Katrina Anniversary: Should the Media Apologize for Inaccurate Reports During Storm?

The following is a transcription of the August 26, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.



BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: [September 7, 2005] While there are still people here, law enforcement has now been ordered to remove them. Tonight, a mandatory evacuation order has gone into effect.



SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS: This is a scene seen hundreds and hundreds, says the mayors, as many as thousands and thousands of times. Whether New Orleans can rebuild is very much a matter for future reports. But New Orleans today is dead.


BURNS: Well, it's not dead now, Jane. And it's been almost a year since we heard reports like that.

And I wonder if things like that, things like what Shepard said — and obviously he was overwhelmed by the devastation there — but are comments like that one of the things that the media have to do — and I mean this as a question — is apologize for that kind of pessimism, when they go back to do the one-year reports?

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, actually, I don't think so. I think there's some apologies for the number of deaths, the number of rapes, the number of murders that were reported, which is partially because of the total breakdown of communication in the city.

But I think that was an eloquent — I mean, that's almost up there with Edward R. Murrow on the London rooftops. He was moved by what he saw. A lot of people felt he did wonderful work; CNN's Anderson Cooper made his career that way. And that's one reason why you'll see people going back there, because that's — viewers saw them then, and it's natural to do these anniversaries.
I think there are many more stories that we should be covering about disaster preparedness, as "Time" magazine did this week, and how cities all over the countries, including New Orleans, are not doing the right things to rebuild.

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: Well, I think our own Neal Gabler wrote an interesting piece in Salon.com last week in which he pointed out that Anderson Cooper represented a new style of teary emotionalism and sort of Montgomery Clift-esque emoting. That's clearly changed journalism ever since.

However, I ...

BURNS: And it came out of his coverage of Katrina.

PINKERTON: It came out of that coverage, exactly.

I do think, however, that what we're seeing is a clear political effort here to turn the Katrina anniversary into a big Bush-bashing festival. If you wanted proof that Bush is no good, and if you want to kind of pre-empt the 9/11, which will help Bush.


HALL: Which will be used as a Democrat-bashing festival.

PINKERTON: Exactly. That's right. You're seeing the division: August 29 will be the Democrat left anniversary, and September 11 will be the Republican right anniversary.

BURNS: But Jim, we were going to cover the first anniversary of Katrina regardless of politics. It was a monumental story.

PINKERTON: You're right. And I'm...

BURNS: So...

PINKERTON: And I'm - but I'm helping you with — to use our favorite word around here — our "narrative" that we're giving this.

BURNS: I don't need the help, Jim. I can call on Neal...

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Well, first of all, I don't think that there's any evidence so far that this is going to be the "narrative." Second of all, Bush did screw up big time! So those are two things.


Here's my concern about all of these anniversary specials: My concern is that they're going to be formulaic. That we're going to see inspirational stories about people rebuilding, and tragic stories about people who can't rebuild.

BURNS: Well, that's true.

GABLER: But then we'll all get numb. Yes, it's true. But what it does is it trivializes; it numbs us.

What I think the media ought to be doing, among other things — and we saw a little bit of it this week with Spike Lee's four-hour brilliant documentary on Katrina. But one of the things that the media ought to be doing is - and I'm going to contradict Jim directly here — accountability. Accountability, and accountability. Who is responsible..


GABLER: The media ought to be doing that.

PEYSER: The truth is that Bush did not create Katrina. He also one in a long line of people who - who allowed the levee.

GABLER: The buck stops here.

PEYSER: OK. So it happened on his watch.

GABLER: He's president of the United States.

PEYSER: All right.

GABLER: And he didn't do anything about it.

PEYSER: Right.

GABLER: Spike Lee showed...


PINKERTON: If we're applying accountability to - to the media, as we should, we should say that, Is it strictly speaking true, as Spike Lee lets [it be implied] in the movie, that white people dynamited the levees to flood the black areas.

GABLER: He does not say that.


PINKERTON: ..and let — without.


BURNS: Are we being guilty here of something that we would accuse the media of doing, if this happens as all the coverage goes on? Which is to say, taking a story, Jane, which is essentially a human and natural tragedy, and turning into it a political story? Is that maybe a second-tier of coverage, the politics of it? Or a third tier?

PEYSER: Well, but I'm not sure that we're not going to see or not see enough of, is not so much, Will New Orleans will rebuild, but should it rebuild? Are we asking for this to happen again by, you know, going in there and doing the same thing all over again and waiting for the next Hurricane Katrina to come?

HALL: There are a lot of stories that can be done. Why are they not rebuilding? Why should they not rebuild? Why are not rebuilding the wetlands, which is something that was talked about? The budget for Homeland Security and Disaster Preparedness and the Army Corps of Engineers — there are a million stories that we could be doing about this. I agree with Neal; if we get too many individuals, you don't get the bigger picture. But I think it would be tragic to make this all about Democrats versus Republicans.

PINKERTON: Well, OK. But there is another element, and which is — Andrew Ward in The Financial Times had a piece. He said, Listen, the expectation the left had —- Oh, here's our Bush-bashing opportunity — and the American people who agree with the media, follow their follow the leadership of the MSM, didn't turn out to be true. Because people watching on TV said, gee, the looters are shooting at the relief workers. Maybe we're not supposed to be as liberal as we're supposed to be.

HALL: Which were exaggerated...

PINKERTON: Exaggerated, but not totally untrue.

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