Media Criticism

The Big Lesson of Hurricane Katrina? Don't Rely on the Govt. Or the Media.

They both stink in a crisis and will leave you high and dry.


Instapundit Glenn Reynolds' USA Today column is about the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which savaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast a decade ago. His main point:

Be prepared, because basically you're on your own. After Katrina hit  not only in New Orleans, but up and down the Gulf Coast  it took a lot longer than people expected for aid to arrive. Years later, when Superstorm Sandy hit New York and New Jersey, it once again took a lot longer than people expected for aid to arrive, to the point that I was prompted to call Sandy "Katrina-on-the-Hudson." ("Weather nerd" Brendan Loy even warned again that authorities, in this case, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, weren't taking the storm seriously enough before it struck. And as recently as this summer, the news was still running "horror stories" about the Sandy recovery, almost three years later.) Part of the problem is with people's expectations. When roads are flooded, washed out, blocked by trees and power lines, etc., it takes a while to get them back in order. That means you need to be prepared to get by for at least a few days  and, much better, at least a couple of weeks  on your own. That means having extra food, water, medications, fuel, batteries, etc. on hand. It also means getting along with your neighbors. For a few days at least, and maybe longer, they'll be all the help you have.

Reynolds also notes that the sort of snafus plaguing rescue and recovery efforts will (and have already) happened again. And he underscores that the "press did a lousy job" not just of covering the event in real time but in drawing any meaningful lessons from it all.

Read his whole piece here.

Read Instapundit here.

With regard to the press's incompetence, read American University journalism prof Joseph W. Campbell. In 2010, the author of the invaluable Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in Journalism, noted

John Burnett of National Public Radio said on the All Things Considered show: "We understand that there was a 10-year-old girl who was raped in the [New Orleans] Convention Center in the last two nights. People are absolutely desperate there. I've never seen anything like this."

The Associated Press news service reported on September 1, 2005, that New Orleans had "descended into anarchy" as "corpses lay abandoned in street medians, fights and fires broke out, cops turned in their badges and the governor declared war on looters who have made the city a menacing landscape of disorder and fear."

In her column published September 3, 2005, in the New York Times, Maureen Dowd referred to New Orleans as "a snake pit of anarchy, death, looting, raping, marauding thugs, suffering innocents, a shattered infrastructure, a gutted police force, insufficient troop levels and criminally negligent government planning."

All of that turned out to be wrong in part and/or whole. 

As I write in Getting It Wrong, "the erroneous and exaggerated reporting had the cumulative the effect of painting for America and the rest of the world a scene of surreal violence and terror, something straight out of Mad Max or Lord of the Flies."

The coverage of Katrina's aftermath was no "quintessential" great moment in journalism.

Far from it.

As a bipartisan congressional report on Katrina noted in 2006:

"If anyone rioted, it was the media."

More here.

Writing in the December 2005 issue of Reason, Matt Welch argued

Truth became a casualty, news organizations that were patting their own backs in early September were publishing protracted mea culpas by the end of the month, and the reputation of a great American city has been…unfairly tarnished.

Which, needless to say, didn't stop the media writ large from congratulating themselves for a job well done.

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  1. Nick Gillespie doesn’t care about non-prepper people.

  2. That was a clusterfuck to say the least.

  3. Some would have it that all problems, great and small, are the result of free markets.

    How the Free Market Killed New Orleans

    1. The free market played a crucial role in the 2005 destruction of New Orleans and the death of thousands of its residents. Forewarned that a momentous category 5 hurricane might hit that city and surrounding areas, what did officials do? They played the free market. They announced that everyone should evacuate. All were expected to devise their own way out of the disaster area by private means, just like people do when disaster hits free-market Third World countries.

      Holy Shit. Well, that’s all I had to read. What the fuck does the author think “free markets” even are? Government warnings to evacuate are free market?

      1. My guess: Free market=lack of government controlled evacuation.

        1. So, anything where government isn’t in complete control at all times is a “free market”?

          1. Hey, I didn’t write it, I just tried to decipher it.

            1. Of course. I’m just amazed by the absurd implications of the argument.

      2. Yeah, substituting just a about any word or phrase for “free market” in the article and it would still make about as much sense.

      3. “All were expected to devise their own way out of the disaster area by private means, just like people do when disaster hits free-market Third World countries.”

        Untrue. Hundreds of buses were essentially commandeered and thousands evacuated in those buses. The people who stayed were the people who chose to stay in spite of the warnings.

        Also, being prepared and not relying on the government sounds fine except that during and after the Katrina disaster government actively made things worse and compromised people’s ability to rely on themselves. They blocked relief supplies that were streaming in because they were donated by private companies and not FEMA, the forcibly evacuated some from their homes, and they confiscated private firearms.

