Feedback Loop

Atrios has the text of a Wall Street Journal article covering the disparity between the actual reported conditions of floodwaters in New Orleans on the day Hurricane Katrina struck, the few national outlets that reported significant flooding by mid-day that Monday, and the bulk of the media, the administration, and others who have made the mistake of declaring that the levees were actually breached on Tuesday.

The WSJ quotes the Washington Post‘s Leonard Downie, Jr. as saying that “people on the ground didn’t know what happened,” blaming communications problems due to Katrina. That explanation doesn’t — as the links to the Times-Picayune stories above show — hold water. Serious flooding had been reported at a Baton Rouge press conference by 9am Monday, an hour after the storm had passed through New Orleans.

Administration officials have already claimed that they thought the damage to the city wasn’t as bad as it turned out to be because the media reports didn’t say it was bad. Well, who does the media get its information from? The media that listened to local and state officials, like the Times-Picayune, knew that flooding was taking place. They knew that levee breaches had occurred by Monday afternoon.

My money is on the likelihood that the bulk of the media was listening to FEMA or other federal officials, who appeared to be unaware that flooding had begun at the same time as the storm. They, in turn, were looking at the news media who came to them for their information, and the coverage looked good to them.