FEMA chief appear at competing daily news briefings and interviews.
The power-sharing arrangement was by design, and as the days wore on, it would prove disastrous. Under the Bush administration, FEMA redefined its role, offering assistance but remaining subordinate to state and local governments. "Our typical role is to work with the state in support of local and state agencies," said David Passey, a FEMA spokesman.
With Hurricane Katrina, that meant the agency most experienced in dealing with disasters and with access to the greatest resources followed, rather than led.
To me that says: Power sharing, and an unclear division of responsibility proved disastrous in a crisis. The Bush Administration, putting into practice its policy of federalism, counted on state and local governments to act first, and they failed. State and local government counted on the Feds to step in and they failed. Inability to communicate over normal lines made it a lot worse. Again, if you find that's a "blame Bush" observation I cannot help you. My reading is not yours.
My prediction: the busses will become the culture war's (and blogging's) flash point for the story, with everyone trying to prove their "side" innocent and the other side guilty of screwing up. And in that game every single fact will be distored while lying by omission will be standard practice.
You're so upset with the media that in your excitement you've changed my name!
I agree with you that Lincoln did impose a military dictatorship on the South. Your attitude is that turnabout is fair play. In other words, the South has declared war on the North once again and is making the North pay. I agree with you that the current political situation in the US is essentially Southern revenge served cold. The South HAS risen again and this time the carpetbaggers come from the South and are getting theirs.
Revenge is not a very impressive argument for political tyranny, but I appreciate your honesty. It's hard to blame Northern resentment over Southern military dictatorship on the media or unAmerican attitudes, but you do.
I'm not a cultural relativist, so just as with your polemics vis-a-vis Jay, you are projecting the fantasy you claim to be struggling with. You are not addressing me, Mark Leonard. Hard to blame that on the media, but you do.
Here is the link for the uranium looting. You're right that it was inaccurate for me to refer to it as WMD. It was not enriched enough to be used in a bomb, but it was radioactive enough to poison the neighborhood. Hard to blame that on the media, but you do.
You insultingly play stupid when it comes to Joe Wilson. One of the reasons he and everyone else with passing knowledge of the state of intelligence on Iraq was suspicious of the ridiculous play given the Niger uranium story by the Cheney gang was that EVERYONE knew Iraq already had hundreds of tons of UNENRICHED uranium in country. They didn't need any from Niger. Joe Wilson said no uranium FROM NIGER had gone to Iraq. You don't make sense. Again. Hard to blame that on the media, but you do.
The US army was shorthanded in Iraq by design. Donald Rumsfeld's ignorance is not an act of God. He was warned but he knew better. Hard to blame that on the media, but you do.
As for my ignorance of oil wells, tell it to the Pentagon:
"The US military has drawn up detailed plans to secure and protect Iraq's oilfields to prevent a repeat of 1991 when President Saddam set Kuwait's wells ablaze. The US state department and Pentagon disclosed the preparations during a meeting in Washington before Christmas with members of the Iraqi opposition parties."
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that you avoid media accounts of the world as they refuse to stop making sense in the way you do. I can understand the Media's feelings up the thread, when she expresses her relief that you don't believe her.
I would hazard to guess that regardless of the glaring practical importance of solving the problem of Bush's insularity, the "Bush bubble" is a very difficult issue for most Bush supporters for a variety of reasons.
First, the campaign strategy for years has been that anything anti-Bush/anti-Republican is by definition a product of liberal/media conspiracy. Entertaining the possibility that the insularity charges might be true would require rejecting the culture war delegitimization of the media that insists all negative press must be untrue. This includes the clause that pointing out that Bush is trying to fool you is elitist arrogance.
It would require admitting that you had been previously fooled or taken in by Bush to think believe that he was responsible or competent or principled. It is easier for many to go into denial than to admit that they have been deceived,
Even in the event individual Bush supporters realize the problems, they will still generally identify with the culture war perspective, they will simply have lost faith with Bush as a competent messenger. They could hardly be excited about the idea of giving ammunition to the enemy--the "liberal" press--by openly admitting that Bush is out of touch.
Lastly, given the punitive, mafioso management style of the Bush/Rove team, it is hard to imagine any government employees broaching the topic would not be fired almost immediately.
