Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina and the Media

There's been a lot of blaming going around in the wake of Katrina, especially on liberal blogs. Clearly, the federal government was not ready for this, and since they are in charge of the federal government, the Bush administration and the Republican controlled congress are likely deserving of much of the blame. But I have to admit that I feel it's too early to blame anyone for specific failures. People have been upset about the lack of aid in Mississippi, but it appears that the military has just today cleared the airport of the tons of debris the storm surge left there. It took them more than three days of working 24 hours a day to do so. The point is, most of us aren't on the ground in the stricken areas, and we just don't know what sorts of logistical problems the people there are facing, and how much preplanning might have mitigated some of those problems. All of that will come out eventually, but for now, I think blaming anyone for the delays, difficulties, and roadblocks in distributing aid is uncalled for.

Of course, one thing we do know for certain is that resources that should have been used to improve the New Orleans levies were diverted to Homeland Security:
As the New Orleans Times-Picayune has reported in a devastating series of articles over the last two years, city and state officials and the Corps of Enginners had repeatedly requested funding to strengthen the levees along Lake Pontchartrain that breeched in the wake of the flood. But the Bush administration rebuffed the requests repeatedly, reprograming the funding from levee enhancement to Homeland Security and the war on Iraq.
While that is truly unconsciounable, and the Bush administration should receive harsh criticism for this, let's wait until we figure out just what happened to the levies, and whether any amount of improvement might have prevented it, before we blame Bush or anyone else for what happened (and I say this as someone who's always prepared to blame Bush for his failures).

But there is one group whom I think we can start to blame for its role in this disaster now, and should continue to blame for a long time: the media. More and more, I've seen people in Mississippi say that they, or others they've come into conact with, didn't think that the hurricane would hit them, and thus didn't evacuate despite their governor asking them to do so. They thought it was going to hit New Orleans. That the hurricane hit Mississippi so hard should not have been unexpected. All of the forecast models, which, to their credit, the media did air, showed a projected path that covered much of Mississippi. However, every news channel and program I saw discussed New Orleans, and only New Orleans, in the days leading up to Katrina's landfall. Even though the projected path of the hurricane, which they themselves were showing, covered all three states directly affected, all the media could talk about was New Orleans. What were people in Mississippi to think? If the media is so sure that it's going to hit New Orleans, why should they leave their homes?

That's just irresponsible reporting. The media should have made it abundantly clear that the hurricane was likely to hit Biloxi and the rest of the Mississippi coast. The threat to New Orleans was the more dramatic story, but the threat to Mississippi and Alabama was the responsible story. I guarantee you that people in Mississippi lost their lives because of the media's focus on New Orleans. And that's tragic.


yonatron said...

It seems if I scan the right blogs long enough, I find someone to express my thoughts far better than I ever could. But that first bit explains just how I feel when I hear people criticize the relief efforts. I don't understand how anyone is qualified to offer an overall report card unless they a) are in the area and b) have some degree of training relevant to what needs to be done. But I agree that folks should criticize all they want about the refusal of the feds to give the prevention of just such an occurrence the attention it deserved.

I appreciate that when you interrupt the great educational content of your blog for current events, it's usually for something like this: short, to the point, and accurate. Thanks.

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Anonymous said...

Usually I agree with almost everything you say -- this time I have to respectfully disagree. I don't know about the other media -- I don't watch them -- but CNN was very careful to say over and over and over again that nobody knew exactly where Katrina was going to hit, and that the whole Gulf coast needed to be prepared for disaster. And if it hadn't been for CNN, I don't think any of us would have had any idea what was actually going on in the devastated area.

Chris said...

I watched a little CNN before the hurricane struck, and up until the last minute, they focused heavily on New Orleans, though you're right, they did say it would affect the whole region.

Other than the fact that some people in Miss. have come out and said they thought it was going to hit New Orleans, the most telling sign for me was the placement of camera crews. If you notice, almost all of the footage on the day of the hurricane (until late that afternoon/evening) was from New Orleans. The news channels hadn't sent many crews to Mississippi (I'm not sure some of the channels had sent any), and all they had were reports coming out of Alabama, with no footage for the most part.

Clark Goble said...

Well said. A lot of the griping just bothers me.

I think people are just used to even bad disasters being small enough that people around can come in. This was so bad that trasportation was bad and also people in the surrounding regions were busy with their own troubles.

What's sad is that all of this has been known for a long time. Back in the 80's when I lived in Louisiana people talked about what would happen in a hurricane hit. Realistically this all was inevitable.

dearieme said...

"resources that should have been used to improve the New Orleans levies were diverted to Homeland Security": are you sure? I've read elsewhere that the levee that failed had just recently been upgraded.

Anonymous said...

I've gotta disagree with you on this one, Chris.

Several major hurricanes have hit Cuba with almost no loss of life.

Governments CAN anticipate and prepare for natural disasters. This simply didn't happen in NO, even though everyone knew what might happen if a major hurricane were to hit.

Chris said...

Anon, I don't disagree with you. I'm simply saying we should figure out what went wrong before we start assigning blame. And none of us know exactly what went wrong.

Anonymous said...

i was deployed with 45th 1 279 out of oklahoma and was sent to new orleans to help in the relief. As an infantry soldier my task always involved the dirty work of the disaster. However from what i saw of when i was down there this whole no thing is a giant media blow up. My companies area of operation included the french garden and areas above near pochitran were all the flooding happened. Other then looting (by the way the most commonly looted item was electronics and peoples houses not food), everything was overblown. the french quarter was hardly touched if any water at all and the garden and entertianment districts were dryer then a desert. THere was NO mass murder and mayhem though there was a high body count(which doesnt match the combined death in missipi and gulf region.) While we were down there the media tried to paint a grim picture and we would get interviewed and the reporter would paint a totally diffrent picture then what we said. Not to mention that media reported that we were forcing people out of their houses. I watched few news clips of the coverage when i got home october 4 and they showed suppoed clips of me and my company removing residence. The pics were actually of squaters and looters.

As for slow response, there was no slow response, just accusations and blame. Right after the hurricane the regs from polk came down and helped and the nopd came to. However my unit and other states and police depatrments arrived 2 days later. People say we arrived late. We got to new orleans as fast a possible, almost immdeiately after the hurrican we were called on. However logistics and preparness is what prevents us to immediately arrive there. How long do you think it would take to get 50 humvees and trucks or 100 as some other units sent to get to new orleans going 50 miles per hour from oklahoma texas arkansas etc. Not to mention about response the intial damage from the hurricane was almost nill it was the levees that broke a day and half later that caused the damage. When we got to new orlean we had problems with s bumpoing into other units and police. All these units and police that the media and la governor wanted there so badly could of been used in gulf coast.

As for blame, bush offered help and the intial response from la was no. the governor and mayor of la were the major problems in NOrleans not bush, and they continued up to the day we left changed statment and complained wich hampered our operations.

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