At Reason, Matt Welch spanks the media for spreading hysterical rumors about the chaos in New Orleans after the city was struck by Hurricane Katrina. Armed thugs shooting at rescue helicopters, rampant gang violence, murder and rape inside the Superdome and the Convention Center where people took refuge from the flood — respected news organization took these stories and ran with them. (All these stories turned out to be untrue; it should be added that Matt questioned them from the start.) As a result, the rescue effort was hampered, and the residents of New Orleans were unfairly maligned; one might add, too, that the reckless news coverage became fodder for America-bashing around the world. This was a Media Hall of Shame moment, no doubt about it.
However, those who like to pit “citizen journalists” against the “MSM” shouldn’t get too smug. The blogs did their share of reckless rumor-mongering. The worst instance, perhaps, was this account by Lisa C. Moore of her aunt Denise Moore’s alleged experiences at the Convention Center, posted at Daily Kos on September 6 under the headline “What Really Happened in New Orleans” (and widely picked up by other blogs). ch2, who posted it at Daily Kos, gravely noted, “The accounts rang true to me, and I’m a professional skeptic (a scientist).” Well, I don’t know what kind of science “ch2″ does, but my B.S. detector went off the moment I read the Lisa’s claim that “the first day (Wednesday) 4 people died next to her [“her” being the aunt]. the second day (Thursday) 6 people died next to her.” If every person inside the Convention Center saw ten people die next to them in two days, the place would have emptied out pretty soon. (Of course, we now know that there were a total of 10 deaths inside both buildings.) The claim that “yes, a few men shot at the police, because at a certain point all the people thought the cops were coming to hurt them, to kill them all” reeked of B.S. as well, though probably not to the Daily Kos crowd.
(Interestingly, the only place where I saw the “Denise Moore” story questioned skeptically was in this thread at Reason’s Hit & Run blog, where it was posted by a reader.)
So, what’s the verdict? None of the media, old or new, covered themselves in glory during the Katrina disaster. Except my colleagues at Reason, of course.
Update: My own Reason column on the Katrina response can now be found here.