Day By Day

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Meaning of Katrina

Wilfred McClay has a must-read article in Commentary on "The Storm Over Katrina." In it he demolishes one-by-one the major media misrepresentations of what happened and why.

Thus did the news media, and in particular the hotdogs of television, make themselves not merely a nuisance but an important contributing factor to the very problem they were reporting on. Not, of course, that they saw it that way. The coverage of Katrina was “one of television news’s finest moments,” crowed CBS ex-anchorman Dan Rather, a past master of hotdoggery, adding that “covering hurricanes is something I know something about.”

Rather thrilled to the sight of reporters like Cooper who “were willing to speak truth to power.” But in light of the astonishing level of inaccuracy in what was reported, one would have to say instead that this was one of television news’s worst moments, an exceptionally shameful performance made all the more so by the self-congratulation that accompanied and followed it.

In what is becoming a routine of news reporting, some web-based bloggers and blogsites were quick to expose the falsity and bias that pervaded much of the work of the mainstream media, to be followed in due course by print media like the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New Orleans Times-Picayune, which eventually detailed the extent of the journalistic errors made. But the damage had been done. Although Bush’s strong speech to the nation from a deserted Jackson Square on the night of September 15 did much to reverse the perception of him, and won him high marks even from evacuees living in the Houston Astrodome, the instant litany of charges and complaints was successful in giving decisive shape to public understanding of the event. [emphasis mine]

Thus did the MSM create and systain a myth -- one that has been extraordinarily useful to Democrats seeking to discredit the Bush administration.

To this point the article is a useful, but probably ineffectual, attempt to correct the historical record. But McClay has set his sights on higher targets. He sees New Orleans itself as a metaphor for our greatest national failings -- our inability to take a realistic view of human accomplishment, its successes and limitations, and our preference for assuaging feelings, no matter how irrational, rather than realistically addressing the problems at hand. In other words, our propensity for living in a world of myth that leaves us unprepared intellectually and emotionally to confront life as it really is. It is this last section that raises McClay's essay above the normal level of political discourse and places on this year's "must read" list.

Check it out here.

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