There are a long list of Republicans who tried the constructive criticism approach and quickly found themselves looking for something else to do: such as Paul O'Neill, Bush's first treasury secretary and John DiLulio, Jr., his former advisor on faith-based initiatives. Both were appalled at the complete absence of policy research that went into administration initiatives. O'Neill attempted exactly what you suggest serious Republicans need to do. It hardly won him friends in the White House.
"Paul O'Neill says he is going public because he thinks the Bush administration has been too secretive about how decisions have been made...In the book, O'Neill says that the president did not make decisions in a methodical way: there was no free-flow of ideas or open debate...Suskind says that someone high up in the administration--Donald Rumsfeld--warned O'Neill not to do this book...The former treasury secretary accuses Vice President Dick Cheney of not being an honest broker, but, with a handful of others, part of "a praetorian guard that encircled the president" to block out contrary views. "This is the way Dick likes it," says O'Neill."
How would a concerned Republican get anywhere in this hornet's nest? Any move with a prayer of success would surely have to involve a VERY large group of Republican legislators backed up by Norquist and his lobbyist army. They're getting so much of what they want (and have already paid for), it would be asking a lot to risk the White House's wrath and get thrown off the gravy train...
Above all else, challenging Bush on this issue would require distinguishing between the national interest and Bush himself, the party interest and Bush himself, and the self-interest of the core Bush corporate welfare queens (also known as Pioneers). The strategy of the administration from day one has been to conflate Bush's personal political interest and the national interest, Bush's personal political interest and the party's interest. What's the likelihood that's changing anytime soon?
Jay, didn't you think it strange that somebody calling some stuff garbage, other stuff gold, is unwilling to name a couple of examples? Also, I'm wondering where else he will go to see pro- and anti- Bush folk discuss the media?
I don't think PressThink has much in the way of competition.
I'm concerned about the Bush Bubble, and it's been around as a meme a longer time than 2004, I think. Like all too many Bush problems, I acknowledge them and then consider the alternative -- stark, raving, Bush-bashers. Winning. Yechh.
Jay's pre-emptive defense (excuses) of press bias in (NOT) talking about the busses seems transparent -- WHY wasn't the press asking the Dem Mayor about the NO busses before?
The TPM timeline seems quite good, but notes the Dem Mayor calls for mandatory evacuation on Sunday, but he doesn't seem to be using the busses.
Can we say ... incompetence?
Oh, not if we're the press, talking about a Dem.
Why didn't the press ask the Dem Mayor about the busses on Sunday? Or about the Mayor's plan for evacuating poor people; or about the Governor's plan?
Terry Ebber seems to be the NO DHS guy, but who is the LA state person -- named by the Dem Governor?
"under the command of the director of the state office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness"
Why isn't this person, supreme state commanding director, more well known, and publicized? -- and likely to be the most blame-worthy target.
Yes, I accuse all anti-War (anti-Vietnam War) protesters of supporting the policy of the US leaving Vietnam; the results of following that policy were genocide.
Similarly, those who voted in favor of Clinton in 1996 were supporting his decision to lie about, and coverup, genocide in Rwanda. Nice apology afterward, but how many Americans cared? Even the Reps didn't bother attacking him on this issue in the campaign; no "truth to power" by the press, either.
Two world genocides I've lived thru, far more meaningful to me than Hitler. Press failure in both. BAD at current history. Darfur kills more than Katrina every month; prolly every week. But the UN says "no genocide" -- where is the press?
Bush is going to be blamed for the mistakes of other feds, like Brown -- well, Bush deserves blame for choosing such a mediocrity. But if he deserves only 10% of the blame, and I see in the press he's getting 90%, the press is failing.
Dave says the press has articles about the Dem Mayor failing, and the Dem Governor failing; but no links. And really, I don't have time to read the lamestream media -- not if I want to read this thread, too.
Powerline thinks the unfair press attack dogs against Bush are hurting him; I do too. With tired rage, including against the fact that unfair Bush-hate shouting silly criticisms drowns out the more real criticisms.
How to vote against those pro-Dem media guys; how to fire them ... (vote Rep? not buy MSM?)
