Sunday, December 25, 2005


What year goes by without an impressively clueless quote from Dan Rather? Even in his semi-retirement disgrace he is able to view the scene from above, weigh all the facts, and then get everything hopelessly wrong.

He is a national treasure for those of us who treasure unintentional humor.

This year he had this little reported quote. Talking about the hurricane Katrina coverage, he said, “It’s been one of television news’ finest moments.”

Here is a section from the blog

Rather praised the coverage of Hurricane Katrina by the new generation of TV journalists and acknowledged that he would have liked to have reported from the Gulf Coast. "Covering hurricanes is something I know something about," he said.

"It's been one of television news' finest moments," Rather said of the Katrina coverage. He likened it to the coverage of President Kennedy's assassination in 1963.

"They were willing to speak truth to power," Rather said of the coverage.

The entire article is *here*.

I was reminded of that quote this morning when the following article appeared in the Bangkok Post:

Katrina coverage botched from beginning to end

News reporters, especially on TV, kept regurgitating myths and untruths


The Hurricane Katrina story is getting one last top-stories-of-2005 run before falling completely and finally off the news pages. But before that, readers and viewers should learn how badly they were manipulated and misled by the media during and immediately after this hurricane.

While Katrina and the storm of anti-media criticism will slowly tip off the awareness horizon, it appears the hurricane caused more damage than first realised _ not to devastated New Orleans, but to the reputation of the media.While the print media _ principally big news agencies, but also the newspapers and magazines they service _ have a lot of misreporting to answer for, the most extensive damage without doubt has been to the broadcast media.CNN, the BBC and Fox News, all popular in Thailand and a major source of video and information for Thai TV newscasts, did not simply misreport the hurricane.

They unabashedly (and unwisely) elevated reporters at the scene into courageous and brilliantly unflawed pundits. Not only did such fearless reporters actually venture out into the hurricane, they were contrasted with the bumbling relief efforts of government, and especially the administration of President George W. Bush.

The New York Times at the time Katrina was front page news hailed CNN's Anderson Cooper as ``an anchor who reports disaster news with a heart on his sleeve''. Strange praise for a reporter pledged to provide facts.

Last week, though, the Times busted many of the Cooper fables, from the chain of botched aid _ it was far more complicated than ``Bush did it'' because of America's three-government federal system _ to the allegedly ``violence-ridden'' Superdome.

And Maj Ed Bush of the Louisiana National Guard, who was there, told the Los Angeles Times in retrospect: ``What I saw in the Superdome was just tremendous amounts of people helping people.'' In other words, no violence at all, in what was certainly a hellhole.
Remember the stacks of corpses at the Superdome, where failed officials didn't take food? There were six deaths, of natural causes, none the result of violence.
Remember all the rapes? Well, who wouldn't? All the major news networks reported multiple and serial rapes. A seven-year-old was gang-raped at the Superdome, and then had her throat slashed. Well, actually, no she wasn't. In fact, not a single rape was reported during the hurricane or in the Superdome or anywhere else storm refugees gathered.

Remember the murders? Reporters reported a lot of murders. But no, there were no actual surge in the murder rate during the storm. The New Orleans murder rate was normal.

Thank goodness panicky Mayor Ray Nagin was wrong in predicting 10,000 deaths. The actual death toll was just over a terrible and gruesome 1,000, and even that is a little inflated since it includes any New Orleans evacuee who suffered a heart attack or stroke in the month following the flood. It includes, as the Associated Press reported, ``13-month-old Destiny McNeese, who rolled onto her stomach and suffocated on an air mattress after her family fled from Kentwood [Louisiana] to Kentucky'' _ on the basis that Destiny might not have died if she were still at home instead of being forced to evacuate from Katrina.

In short, readers and particularly TV viewers were violently jerked around by media reports which some now see as hysterical, ill-considered and in some cases nothing more than rumour-mongering.

Three major newspapers have examined the myths of Katrina on their front pages, but that may be the extent of it. The New Orleans Times-Picayune had a superb piece, shortly after Katrina, exposing the dreadful reporting. Last week, both the Times of New York and of Los Angeles had short, but tough analyses of their colleagues' flawed coverage.

You can read the entire article*here*.


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