        1. I would also point out that a great deal of the reticence to evacuate to govt. shelters was based upon experience with the storm a year or 2 before. Thousands relocated into the Superdome, then, when the storm bypassed the city completely, those people were not allowed to leave the Dome for 3 more days. There were fights, the concessionaires were looted, and the bathrooms were demolished. Nobody wanted a repeat of that so they stayed away from the Dome and Morial Center. In the 1/4, we organized a neighborhood patrol (riding around on bikes, armed to the teeth, ready to shoot looters on sight). In the Lower Garden, there was a lot of housebreaking going on but NOPD was unable to respond as they were busy looting stealing seizing confiscating without paperwork all the firearms from our local Walmart.

  4. I hate the idea that FEMA or the federal government is to blame for any of the problems immediately after Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy.

    How affordable or sustainable would it be if FEMA was required to ‘land’ 24-36 hours after a disaster?

    The first few days, perhaps first week, should be the responsibility of the local and state governments. That gives FEMA enough time to plan and gather what it will need to do its job.

    Bear in mind, I think FEMA should be completely dissolved and its function turned entirely over to state/local governments who know their areas and people better.

    1. The first few days, perhaps first week, should be the responsibility of the local and state governments.

      That’s ludicrous. Who knows better the emergency needs of local communities than the federal government?

      1. The UN. What are you Fist, some kind of patriot group nut?

    2. The state and local governments are to blame. Katrina did much more damage to Mississippi and Alabama than it did to New Orleans or Sandy did to New Jersey and New York. Before that, the Florida panhandled was hit by not just one but a series of storms in 2004. Yet, gulf coast Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle have recovered just fine while parts of Jersey, New York and New Orleans are as bad today as they were the day after the storm that hit them. That fact has everything to do with the nature of their state and local governments and nothing to do with the feds or anyone else.

      1. Everyone forgets about Rita, which devastated the other half of southern Louisiana a week after Katrina.

    3. “I hate the idea that FEMA or the federal government is to blame for any of the problems immediately after Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy”

      The only sense in which I blame them would be what you might call the opportunity cost.

      To me what was emblematic about the Federal response to Katrina was Bush going on national TV to tell everyone to back off – the Feds got this one – and then holding up about 200 first responders for several hours so that he could get a photo op showing how on top of the situation he was.

      The feds would serve us all best by just getting out of the way.

      1. And people are still bitching about how Bush didn’t go there sooner or do more when he was there. As if that would have done anything but hinder relief efforts even more. The last fucking thing you need when there is a disaster going on is for the president to be there. People are so hung up on idiotic symbolism.

        1. Yeah, this was a no win situation. I saw people post “Oh why won’t Bush do more than fly over New Orleans” then twenty minutes later post “Why is Bush keeping first responders away from the action by bringing his entourage to Mississippi”.

          There was a lot that happened with Katrina, but above all it was a chance for people to hit Bush with everything that didn’t stick during the Iraq war. People were hurting and rather than blame it on an unprecedented perfect storm, they wanted political gain.

    4. How affordable or sustainable would it be if FEMA was required to ‘land’ 24-36 hours after a disaster?

      Wal-Mart has a disaster command center.

      In case of something like Katrina they will have semis full of cleanup gear, chain saws, generators, bottled water, all the stuff their records say the Wal-Marts in the area will sell out of, in staging areas before the storm hits, waiting in line to enter the disaster zone the first hour it’s safe.

      Unless FEMA stops them.

      1. I was in New Orleans with the National Guard, not long after the storm…we did OK (the Coast Guard was great). But two groups were there ahead of us in the Guard…Wal-Mart and the Salvation Army. They kucked butt.

  5. And people in New Orleans didn’t rely on the government. The relied on each other and made it through. The only reason people think otherwise is because the media is a bunch of racists who assumed that because New Orleans was predominantly black, all of civilization must have shut down once the city government and police department stopped functioning. Had New Orleans been a predominantly white city, the coverage of Katrina would have been completely different and no way would the media have believed the ridiculous lies about there being murders and rapes in the Super Dome or people shooting at National Guard helicopters as readily as they did.

    1. It really was some shameful shit. The media seems to always want chaos after a natural disaster, but it never really works that way. Sure there will be some looting and whatnot in cities, but for the most part people will buckle down and do what needs doing an help each other out as they can and not run around in a panic as the media seems to want to believe.
      Why are people so terrified of self-organization?

      1. Why are people so terrified of self-organization?

        A cynic would say “projection”. These people know they are worthless, and can’t fathom thinking about what they would do without an expert to save their asses in times like these.