Slow down, and think about what you just said ami. When a tornado blasts through my small midwestern city, I should expect the feds to know more about how to help me than the mayor? Than the local cops who've worked the streets for decades? I would expect that some guy from two states away is going to swoop in and know instantly the best roads for evacuation, the best sites for shelters, the resources for food and water?
A tornado is a highly localized transitory event that in no way in analogous to the massive area of devastation caused by a "national disaster" such as hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. If you are going to criticize me, please don't make such ridiculous analogies.....
But it's up to the local officials to draw up the plans for an emergency and to tell FEMA what those plans are. The logistics are shared, but the plan is local. I believe that federal law (or maybe it's just state law where I live) requires municipalities to have emergency management plans.
yup, and FEMA is supposed to approve those plans, blah, blah, blah. The point which you seem to be committed to missing is that there is a difference between drawing up "plans" to deal with a theoretical disaster, and having the wealth of experience that only a federal agency like FEMA can provide in dealing with actual disasters. (and, in fact, the "plan" for New Orleans was to get as many people as possible out of the city --- but to SHUT DOWN evacuation routes as a storm got closer, and direct people to shelters of last resort---then rely on FEMA to evacuate people if it became necessary. NO followed the plan, and when the "Hurricane Pam" exercise was done in 2002, FEMA made all sorts of promises about the assistance that it would provide---which we know was never provided in a timely fashion.)
Some towns might have a dipstick in charge of police and fire, and have a crappy plan. Others have great plans. (I know our police chief, and I am quite certain that this guy has a terrific plan.)
I'm sure he does....and if it turns out that the primary "four lane" evacuation route happens to be undergoing repair and is down to two lanes at the time disaster strikes, you're screwed. "The plan" doesn't matter---all that matters is doing what is possible to save lives when those lives are in jeopardy.
There is more than enough blame to go around --- there always is. The point here is that the job of the NATIONAL media is to report on NATIONAL concerns, and whether or not Podunk has an effective "plan" is irrelevant to whether or not the NATIONAL government's response to a disaster is adequate. People like you want to divert attention away from the failure of the FEDERAL response to this disaster solely for politcal reasons. Its rather pathetic....
I really doubt that Bush will resign in 2007; I think it more likely that Cheney will, and Condi becomes VP for her 2008 campaign (Pres or VP?). But lately I've read that Dick's feeling healthy, and maybe even ready to run himself.
Nice repeat about fewer critics, Jay -- but I think the world needs smarter, more honest critics.
Smart enough to develop reasonable alternatives for comparison, and honest to DO the comparison.
Like, comparing FEMA in Miss., where Katrina's eye actually hit, and FEMA in NO. With a competent Rep Gov., and very little lamestream media, a lot more orderly relief for an even more devastated situation.
The lack of spine of the Dems is shown in not discussing Gen. Landreneau, and whether he, too, should be fired.
Ami "It wasn't about the failure of Republican leadership," -- this is a dog that really won't hunt. If it was about "national leadership", there would be more examination of just who wanted FEMA in Homeland Security -- the Dems. Bush initially wanted FEMA kept out.
If it was about Federal Response, FEMA says local first responders are responsible for 72-96 hours -- how many was it? When did Gov. Blanco give authority over to the Feds? And if you don't know answers to these important questions, doesn't that indicate a LACK of news spine in asking important factual questions?
Michael Brown did terrible on TV; he deserved to be fired. For bad TV. His agency mostly did OK, and was wrongly blamed for local failures that created problems his agency didn't quite have legal authority to decide about. The moral requirement was to usurp the failed local Dem authority and issue orders to solve problems.
There's a housing voucher subsidy scheme that could probably be expanded, immediately, to pay rent for the homeless disaster victims.
And I had TypeKey id problems yesterday, too.
Mr. Lovelady, please clarify, because I'm really trying to understand what you're saying exactly. Sometimes I feel like you and Mr. Rosen have some super secret code language that only you guys speak and understand. What do you mean by "sometimes facts don't intrude at all on the process"?
And, are you saying that it should be a goal of journalism schools to turn out fact-finders who really should try to become "do-ers" because they can then actually affect change?
