Katrina: All Early Reports Need To Be Treated Skeptically — Remember 9/11?

By Brian 

Media critics have been pushing the Times-Picayune and LA Times stories about exaggerated claims and death tolls in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In today’s Journal-Sentinel, Tim Cuprisin offers a response:

 Let’s go back to the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, the night after the attack on the World Trade Center, for a Fox News Channel report from Shepard Smith.

“This has just come in to Fox News,” he said, according to the transcript. “We are getting what are the first reports of a possible casualty count.

“A supervisor at the New York and New Jersey Port Authority tells Fox News that the casualty count is expected in the World Trade Center towers to top 20,000. And beneath the World Trade Center towers was a mall, a mall on which tens of thousands of commuters connected from their subway lines to their buildings. Another 10,000 casualties expected there. In lower Manhattan, before it’s all over, more (than) 30,000 bodies expected to be recovered.”

Don’t read this as a rip on Smith, who performed admirably on the scene in New Orleans. But the actual death toll from the attack in New York, as staggering as it was, was less than a tenth of that incredible 30,000 figure.

It’s a reminder that, in an era of wall-to-wall news, all early reports need to be treated skeptically. And you shouldn’t be surprised, as the weeks and months go by, as the second and third drafts of history are written, that the facts look different than they did while the waters were still rising.

> “The fog of war and the gusts of a hurricane both cloud and obscure vital truths,” Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs tells the Washington Times.