        In reality, enough of those people- confronted with the reality of the situation- would dig deep and find a way to overcome. Think about all the times you thought you were in an unwinnable situation and just worked through it to solve the problems. Most people don’t get past imagining the oh shit moment and think “If only a true expert trained to do shit were there for me!”

  6. Preparing for a hurricane is a fool’s errand, The only response should be to get out of its way. In other words LEAVE your coastal location and head inland.

    1. You mean staying in a location that is below sea level might be a really bad idea?

      Why do you hate black people IceTrey?

      1. I TOLD them to leave.

    2. What about having the government (Corps of Engineers) build a levee to protect you from the surging ocean?
      That would totally work.

    3. Remember the clusterfuck that was the “evacuation” of Houston before Rita hit? Cars were backed up on all roads (all of them) for hundreds of miles. Evacuating a large city, especially one as large as Houston will never go well.

  7. Yahoo has had some excellent click bait articles for the anniversary. The best was one from last week titled something like “White Town Across River Blocks Bridge to Safety for Black People.”

    1. Gretna is not what I’d call a “white town.”

  8. I am really sick of hearing people say that the flooding of New Orleans was not a natural disaster but a man made one. Yes, the levies failing was an engineering failure. But it’s a huge fucking storm and a city below sea level. The flood control stuff didn’t just fail for no reason.
    I am also annoyed by the implication that the whole country is obliged to keep NO from sinking and protect it from floods no matter the cost. If people want to live there, they can fucking pay for it. And the people and companies who use the ports and canals can pay for them.

    1. Want to hear something even more interesting? There’s a Corps of Engineers project northwest of Baton Rouge called the “Old River Locks”. From the COE web page comes this interesting description:

      The Old River Control structures are operated to maintain the distribution of flow between the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya River, and also prevent the Atchafalaya River from capturing the flow of the Mississippi River

      Yes, you read that right- if it weren’t for a massive engineering effort, the majority of the flow of the Mississippi river would shunt into the Atchafalaya, leaving New Orleans as a sleepy backwater bayou town (and, coincidentally, washing Morgan City into the Gulf of Mexico in the process).

      1. The Atchafalaya actually is the Mississippi and the river has been trying to move over for a long time. It will succeed, it is just a matter of time and I suspect not much of that.

  9. Does anyone know if guns were actually confiscated? I know there are rumors to that effect.

    1. Well, there is video of at least one incident:

      1. Of course the cops were looting as well

    2. Many many guns were confiscated.

      1. Probably as many as they could steal and I’m quite sure most of them never made to the property room.

  10. “The Big Lesson of Hurricane Katrina? Don’t Rely on the Govt. Or the Media.”

    Speaking of not relying on government or media, Melissa Harris-Perry was on “Meet the Press” Sunday lamenting the fact that, while the charter schools that sprang up after the storm made the school system better. It broke the back of the teachers union and destroyed NOLA black middle class.

    “for many who are African-American it’s not a better city in part because this so-called success story in the schools also included charterizing the entire system, which also meant deunionizing all teachers. Whatever people feel about teachers unions,One important thing to remember is that it is the heart of the black middle class, particularly in New Orleans. And so, that loss of income and of economic stability for the black middle class there has been meaningful, so it’s not just the schools but also the people who work in schools.”

    So, that’s what they mean by “Investing in the future”. Keep a crummy teacher on the payroll so you have a future generation of dependents that you can set up in a cushy school job to rob the next generation of their education. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    1. They want it both ways. Schools are an investment in the future of our children. And they exist to give nice jobs to people who aren’t very good at their jobs.

    2. I think there are a lot of black parents who’s children may now have a shot at life who would give MHP the finger about that. Progscum are going to lose that battle I believe.

    3. Also, has Melissa Harris-Perry ever said anything intelligent?

  11. No doubt the whole thing was a cluster fuck but I thought it a little disingenuous that within an hour or two every newscaster who’s only responsibility was to get there and find the nearest street corner and start talking was wondering aloud why an organized planned effort was not already fully under way by the feds. Of course they’re the same people who think the police will protect them if they’re attacked instead of just filing the report. Maybe because there is more to an effort of that magnitude than getting everyone there and telling them to go do stuff. That said the feds no doubt made one screw up after another. I will agree with others here that the local and state governments should get the brunt of the blame concerning the initial response.

  12. The biggest lesson from Katrina (and Sandy): with climate change and rising sea levels, more to come.

    1. Thanks for the comedy relief, Joe!

  13. There’s no sugarcoating it – Katrina created some issues for New Orleans.

  14. So, gov’t was ineffective? Well….then there needs to be even bigger government! Maybe a new department of storms……..and the department of floods for after the storms.

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