For example, you say "any time that .... public support for the doomed .... Iraq effort sags" then fact-finders become do-ers and that's when they really make a difference. Huh? Doomed? I can see where you'd have trouble calling that a fact but what are you really trying to say???
Plus you sound kind of wistful and dramatic like there's some overall point I'm missing in all of this about an overall goal...
Mr. Rosen, I've been reading your blog for months now because I love that it pulls the curtain aside and lets me see the thought processes behind people "in the press." You've given me much insight into the minds of America's press "influencers;" people like yourself and Mr. Lovelady and others who have helped to create the press of today. That is an invaluable service to us citizens.
A simple question because I'm curious.... Very simply, do you believe that it should be a goal of jounalism schools to produce a conglomerance of people (reporters, journalists, whatever else they're called) specifically so that they can cause change to happen?
I get the feeling that "the press" gets very touchy and insulted when people accuse "it" of intentionally playing a causal role (e.g., the reference earlier to Hugh Hewitt's question to you about the start of Katrina coverage and the resulting comments).
But isn't that exactly what Mr. Lovelady just admitted by using three examples of where the press has "made a difference" in a good way...Nixon, Brown, and sagging public support for a "doomed" Iraq effort? Is he saying that it's a good thing for the press to play a role in causing a "doomed" effort to fail?
And, if indeed you believe that "the press" should try to cause change, doesn't that give credence to the belief that it is very much a political party?
Kristen: When I wrote this:
I used to teach that the world needs more critics; but it was an unexamined thing. Today I would say that the world has a limited tolerance for critics, and while it always needs more do-ers, it does not always need more chroniclers, pundits, or pencil-heads.
I was trying to talk, not about the difference between types of journalists, but between scribblers (whom I called critics) and the rest of society. Therefore the do-ers in my original were people who build companies, run for office, fight wars, write software, organize marches, start magazines, restore power, and rescue people with their boats. The scribblers write or talk about how well they did it.
Hugh Hewitt's comments about a "causal role" were that journalists killed--that is, caused the deaths of--hundreds of people by standing out in the rain and doing live shots, or by failing to take the storm seriously enough in other ways. If you're gonna Blame Bush, I'm gonna blame the media, so how do you like that?
Just another day in the sandbox of the culture war. As for getting touchy about it, the original question to me was why I wasn't touchier, why I didn't I wallop Hugh when he said that. My answer was: just another day in the sandbox of the culture war, in which I try not to participate, though I have no illusions about succeeding in that effort.
No, we don't prepare journalists to "cause change," nor do we tell them that this is part of their job description. We might, however, teach them that Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, originally published in the New Yorker, is considered by some to be the start of the environmental movement because that is a fact. We might teach them that a 1982 Atlantic article, "Broken Windows," is credited with being a crucial catalyst in the decline of crime nationwide, which is also a fact.
To say the press is a political party is a metaphor. If you like it, use it. I have been arguing that the press is a player in politics for more than 10 years. Here are two pieces that make the point. One, and two.
I think one of the reasons journalists are in such a mess today is that in fear of their work being politicized they pretend to themselves and others that it is without any politics at all. This is not so, and has never been so.
Where I differ from most bias critics is that they think it's easy to describe what the politics inherent in news work is ("just look at who they vote for!") whereas I think it's complicated and difficult. It's not my job to make things simple when they are difficult to understand. But that is the job of ideology.
I'm not specifically addressing you, Kristen, but I am a little tired of people asking me if I teach journalism students X, where X is whatever they hate most about the media. It isn't a real question. It's a "who can I behead for this?" tactic.
The very first thing I teach in my classes is: "journalists are people who make things," which of course does not mean they make it up. This I contrast with "journalists are people who find things." Finding out is crucial to good journalism, but the news is not a found object; it is a made object.
The usual meaning of the word "do-er" describes "the man in the arena," which is how TR saw himself: out there, taking risks, doing the dirty work, being sniped at by critics.
The term ""man in the arena" comes from one of the great speeches of the 20th century, and if you've never read it, here it is. The central myths (and I don't mean that in the sense of being "false") of American culture and identity are evoked with Roosevelt's usual rhetorical power. I highly recommend it.
