Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler can’t stop himself from blaming the media for the Bush administration’s lack of knowledge about flooding and levee breaches in New Orleans. In today’s episode, he faults NBC’s Brian Williams, NPR’s John Burnett, MSNBC meteorologist Sean McLaughlin, and CNN’s Aaron Brown for advancing the bullet-dodging theme in their post-storm reports.
What Somerby doesn’t consider is that reporters rely to some extent on sources for information about situations beyond their immediate knowledge.
Brian Williams was reporting from the Superdome on the Today show just after the height of the storm. Had he gone out to look at the low-lying parts of the city to make his judgment that New Orleans had survived relatively unscathed? Or was his report based on what officials were telling him?
John Burnett filed a report for Morning Edition on the day following the storm that that French Quarter was relatively unscathed. Toward the end of the report, however, he mentioned police had told him that “perhaps hundreds” of homes were flooded. He used first-hand accounts of the French Quarter’s condition, but like Williams, he relied on officials for information about the rest of the city. I don’t believe he used “dodged the bullet” in that report.
As I’ve pointed out, some members of the press — specifically the Times Picayune — were getting accurate information from local and state officials. Mayor Nagin had reported severe flooding in a radio interview as the storm was still hitting the city. That news had reached Baton Rouge by an hour after the storm and was reported at a press conference.
If Williams, Burnett, McLaughlin, and Brown had been told there was extensive flooding in New Orleans on Monday the 29th, it seems unlikely that bullet-dodging would have been the metaphor that came to mind. If I were Somerby, I’d be asking from who were they were getting their information about the effects of the storm?