Catch me at the right time and I might agree with Roger’s comments in the previous post about trusting media in general. However, media behavior, and I’m referring here to news media journalists in particular, is more nuanced and complex than even I on my most cynical of days can explain simply. Media professionals weave their way through a complex thicket of competing claims and conflicting statements on matters of controversy and they must sort out and attempt to present them in a way that makes them digestible to those of us who don’t have all the background necessary to understand the subtleties inherent in any given story.
Beyond the face value information, a journalist has to be mindful of being used by sources with agendas, knowing that virtually everyone has an agenda. And they must get at information that some are determined to keep hidden.
Add to this dynamic the unique qualities of each medium that to a large extent influence how a story can be told in a compelling way, and consider that every medium is attempting to reach a particular target audience, and one begins to get a glimpse of the challenge journalists face in preparing a story. And I’m only scratching the surface here. I’m not providing excuses, nor trying to rationalize, just point out that covering a multifaceted, complex story is not a simple matter. That does not excuse the use of un-sourced material, undocumented reports or second-hand information. Contrary to Roger’s assertion that the quality of leadership at the state and local level has not been covered, I’ve seen stories in USA Today and heard television reports of criticism of the governor of Louisiana, the mayor of New Orleans and the N.O. police supervisor, who has since resigned. Former FEMA chief Brown’s testimony before a Congressional committee was explicit in his criticism of local officials and received widespread coverage.
There are some good post-mortem articles appearing in the mainstream media about coverage of Katrina. The L.A. Times published this review recently. The N.Y. Times wrote that rumors fed fear of crime in New Orleans when the reality was much different and the article implicates media coverage as part of the problem. The Christian Science Monitor asked if the 24-hour news cycle was, in fact, serving us well or simply providing us with repetitious content. Slate is running several critiques under the heading “News You Can Lose,” which is one critic’s views of cable television news coverage. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post has critiqued the media on more than Katrina coverage, but certainly has not minced words about how the hurricane has been reported by some media professionals.