Anyway, you hear about "the man in the arena" a lot when you work as a reporter or editor. Public officials who have just been exposed as corrupt tend to cite the "man in the arena" in their farewell speeches. Their message: "I may have made some mistakes, but at least I tried to do something, unlike these pooftahs in the press."
We all love the "do-er" and hate the critic, because that's the way Americans view themselves in the context of the larger world. We're the do-ers; the French (i.e. all Europeans) are the critics. And in 1910, it was clear who TR meant when he talked about the critics in America: they were the "journalists" of the day. Nobody else had a printing press.
And let me say it: As journalists, those guys SUCKED.
The irony today is that EVERYBODY'S A CRITIC. The blogosphere, of which I am so happily a member, is an ever-expanding critics circle.
Which leaves... who in the arena? Who is out there in the mud and stench and heat? Who rushes toward the place where the need is greatest, knowing full well that everything they do will be criticized, endlessly, by people whose only contribution will be to sit at home and complain? Who are the people who make mistakes, work beyond the level of their abilities, take their lumps and get up and do it again?
I know a few reporters who have met that "man in the arena" description, going out into the post-Katrina chaos to try to get information out to the world. And I know a few reporter-haters who simply live to chronicle their every sin of omission. They seem to think that criticizing the critics makes them a do-er, at least vicariously, as if a double-negative makes one noble and strong.
And you know what? Fair enough. Smack the press around. If the press can't take it, it doesn't deserve the title.
Because this is the thing that nobody says about Roosevelt's great "do-er" speech: For all his manly bluster, TR was whining.
Antimedia’s complaint about AP’s coverage of the shooting incident involving Corps of Engineers contractors is underscored with the belief that the ‘errors’ in the reporting stemmed from reporters becoming too emotionally involved in the story. And of course the lack of standards that AM always complains about. The facts, as usual, get in the way of a crackerjack story.
Unwittingly, AM’s rant is instructive in how reporting works during a disaster. When the facts on the ground are chaotic, it takes extra effort to pin down the facts. And get them out on deadline.
On Sept. 4 at 5:00:46, p.m. AP sent out a brief News Alert on its wire, notifying editors that a story was coming that some contractors were killed by gunfire on their way to repair a levee breach. One minute later, another alert went out, citing Corps officials saying police killed five contractors.
Five minutes and 57 seconds later, a story went out, attributing the story by name to a Corps spokesman.
At 5:18:50 p.m., AP killed the story, correcting it with statement by Corps officials that shots had been fired at the contractors and New Orleans police returned fire, killing the assailants. A revised and more detailed story went out about 3 minutes later. It also contained a second notice to AP members to ignore the earlier dead contractors story. Subsequent stories, called ‘write-thrus’ went out on the wire with more details, the last one at 5:33:51 p.m.
Mind you, the AP writers on the ground were dealing in a destroyed landscape with no power, no landline phones, no internet access and limited cell phone coverage. Officials were scattered at a half-dozen locations, often difficult to reach. And rumor traveled faster than facts. But in 18 minutes, AP made its initial report – based on a Corps statement, not ‘emotion’ – realized the error, killed the story and sent a correct one out on the wire. Reporting is rarely pretty to watch. And God knows, mistakes are made. But as evidence of a failed medium, I don’t think so.
This is what I wrote up Sunday nite for my blog ohile thinking of this discussion, Sept. 11 and watching Control Room:
I've been thinking for the last day about dead bodies and whether it is ever appropriate for them to be shown on television or on newspapers.
But let me back up.
I have been thinking about 9/11, the war of Iraq, Katrina and issues raised in a current discussion at Press Think.
There were several comments in the discussion I want to go back and comment on but right now I just want to try to convey a thought and it is this:
Sometimes a dead body IS the story.
This seemingly gruesome topic and issue arose after FEMA issued a directive/order/request that the news media not show dead bodies from Katrina. Some were offended and insulted by the request while others pointed out how terrible it would be for someone to see a relative on a screen or newspaper before they knew they were did.
There is something to be said for both sides.
Over at PressThink, Kilgore Trout made a decent point:
"I don't know anyone who is for FEMA suppressing photos of dead people, but I think the government is correct if it believes that the MSM is too immature to use the photos wisely.
