Victor Davis Hanson: Our Media Hurricane





Remember all of this about Hurricane Katrina?

The destruction was the result of global warming. And it was made worse by too many troops off in Iraq. Endemic racism and neglected environmental legislation were as toxic as flood. Military assets were unused due to incompetence or heartlessness. The neglect of the victims was an indictment of a crass and uncaring society.

But none of that ad hoc "analysis" proved conclusive.

Yes, Hurricane Katrina revealed swearing, crying and stupefied public officials at all levels. Their initial paralysis may have endangered some lives.

But the media's coverage turned out to be almost as disturbing as natural calamity and initial bureaucratic ineptness — in both the falsehood it spread and the truth it ignored. Political commentators proved more disturbing, seeking to turn death to partisan advantage.

The public was given few facts about what really happened among those trapped, especially the human mayhem that took place. Most would appreciate evidence before sweeping cultural analysis of half-reported stories that were not followed up because they were either untrue or politically incorrect.

Did hundreds of New Orleans' police — so unlike their New York 9/11 counterparts —really walk off the job or never report for duty amid the crisis?

Did law enforcement often allow the stubborn to stay behind and then ignore looters at the height of the peril — only later to evict survivors trying to rebuild when the waters receded?

Did looters (in search of food or clothing?) really attempt to vandalize the national shrine of the D-Day Museum that survived the flood waters?

And too many of the hysterical pronouncements of ill-informed officials were reported as gospel truth — and then forgotten — in 24-hour bursts. So "25,000 body bags!" and "10,000 dead" beneath the muck of a submerged city were quietly superseded by the matter-of-fact news reports that the airport would open shortly.

Now we are also told that Mardi Gras may be back on schedule. How could such radical improvement happen at ground zero in a city of corpses that supposedly would not recover for decades?

Most people concluded on their own, without help from any talking heads, that one of the worst natural disasters in American history had at first stunned local, state and federal governments, brought out the worst in Louisiana politics and incited a criminal element.

But soon even the ill-prepared mayor of New Orleans and the green director of FEMA found themselves with untold resources at their disposal in a way that was not true of the far greater tolls of recent catastrophes elsewhere. Do we remember France, where 15,000 neglected elderly died without air conditioning (August 2003); or the earthquake at Bam, Iran (December 2003), where 40,000 were crushed, often in substandard housing; or the over 200,000 Southeast Asians (December 2004) who drowned or were buried without warning from an unmonitored tsunami?

New Orleans also exposed the misery of a large underclass in need of attention from the rest of America — and of radical self-introspection.

Reporters' clichés about "racist" America were often at odds with the evidence of their own film footage. Black and white pulled together in Mississippi and thus avoided social chaos. Billions in aid, both private and public, poured into New Orleans from Americans worried sick over their fellow citizens, regardless of race.

After the initial shock, that enormous relief effort turned real catastrophe into salvation: levees patched, thousands of troops on the street, tens of thousands bussed and flown to safe quarters across the country.

But New Orleans also confirmed how a 24/7, hyper media create and then deflate controversies of the day, from the Aruba embarrassment to Cindy Sheehan's circus....



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