LAS VEGAS – New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin chided the media Tuesday for "embellishments" and "things that were stretched" during the coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
But in a conversation with news executives from four hometown TV stations and New Orleans' major newspaper, the mayor said the media generally served his stricken city well.
"There is no road map. There is no manual," Nagin said at a National Association of Television Program Executives forum. "You got it right most of the time."
Estimates are that more than 1,200 died in Louisiana and Mississippi in a devastating 2005 hurricane season that left almost 1 million people displaced and more than 375,000 homes and businesses damaged or destroyed along the Gulf Coast.
The panelists, including representatives from stations WWL, WDSU, WLOX, and an editor from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, credited the media with doing its best while trying to find fresh water, food, shelter and transportation for its reporters.
"We were living the story," said Raymond Schonbak, executive vice president for TV operations at Emmis Communications in New Orleans.
"This, in so many ways, was local television, the local media, really at its finest hour," said moderator J. Max Robins, editor of Broadcasting & Cable, a trade magazine.
Nagin said that once the national media arrived, local coverage of the Aug. 29 hurricane changed "from reporting the news to making the news."
"Sometimes it was about competition," he said.
Nagin alluded to criticism about his blunt calls for federal help, his appeals for residents to come back and his support for rebuilding his devastated city.
"I've been put on the hot seat. I've been criticized by some of the best in the land," he said. "It's not a good time to be in public office, as far as I'm concerned."
Nagin said he will seek re-election.
"I've got experience that I don't think anyone has, and I'm committed to finishing this work," he said. "I'm trying to change the dialogue to how to save a great American city."
Nagin said he regretted saying in a Martin Luther King Day speech that the hurricanes were an expression of God's wrath and that New Orleans would once more be a "chocolate" city.
"It did shock some people," Nagin said of his assertion that God was mad at the United States. "If I had to do it all over again, the references to God tipped it over and put too much emphasis on it."
Nagin, who previously apologized for the "chocolate city" comment, characterized it Tuesday as the use of vernacular in a conversation with an understanding black audience.