Again, let me say I am NOT for the suppression of photos of the Katrina flood victims, but I certainly understand the paranoia the government must feel. Also, I have many relatives in the NO area, who thankfully got out OK, but I'm not sure how I'd feel about a photo of my Uncle Don floating in sewer water beamed all over the universe, and the subsequent hosannahs for the photographer who took the picture and won the Pulitzer (or whatever photojournalists win). All this is more complex than what journalists "want" and "need". Sorry, it needed to be said."
Jenny D, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite posters (plus, she too has switched from journalism to education) wrote this response:
"I think that showing victims needs some kind of more general approach.
For example, should you show victims whose families might not know they are dead, and might find out through TV?
Is there a level of gruesomeness that is acceptable?
On the History Channel you can see the terrible film from the first soldiers to arrive at Dachau, in which bodies are piled like cord wood. That is powerful footage, and the point was to illustrate the horror and cruelty of the Nazis.
Would the point of showing victims be to demonstrated the killing power of a hurricane? Or to show that the Bush Administration sucks? Or to embarrass the mayor and governor who couldn't protect citizens? Or is to sell papers or get people to watch a cable news channel?
I don't know the answer. I'm curious what people think."
Posted by: JennyD at September 8, 2005 04:52
And therein lies the debate.
Let me toss out one other great comment from that discussion:
"Absent Seymour Hersh type leaks, accurate treatment of a one party state that refuses to reveal what it is actually doing is impossible by definition. Accuracy and facts are the enemy of incompetent totalitarians. So of course the press is their enemy, regardless of how much they toady up to the administration and blithely repeat bald-faced, counterfactual spin from "anonymous White House sources" without consequence."
Most of the newspapers I worked for had policies against showing dead bodies, especially any that were easily identifiable.
And that makes sense and seems fair.
And yet I've been thinking about this and thought back to some past events:
Who can forget the images of the soldier in Somalia dragged around on the ground? Some have suggested that footage is what ultimately led to the American departure.
When I think of all the footage of 9/11 it's the people jumping out windows and landing.. well, those are some of the most disturbing lasting images of that terrible day.
And with Katrina the image that to me most crystalized how destructive the force was, how life in New Orleans had changed so dramatically, that proved that even the simplest kindnesses had been tossed out the window because of the chaos, was the image of a woman, dead, lying in a wheelchair. I think it was outside the convention center or the stadium.
The next day I read that she still sat there.
And I remember thinking, "Wow! If they can't even move that woman to a temporary morgue, if she is just sitting there like that, then this really is such an unreal situation there."
Was there something tasteless and unseemly about taking and/or publishing those images? Maybe.
But were those images ones that spoke volumes about the situation? Definitely.
There is a scene in Control Room - which I just finished leading a discussion on - in which Al Jazeera is criticized for showing images of injured America POW's and injured and dead Iraqi civilians.
An Al Jazeera representative explained that war is not simple and clean and sometimes it is needed to show just how bloody the consequences can be. And as gross and tasteless and offensive as those images may be the logic makes some sense.
We need to be reminded sometimes of the ugliness of the human condition, of the consequences of our actions, as well as those of Mother Nature's.
I don't know that there can be a rule established for when it is and isn't appropriate, which is why FEMA's interference in the issue rightly raises hackles.
Maybe it's like the famous description of pornography: "I know it when I see it."
I think some press critics are bothered at such a subjective matter being left in the hands of others but sometimes that's the way it has to work.
Words seem inadequate for this topic - or maybe it's the cold medication I'm on - so let me end with a post by Lex from the PressThink discussion, responding to Jenny D's question:
"To answer JennyD's question directly: At bottom, the dead bodies ARE the story of this hurricane. Government (at all levels) performed ineffectually and/or corruptly -- for whatever reason, less well than we had been led to believe it would perform -- and PEOPLE DIED AS A DIRECT RESULT.
Simple accountability -- hell, simple justice -- dictates that you show the pictures. Doing this story without pictures would be like talking about 9/11 and not talking about death."
One final thought:
Speaking of death....
On a day when many are remembering loved ones killed on this terrible day my thoughts keep returning to my father, who died from melanoma cancer about six years ago. I miss him so damn much sometimes and now is one of those times.
I keep thinking about something he did that said so much about who he was and how he thought.
