Gustav Reporting: The Aftermath

So the reports by CNN’s Gary Tuchman of serious flooding in the Lower 9th Ward – as well as his later report that the police were telling anyone in the area that the levees there could “explode at any time” – turned out to be inaccurate: Some water did overtop the levees there, but it looks as if the levees held firm. Of course, it took hours before viewers could be assured of this, as CNN’s (and other stations’) reporters otherwise stayed out of New Orleans’ low-lying neighborhoods, relying solely on Army Corps of Engineers assurances that the levees were holding. Which turned out to be true this time, but if it hadn’t been, who would have known?

In all, the Gustav reporting was a notch better than that during Katrina (at least someone bothered to train cameras on some levees), but still exhibited the focus on the tourist district and reliance on official sources that plagued coverage three years ago, at least until one NBC cameraman thought to walk the few blocks to the Convention Center. For example, while disgraced former FEMA chief Mike Brown has been interviewed on nearly every news station about the Gustav response, I’ve yet to see any interviews with New Orleanians who were evacuated on the buses that, this time, the government provided for people with no means of getting out of harm’s way. (Though Anderson Cooper’s blog does have a brief item about one evacuee shelter with no working plumbing.) If nothing else, asking evacuees whether they knew of people who’d been forced to stay behind in New Orleans would have helped answer the question of whether official claims that only 10,000 people remained in the city were true – something no station attempted to verify.

Anyway, looks like there will be two more opportunities coming up for the news media to work on their coverage. We’ll see how they do.