Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Why should we trust the television

posted by Rob at 8:19 AM

Expect today to hear on talk radio and read in the blogosphere much about yesterday's Hardball. Chris Matthews took on Peter King, R-NY. Matthews was in full "anti-Bush" mode, but King would have none of it.

I liked this exchange (emphasis mine):
CM: No, no, no. Let me ask you. Weren't you dismayed as a Republican Congressman, that the President of the United States didn't watch television for all those 48 hours? That he had to be shown a picture of what we'd all been watching? ...

PK: Chris, you won't give me a chance to answer the questions. Just because the president doesn't watch you on television, it doesn't mean he's not doing his job. You know, Franklin Roosevelt wasn't hired to listen to radio accounts of D-Day. You're hired to do the job, and the president can do his job without having to listen to Chris Matthews or Andrea Mitchell or Tim Russert, or any of the others.
King makes a point that has been nagging me the past month. Does the national media really expect the president to get all his information solely from them? Should there be people on the federal payroll whose job it is to watch CNN, MSNBC, FOX, Headline News, etc. and report immediately to the White House what they see being reported? Should that information then supercede what officials on the ground are saying? Which information is "correct" or "official"?

A great illustration of my point occurred over at CNN, which received some praise for its hyped "Big Disconnect" story. It featured quotes from various officials making conflicting statements. Click on over and re-read it. Knowing what we know at this point, who was the most responsible party with regard to providing accurate information? (emphasis mine):
Conditions in the Convention Center
FEMA chief Brown:
We learned about that (Thursday), so I have directed that we have all available resources to get that convention center to make sure that they have the food and water and medical care that they need.

CNN Producer Kim Segal: It was chaos. There was nobody there, nobody in charge. And there was nobody giving even water. The children, you should see them, they're all just in tears. There are sick people. We saw... people who are dying in front of you.

Uncollected corpses
Brown: That's not been reported to me, so I'm not going to comment. Until I actually get a report from my teams that say, "We have bodies located here or there," I'm just not going to speculate.

Segal: We saw one body. A person is in a wheelchair and someone had pushed (her) off to the side and draped just like a blanket over this person in the wheelchair. And then there is another body next to that. There were others they were willing to show us.
The facts now: "At the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, just four bodies have been recovered, despite reports of heaps of dead piled inside the building. Only one of the dead appeared to have been murdered, said health and law-enforcement officials."

Over at the Superdome, six bodies have been found.

Let's continue with CNN:
Violence and civil unrest
Brown: I've had no reports of unrest, if the connotation of the word unrest means that people are beginning to riot, or you know, they're banging on walls and screaming and hollering or burning tires or whatever. I've had no reports of that.

CNN's Chris Lawrence: From here and from talking to the police officers, they're losing control of the city. We're now standing on the roof of one of the police stations. The police officers came by and told us in very, very strong terms it wasn't safe to be out on the street.
What we know today: "Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of murdered bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines assert that, while anarchy reigned at times and people suffered indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened."

I don't mean to pick just on CNN. Here's an AP story from Sept. 1 posted on the website of a Knoxville TV station. It reports that "Outside the nearby convention center, dead bodies are mixed with crying children and adults chanting desperately for help."

Here's a Reuters report (which was posted on MSNBC) from Sept. 3 in which "refugees ... described how the convention center and the Superdome became lawless hellholes beset by rape and murder" and quotes someone as saying "There is rapes going on here. Women cannot go to the bathroom without men. They are raping them and slitting their throats."

And there's still been no apology or explanation for the well-circulated prediction by Nagin of 10,000 dead.

I accept the fact that the media can not be expected to be accurate or perfect all the time, especially during crisis situations. Yet when will there be televised or print confessions that the coverage of New Orleans post-Sept. 1 was overly emotional, exaggerated and in some cases false?

If anyone has any further examples of post-Katrina reporting now needing a correction, please send them my way via comments below.

UPDATE: Soon after posting this, I noticed via Drudge that the LA Times is setting up a woodshed. The paper offers several examples of mistaken reporting, including "Fox News, a day before the major evacuation of the Superdome began, issued an "alert" as talk show host Alan Colmes reiterated reports of "robberies, rapes, carjackings, riots and murder. Violent gangs are roaming the streets at night, hidden by the cover of darkness."


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