He took the idea of "knowledge is power" to a new level when - after using magazines, newspapers and books all his life to help make difficult decisions, be it choosing a car or whatever.
And so what did he do when he found out he had melanoma cancer? He got books from the library and learned all he could about that which could kill him.
But that time all the information in the world couldn't stop cancer, that vicious bastard, from taking him prematurely from us.
Sometimes life is just so unfair, be it due to cancer, Katrina, terrorists or whatever.
Steve Lovelady asks
Now you've got me curious, AM. I'm no fan of AP's perpetual scramble to be "first" myself. But put yourself in charge for a moment. In this case, would you have waited ? Even after 5:06 pm, at which point you have the statement from the corps spokesman, on-the-record, and for attribution ?
Look at it from another perspective. Obviously they weren't comfortable that they had the facts nailed down or they wouldn't have been correcting the story after its release. Either that or they simply assume all
their stories will need correction, so they don't care about the initial release (because they can always correct it later.) In either case, it's apparent that someone with good judgment would not have released the story.
What exactly would be the rationale for waiting -- unless the reporter or his editor had some reason to disbelieve the corps spokesman (who was himself confident enough to put his name on the report ) ?
I'm glad you asked this question, because it gets to the heart of what I think is wrong with the media today. Rather than do some research and confirm the facts before publishing, it's enough to simply print "he said, she said" stories (quoting "experts" and officials) and worry about the details later (if at all.)
The function of the press in a free society is to inform. If they inform falsely, they are not fulfilling their function. It's really that simple from a citizen's perspective.
Daniel Conover writes
Tankers in the middle of a chaotic battlefield accidently shoot at friendly units: It's the Fog of War, and anyone who would dare to criticize their actions is the lowest of the low.
Commander-in-chief leads the country into war based on faulty intelligence: It's a complex world out there, and those who question the president's intentions and actions are "Bush-bashers."
Associated Press reports an incorrect statement from the Army Corps of Engineers in the middle of a tense disaster area and corrects the original report within 18 minutes: "Can you see now why the media disgusts me so?"
If you want to play mind games, then how's this?
A doctor operates and leaves some sponges in the patient's body. Later on the mistake is discovered, and the patient has to undergo a second surgery to remove the sponges.
You see, some mistakes matter more than others, don't they? The media seems to think their "mistakes" are no big deal. This attitude fosters a climate of sloppiness and inaccuracy. When confronted, they respond....well, let's let Dave McLemore explain it.
News doesn't happen in a vacuum, AM. Particularly in a disaster, when chaos rules. News never happens in a polite fashion, with all the details neatly arranged in logical order. The AP model has always been to get the factual news out as soon as it happens. And make corrections as the news changes as quickly as possible.
Notice how Dave calls the false story "factual news" which then has to be "corrected" because "the news changes"? Curious, isn't it? In science, facts are facts. Apparently, in the media they are fungible. Subject to "correction" as the "facts change".
I don't know about you, but that's not what I understood "news" to be, before I began to understand what "news" really was.
But I'm also curious: why would you have waited if you had a credible source telling you that five contractors had been killed in a gunfight?
Because the credible source was obviously wrong, and in an environment in which, by your own admission, "chaos rules", reporters should be even more cautious about reporting "facts" until they know they are facts.
And, did you actually hear this reported on TV or radio as it was reported? Or is this after-the-fact grousing?
I read it on my AP feed and in blogs, saw it on the TV and heard it on the radio, all as the story "developed" (and the "facts" changed until they became so confused that I'd be loathe to guess how many, if any, persons died, what those persons' identities were or even why the killings occurred (if they actually did.)
I usually like and agree with anti-media, but I think the AP getting the initial "factual quotes" right; and then correcting them, is OK.
French TV 2, in their fabrication of the Palestinian boy who died (murdered? by Israelis? by Palestinians? by accident?) on camera is terrible -- but got the intifada going hotly. (See Nidra Poller
Who is General Landreneau -- the head of LA Homeland Security, the person who had command (according to Gov. Blanco's Emergency declaration); and when will he be fired?
The press not reporting more facts about his decisions seems a lack of spine -- which I believe is due to tunnel vision looking for Bush-hate justification. Like ami above "national" news, ONLY (ie Bush-bashing, only).
