Today we take for granted instant news, from around the world, 24 hours a day. But Hurricane Katrina was more than the news media could handle.
The day after the hurricane struck, media reports expressed relief that the storm was not all that bad. No one knew then that the levees had broken.
When the magnitude of the catastrophe slowly became clear, news organizations struggled to put reporters on the ground. By then, the major interstate highway had been washed away and nearly all of the roads were flooded. When news crews finally got in, housed in rented RVs, they found that electricity was out, telephone lines were down, and cell phones didn't work. They had to use satellite video phones, whose images would freeze on the screen and frequently cut out.
But the bits and pieces of information coming out made for dramatic viewing. NBC's Brian Williams was in place for the whole story, filing compelling stories from inside the Superdome. So was Shepard Smith of Fox News, one of the first to show a dead body.
Reporters quickly abandoned their pose of objectivity. Having endured some of the same privations-Mr. Williams told of going to a bathroom for the first time in a week-they identified with the victims, delivering impassioned pleas for help. But then journalists succumbed to disaster hysteria.
Reporters sympathetically interviewed local officials-who had essentially abandoned their city-while blaming the disaster on President Bush. His environmental policies caused the hurricane; his war prevented help from coming sooner; and his racism made him not care that black people were dying. Once the levee of objectivity was broken, the media's bias overflowed.