The last time a major disaster threatened the U.S. Gulf Coast, journalists dropped any pretense of objectivity and openly scorned what they saw as the ineffective response of the Bush administration to Hurricane Katrina. And top media writers found it just wonderful that the press was taking a side, with New York Times’ critic Alessandra Stanley saluting “a rare sense of righteous indignation by a news media that is usually on the defensive.”
Now, there are gentle suggestions that the Obama administration dropped the ball in the days after the oil rig explosion that triggered a 5,000 barrel per day leak that threatens to eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill as the worst in U.S. history. Today’s lead story in the New York Times determined that “a review of the response suggests it may be too simplistic to place all the blame for the unfolding environmental catastrophe on the oil company. The federal government also had opportunities to move more quickly, but did not do so while it waited for a resolution to the spreading spill from BP,” a theme echoed in an editorial, as Noel Sheppard notes below.
Not exactly “righteous indignation,” but the story isn’t over, yet.
In contrast, here’s some of what the critics had to say about the media’s adversarial approach when George W. Bush was in the White House:
Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post, September 5, 2005:
Journalism seems to have recovered its reason for being....For once, reporters were acting like concerned citizens, not passive observers. And they were letting their emotions show, whether it was ABC's Robin Roberts choking up while recalling a visit to her mother on the Gulf Coast or CNN's Jeanne Meserve crying as she described the dead and injured she had seen.
Maybe, just maybe, journalism needs to bring more passion to the table....
Alessandra Stanely in the New York Times, September 5, 2005:
The last time reporters and anchors were so personally and passionately involved in a story was early in the Iraq war, when journalists who accompanied troops for weeks at a time became bullish supporters of the soldiers and their mission.
Hurricane Katrina has had a similar but opposite effect: after spending time with the storm refugees in the Superdome and the convention center in New Orleans, normally poised, placid TV reporters now openly deplore the government's failure to help the victims adequately. And their outrage, illustrated with hauntingly edited montages of weeping mothers, sickly children and dead bodies rotting on the street, traveled up the news division chain of command, from camera operators to anchors and across the spectrum from CNN to Fox....
It's the kind of combative coverage that Richard M. Nixon faced during Watergate, that Bill Clinton faced during his impeachment trial and that most presidents have endured sometime in their tenures. But ever since the Sept. 11 attacks, this president had been spared the harshest questioning -- even with troops bogged down in Iraq, his White House news conferences have been so tame they are parodied by "Saturday Night Live" and Jon Stewart....
The switch mirrors public outrage, but it is buoyed by a rare sense of righteous indignation by a news media that is usually on the defensive.