Lovelady betrays the desire of most newsfolk to "make a difference" -- and JennyD so well shows what it takes. Quit Journalism and go elsewhere...
I'm now teaching. In Bulgaria (for a week). Hopefully soon for a week in Kenya on another project. But the media desire to "do good" is important, but unfortunately right now it's twisted.
I really love how Jay so often phrases it nicely: "journalists are people who make things,".
They DID make Brown leave; they DID make Nixon leave; they DID make the US leave Vietnam.
But were all those successful make-ings, good?
Too many in the press report/ edit/ "make" the news in order to maximize the desire of US voters to leave Iraq.
"Commander-in-chief leads the country into war based on faulty intelligence:"
Secondly, the intel would NEVER have been known to be faulty without invading.
Firstly, I supported the war to MINIMIZE the chance of Islamic terrorists getting WMDs, and because it good to boot Saddam. I'm comfy that the probability of a WMD strike went down thanks to the invasion. And now it's time to help heal Iraq and promote the long, slow process of democratic nation building.
It is, Ron, because it might tell us something about the reporters' reflexes. But I think the point Dave and others are trying to make is that this kind of reporting shouldn't be taken as "finished" work, even though it was "published" work. Especially the initial AP account of a breaking news event, which is always going to be revised.
But this episode reveals something important about journalism that I think is poorly understood by its practitioners: Lots of times there aren't really good reasons why a news report presented one way wasn't presented another, why these sources were consulted, while those were not, why this event made the news, but that one, equally event-ful, didn't.
Reporters and editors could try to explain how a decision came to be, but very often their reasons will sound arbitary to the public: "It was coming up on deadline." "We had a big take out scheduled for the next day, so this had to run today." "Our regular reporter on that beat was out on vacation, so it fell through the cracks." "The editor's kid said there were drug sweeeps in his school." "It was a good lighter story to balance all the hard news that day." And many other things that fit under the category of contingency, or happen because of a production system's strange demands, or because of group think, or rituals peculiar to craft culture.
There's nothing surprising about this. If you try to explain why a bureaucracy behaves the way it does, you will discover similar factors at work. But journalism trapped itself into claiming there's a rational reason for everything in the news, when they know that much of what happens cannot withstand scrutiny because "our regular reporter was out on vacation" is just not a good reason if the news is supposed to be entirely prudential as a product.
Journalists will sometimes signal their awareness of this when they talk about the risks in "watching sausage being made" in newsrooms. But I believe the cause of the thin skin often observed in daily journalists is this elusive factor I'm describing.
Many things news organizations do can't be explained very well, or defended persuasively to audiences outside the craft. The public senses this, too. Officially there's supposed to be a good reason for everything in the news. There is sometimes, maybe even most. But a lot of times, no. Each time that's an implicit loss of credibility, which is why transparency is driving trust down. But the real problem is in the claim of system rationality itself.
Errors aren't the problem. Mistakes and rowbacks aren't the problem. Mistakes happen to everybody. Eagerness, competition, informants with agendas, a thousand other things will cause errors in news reporting, and the very best we can hope for is that corrections will be prompt and prominent.
It's when the pattern of errors turns into reflex that there's a problem. If an explosion on the Moon turned out to be a ranging shot from the purple octopoids of Alpheratz, ten thousand journalists would leap to ten thousand keyboards, steno pads, and Big Chief tablets, and the first thing to stream from their minds would be some variant of "George Bush has betrayed us again. When, oh when shall we be rid of him?" The "objective" and "evenhanded" ones would cut it out and paste it in later in the article, but for most it would stay the lede.
It's starting to be boring.
Tom Grey, consider yourself chastised. The matters you refer to are Received TRVTH, as declared by those who style themselves liberal. They require no evidence, corroboration, or confirmation, and any contradiction constitutes "hate speech", which the committed pacifists will send cops to beat you up for.
White folks have spoken, and the rest of us are graciously permitted to step&fetchit, provided that we don't talk too loud, dittybop, or get uppity.
How very familiar it all is. I admit it's a bit disorienting to have the machine pointed at me, but the system is identical. Dey do talk purty, tho Uncle Dub was much more concise.