Thursday, December 15, 2005

Crying Wolf Is Not Without Consequences

It's all been said before re:Katrina, but this is a good summation.


But media exaggeration was not a victimless crime. It delayed the arrival of responders who, relying on press reports, had to plan their missions as military rather than philanthropic endeavors. New Orleans police stopped their search-and-rescue operations and turned their attention to the imagined mobs of rapists. Two patients apparently died while waiting for evacuation helicopters grounded for a day by false reports of sniper fire. Buses were slow to get to the worst place, the Convention Center.

Bush-bashing, of course, came to the fore, with the typical mainstream media view voiced well by former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines: "The churchgoing cultural populism of George Bush" means that "the poor drown in their attics." MSNBC, ABC, NPR and Newsweek journalists were among the multitude using calamity as an opportunity to campaign overtly for higher taxes and bigger government.

And yet, as the truth about the hyping of disaster trickled out during the fall, the momentum desired by the left disappeared and a backlash emerged. "We've had a stunning reversal," complained Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal advocacy group in Washington. But whose fault was that?

There's precedent here: Propaganda about German atrocities in Belgium fueled sentiment for the United States to become involved in World War I, but when the truth came out Americans felt bamboozled and moved toward the isolationism that allowed for the rise of Hitler. British and French populaces also distrusted what seemed in the 1930s to be more scare stories about the Germans -- the larger effect of World War I propaganda may have been to bring about World War II.

The long-term effect of Katrina propaganda will probably be more cynicism. Reporters who lie or exaggerate create grinches.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Long been known by real Florida and Gulf Coast residents. Why the Weather Channel bothers with the Safford-Simpson scale (Cat1-5) is beyond us, there are only two they use: "dangerous" (TS to mid cat2ish) and "catastrophic" (anything bigger). They also don't make any distinction between the size and speed of the storms. FYI, there is a vast difference between a 40 mile (in terms of hurricane force winds) wide storm that takes two hours to pass and a 400 mile wide storm that takes eight hours to pass, even if the small storm is one category 'stronger' than the big one.