Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Media Darlings

Okay, one last note on the media coverage of New Orleans, and then I promise I'll write about Mardi Gras and even put up pictures, and then return you to your regularly scheduled rants and venting.

Anyway, Dave Walker wrote an article in the Times-Pic today that reviewed the national media's coverage of Mardi Gras. Now, I have to admit that I actually didn't see much of the national media's coverage because I was, well, here. Dave Walker, on the other hand, as the Times-Pic's tv reporter, clearly watched a ton of it. His conclusion - they "got Mardi Gras mostly right." The article goes on to detail the nuanced reporting New Orleans got during Mardi Gras.

So bravo, people. Apparently you didn't live up to our worst fears and presented a picture of New Orleans in all our weird complexity.

Full disclosure: I get named in the article. I'm pretty sure it's the only time my name will appear in print in the same sentence as Harry Connick, Jr.'s and Mayor Nagin's, and yes, when I read it (and was completely surprised by it), I jumped up and down and shook my booty, but strictly in the privacy of my own apartment.

All that said, I'd like to mention just a few more things. When Jacki from CNN asked me what the media was doing wrong, I got in my only half-way witty moment of the interview by asking, "Before, during, or after?" I didn't get a chance to elaborate on all those, but I'm taking it now.

As for Pre-K, at a recent panel discussion at Loyola on the media and Katrina, some members of the local media criticized themselves for not hammering local politicians enough, that while we all knew the levees could fail and that New Orleans could drown, they didn't demand answers from council members, levee board members, mayors, governors, and on up, and thereby force them to address the problems we all knew were there. I would agree with that, and extend the criticism to the national media. For far too long, they have been merely passing along news briefs from politicians and not investigating enough, not pushing for answers. And that has real world consequences. In a democracy, only the public can ultimately hold politicians accountable for their corruption, lies, or simple incompetence, but the public only knows to do that if the reporters get the stories to them. And pre-K, they simply didn't ask enough questions nor demand enough answers.

I don't know if it was because of worries of being perceived as unpatriotic in the wake of September 11th, economic pressures and dwindling profits, fears of being labeled as liberal, or perhaps a combination of all those and other factors, but the media as a whole (and not just that news channel that starts with "F" that shall not be named) have been pretty toothless lately. And trust an unabashed liberal on this: there isn't a liberal bias in the media; there's a conservative one. Perhaps you could argue that if a liberal perceives a conservative bias and a conservative perceives a liberal one, than the reality is pretty neutral, but really it means I'm right and they're wrong.

Did everyone catch Jon Stewart's joke during the Oscars, the one about how both "Capote" and "Good Night and Good Luck" are stories of journalists doggedly pursuing the truth and therefore, obviously, period pieces? Good stuff.

During the disaster, everyone succumbed to hysteria and sensationalism. Granted, I'm sure it's mighty hard to cover a story in the midst of such confusion, but we're talking people that have covered war zones, genocides, and tsunamis; I think we can expect a little more than relentless repetition of the same shot of one National Guard truck driving into the city. It's true that all the misinformation about the rampant murders and rapes was coming from the usually reliable sources (city officials and the National Guard), but I wish I could see some tapes from back then and check to see how much caution was taken in passing along that misinformation. There's a huge difference between reporting "murders and rapes" and reporting "completely unconfirmed rumors of murders and rapes." How it's phrased makes all the difference in the world, and there was plenty of human suffering and tragedy without concentrating on what turned out to be untrue.

Since the disaster, everyone I know can relate the same conversation with some well-meaning friend or relative, the one that includes the friend or relative saying something quite close to, "So it seems pretty much back to normal now." Clearly there's some disconnect between what people are seeing in the news and our reality here, because we aren't anywhere near normal.

The Times-Pic has, for one, improved by leaps and bounds in my estimation. What had been a rather bland local rag that I turned to for listings of music, art, and other cultural events, has become an absolutely essential conduit of vital recovery information, and they have really come through. If you want to get some coverage of New Orleans, hit and read the Times-Pic online. NPR has kept one eye on New Orleans over the past six months, and the additional attention we have received lately because of Mardi Gras can only help.

Finally, the treatment of our leaders, both local and national, has been more hard-nosed of late, and I know it's not because the politicians suddenly turned corrupt, mendacious, and incompetent. They always were; we're just hearing about it more now. Perhaps it's just a pile-on effect, but if Katrina in some way emboldened the media, then (while I won't say it was even close to worth it) at least they learned something. Here's hoping the Mardi Gras coverage is an indicator of things to come.


Marco said...

Solid post! The media will never really get it right. If they did, the people would be rioting in the streets or maybe blockade the port. I'm not from New Orleans so my view is limited. Luckily, I read what the bloggers say to temper what I see on TV and hear on the radio. So, I was pleased to hear from people in New Orleans that they felt that the media got it right, sort of. Corporate media is just that. They look to their sponsors and the regime for their cues. Keep on'.

Emmy said...

Yes, the best moment in your CNN interview was the the little jab "Before, during, of after?"

As far as rampant murders/rapes... well, all I can tell you is I am friends with a few cops, and I know that they say they killed more people in a 48 hours period than they thought they would kill in their entire lives. I don't know if you call those "murders", but evidently many people bit the copper bullet.

The Time's-Picayune "has become an absolutely essential conduit of vital recovery information,". Did the editor finally learn English grammar? Or will I have to continue struggling through the articles.

Sophmom said...

I think the most important thing the media did during Katrina was prove it was possible to be there. The networks managed to get their "troops" on the ground, why couldn't the government? Just by *being there* the media highlighted the incompetance of this administration. Katrina made it obvious.

Great post.

Dominic said...

You shook your booty. Awesome.