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.
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."
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.