Wednesday, October 05, 2005

News Misreporting Slowed Aid in NOLA

The news reports from New Orleans of multiple murders, rapes and other crimes in the Superdome and Convention Center during the flooding have been proven wrong. The murder count in the Superdome was zero. The reports of dozens of bodies stored in a freezer in the Superdome. Wrong. There were 6 bodies, 4 of natural causes, one suicide and one I don't recall, but it wasn't a murder. Why couldn't the Major Media get this one story correct? They were all there - the big TV networks, the 3 or 4 cable news networks, the major newspapers. They were all there, but they got it wrong. What was the effect? The Washington Post reports today that the delivery of aid was slowed. The news media hampered the rescue and relief efforts.
The sensational accounts delayed rescue and evacuation efforts already hampered by poor planning and a lack of coordination among local, state and federal agencies. People rushing to the Gulf Coast to fly rescue helicopters or to distribute food, water and other aid steeled themselves for battle.
Delaying aid is bad. But worse, much worse, the news made it seem that New Orleans evacuees were somehow dangerous:
In communities near and far, the seeds were planted that the victims of Katrina should be kept away, or at least handled with extreme caution.
Back to the poor reporting:
There was an unnerving amount of lawlessness, especially looting, in the streets of New Orleans after the hurricane. But many of the more salacious reports have not withstood close examination by government officials or the media. CNN reported repeatedly on Sept. 1, three days after Katrina ravaged New Orleans, that evacuations at the Superdome were suspended because "someone fired a shot at a helicopter." But Louisiana National Guard officials on the ground at the time now say that no helicopters came under attack and that evacuations were never stopped because of gunfire. Later that morning, during a briefing carried live on local radio and local and national television, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said, "We have gotten reports, but unconfirmed, of some of our deputies and sheriffs that have either been injured or killed." Of the thousands of law enforcement officials who converged on New Orleans, only one was shot. The wound to the leg was self-inflicted in a struggle, a spokesman for the Guard said last week. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that National Guard troops found 30 to 40 bodies decomposing inside a freezer in the convention center, including a girl whose throat was slashed. The newspaper quoted a member of the Arkansas National Guard, which was deployed in the building. Other news organizations then passed the information on. That, too, was untrue. On Monday, Bob Johannessen, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, said that four bodies were found -- one was a gunshot victim. He said officials had no record of a dead girl with her throat cut.
Some media organizations are backing off - a little:
The Los Angeles Times said last week that its story about the evacuation of the Superdome "adopted a breathless tone." Jonathan Klein, president of CNN/US, said reporting was challenging because official sources -- in particular Compass, the police chief -- initially confirmed many of the things reported on the air. As more information has become available, Klein said, the network has corrected the record and highlighted the danger of swirling rumors. "We are ever vigilant about separating rumor from fact," Klein said. "This story is a good reminder of the need to do that."
But who will hold the media responsible for the damage done by their repeatedly reporting rumors that had no source and were not true? Who will hold the media responsible for the aid that was delayed due to their false reporting?