Wash. Post 's criticism of sensationalist Katrina coverage focused on CNN, ignored Fox


In an October 5 critique by staff writers Robert E. Pierre and Ann Gerhart, The Washington Post chastised the media for reporting at face value the sensationalist claims of violence and turmoil following the Hurricane Katrina disaster, noting that "federal officials have come to believe that exaggerations of mayhem by officials and rumors repeated uncritically in the news media helped slow the response to the disaster and tarnish the image of many of its victims." The Post's critique, however, focused primarily on CNN's coverage of Katrina and wholly ignored similarly overblown reports and commentary from Fox News Channel personalities.

The October 5 Post media critique noted that "CNN reported repeatedly on Sept. 1, three days after Katrina ravaged New Orleans, that evacuations at the Superdome were suspended because 'someone fired a shot at a helicopter.' But Louisiana National Guard officials on the ground at the time now say that no helicopters came under attack and that evacuations were never stopped because of gunfire." Pierre and Gerhart also wrote that "there turned out to be little evidence to support CNN host Paula Zahn speaking of 'reports' of 'bands of rapists, going block to block.' " The Post quoted Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's press secretary, Denise Bottcher, as saying: "But the National Guardsmen were saying that what we were seeing on CNN was contradictory to what they were seeing. It didn't match up." Lastly, the Post critique noted that "Jonathan Klein, president of CNN/US, said reporting was challenging because official sources -- in particular [Eddie] Compass, the [former New Orleans] police chief -- initially confirmed many of the things reported on the air. As more information has become available, Klein said, the network has corrected the record and highlighted the danger of swirling rumors."

No mention was made, however, of Fox News Channel's sensationalist coverage -- despite Fox News' daily viewership, which is nearly double that of CNN. On the August 31 edition of Hannity & Colmes -- the day before the September 1 remarks by Paula Zahn -- co-hosts Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes both repeated that there had been reports of rapes, and Fox News correspondent David Miller reported:

MILLER: Meanwhile, as for what is taking place in the Superdome, we've talked to a number of people, and they describe the scene inside as nothing less than horrific, although they are getting meals and they are getting water. They say the sanitary conditions are intolerable. They also say that a number of women have been raped. They also say that there have been at least a couple of gunshot incidents taking place in the last day. A number of people actually left the Superdome, Sean, rather than remain inside, saying that they were better off on their own on the streets of New Orleans than remaining in that facility.

On the September 2 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith reported: "And at the Superdome, people have waited in line for four days in squalor, with shootings happening in there and people being raped. That's not -- that's not conjecture. That's not speculation. That happened." Earlier in the same program, host Bill O'Reilly said that Blanco "must make sure those rapists, looters, and assailants get what they deserve." On the September 3 edition of Hannity & Colmes, Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera reported: "Yesterday the sun set on a scene of terror, chaos, confusion, anarchy, violence, rapes, murders, dead babies, dead people -- I mean, it was -- I could not emphasize how horrible it was 24 hours ago, 24 hours later."

Appearing on Fox News' September 3 special coverage of the Katrina aftermath, Arthel Neville, correspondent for A Current Affair (a syndicated TV program produced by Twentieth Television, which is, like Fox News, a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.), described eyewitness accounts of scenes at the Superdome:

NEVILLE: One guy gets into a scuffle with a National Guardsman, takes the gun and kills the guardsman with the gun. Another guy, this is really sad, if there are any children are watching take them out of a room. A man rapes and kills a 7-year-old girl. About 10 guys, I don't know how many, but a group of guys turn around and beat this guy to death. This is just horrible. I cannot wrap my mind around how -- the human -- a human person can be reduced to such animalistic behavior. I don't understand it.

Posted In
Environment & Science
Hurricane Katrina, Natural Disasters
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