Media, Blushing, Takes a Second Look at Katrina

Article excerpt

Byline: Jennifer Harper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The general in charge of Louisiana's hurricane relief has admonished reporters not to confuse questions with answers, and urged them to give the public facts - not exaggerations and rumors that several media organizations now say corrupted coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

"Don't get stuck on stupid, reporters," Lt. Gen. Russel Honore first told them last week. "We are moving forward. And don't confuse the people, please. You are part of the public message. So help us get the message straight."

Several media organizations have examined, sometimes harshly, the work of newspapers and particularly cable-TV news networks.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune published a lengthy account Monday of errors, misrepresentations and wildly exaggerated claims of murder, rape and abuse of children at the New Orleans Superdome. The newspaper cited publication of "scores of myths about the dome and Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the media and even some of New Orleans' top officials."

Since the hurricane hit four weeks ago, estimates of deaths at the Superdome, for example, have been revised downward from 200 to 10, and four of those were heart attacks. One was a suicide, and one man is thought to have been pushed from a balcony to the floor hundreds of feet below. Police said one man found dead at the Superdome is thought to have been killed elsewhere.

Eddie Compass, the superintendent of New Orleans police, told television talk-show hostess Oprah Winfrey on Sept. 6 that "babies" were raped at the Superdome, and Mayor C. Ray Nagin told her on that broadcast that crowds at the Superdome had watched murder and mayhem.

"They have people standing out there, have been in that frickin' Superdome for five days watching dead bodies," Mr. Nagin said, "watching hooligans killing people, raping people."

Superintendent Compass announced his retirement yesterday. Mr. Nagin yesterday praised his tenure as police chief, but neither Superintendent Compass nor Mr. Nagin would say whether the chief was pressured to leave.

Television reporters, whose courage in the face of danger has been widely praised, are nevertheless accused of passing along fanciful accounts of mayhem. …