In the two months of August and September, a frenzy of media and pundit commentary and coverage portrayed this hurricane in a series of exaggerations, myths, and absurd misstatements which can barely be seen as anything but deliberate lies. President Bush was declared a failure, he was said to "hate black people," he was said to have deliberately delayed aid and slowed emergency response.
Democrats and leftists wasted no time using the events to attack President Bush, desperate to damage his soaring popularity and the political power of the Republican party. Celebrities, politicians, and anyone who could hurt Republicans and could get a camera spoke out loudly, inventively, and generally without any semblance of reality.
Joseph Campbell notes the praise which was heaped on Hurricane Katrina reporting:
Five years ago this month, a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast and left much of New Orleans under water, former CBS anchorman Dan Rather went on Larry King Live to extol television’s coverage of the deadly storm.Over the years, these myths have persisted despite media retractions, which isn't surprising. When the media makes a report, it gets the front page. When they make a retraction, it gets a few lines a few pages deep, buried. Who likes to tout their own failures and mistakes? Their errors aren't news, the legacy media figures, so why push them? And besides the myths were useful.
Rather, whose early career had been propelled by covering hurricanes, was extravagant in his praise, saying the Katrina coverage was “one of the quintessential great moments in television news,” ranking “right there with the Nixon/Kennedy debates, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate coverage, you name it.”
The coverage, Rather declared, was nothing short of “landmark.”
Here's a few things the legacy media and leftist sites such as the Huffington Post reported, events which were laughably false and easily confirmed, but ran without checking:
- Cannibalism ran rampant in the Superdome where New Orleans refugees were housed
- Bodies were stacked in the Superdome like cordwood
- A seven year old boy raped and murdered in the Superdome
- Two babies had their throats slit in New Orleans
- President Bush's emergency response was slow and inadequate
- New Orleans became "a snake pit of anarchy, death, looting, raping, marauding thugs."
- Snipers fired at medical personnel
- Sharks swam the streets of New Orleans
- Roving armed gangs were preying on tourists and terrorizing the occupants of the Superdome, raping and killing.
- 10,000 or more had died
- Shots were fired at helicopters, halting evacuations from the New Orleans Convention Center
The narrative of a city gone mad and horrendous suffering because of President Bush's slow and inadequate response caught on, repeated without question or analysis by news program after talking head. And all the while, anyone not a Republican involved was carefully protected by the press, even if they had to change the facts to fit the narrative.
It worked. The truth eventually started to come out as in the months after the storm retractions were issued and more serious investigation (such as Gary Younge in the UK Guardian) but the public mood was set and the myths took root. Retractions were ignored or never seen, and the myth busting by a few reporters never got the coverage that the myths got.
The next year, Democrats took congress, and President Bush's high popularity poll numbers dove down and continued to drop for the next two years. His political capital was destroyed and he could get little done. The Katrina story was so useful a weapon that even two years later animosity toward President Bush and the Republican Party was so strong the Democrats took control of congress so powerfully that the GOP was incapable of blocking any legislation or having any voice whatsoever.
Five years later, people still believe the myths, and unless we all take time to find out about them and counter them, they will become established common knowledge which is often faulty but always very difficult to challenge.