April 19, 2013
ENG 110: Hlavaty
Media’s Negative Impact on Hurricane Katrina
As technology advances we increasingly use news media as a means of communication, when all else fails. Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, the news and internet media took on the responsibility as a main source of information. This essentially made them responsible for unfolding many unnecessary events. Many news reporters and journalist contributed to the spread of false rumors and overstatements that have been proven to have negative impacts on relief efforts. Since the 21st century the term “media” has expanded and altered the public’s opinion tremendously. As proven by the inaccurate portrayal through skewed communication during Hurricane Katrina, the American media has begun to have negative effects on the consequences of natural disasters.
Reliable sources prove that there is a direct correlation between the lack of effective communication and deaths during Hurricane Katrina. Author Christopher Curtis supports this when stating, “There appeared to be a breakdown in communication within and between responding organizations during the aftermath of the storm that resulted in loss of lives” (10). Due to miscommunication many people and organizations were not prepared for the extent of damage Katrina would cause. The lack of communication and response, especially between the federal, regional, state, and local relief agencies, was a catastrophe in itself. Specifically, the media’s role in communication hindered chances of recovery. During Hurricane Katrina their quick politicization directly led to negative consequences as organizations failed to take responsibility, while instead blaming others, and continued to make poor decisions (Curtis 12). Accurate media and communication is crucial in order to minimize the aftermath of natural disasters.
In recent years, media has shown to hold the power and responsibility of strongly coloring the opinion of its vast public. Media is usually not seen or heard in a skeptical manner, but as fact that determines public understanding. The press does not purely display reality, but rather filters and shapes it. If the media only concentrates on a few issues then the public only sees those (Barnes). During Hurricane Katrina most forms of communications were interrupted, desperately making news media the central source of information. Through advances in technology the Internet became a crucial form and source of communication for this disaster. Without any control of the information on the Internet this also led to fallouts. According to researcher Samuel Sommers, “In the 21st century the term ‘media’ has been expanded to refer to outlets other than newspaper, magazine, radio, and television” (9). Media is trying to make money as much as any other business and will do numerous things to gain more viewers than their competitors. With all other forms of communication down and lack of communication from the government, the media was able to take advantage of this. They resorted to using recognizable celebrities in order to increase credibility of their media outlet (Guin and Scammon). The catastrophe of media’s power forces us to reevaluate human and social factors that created the response that we witnessed in 2005.
News media can easily take advantage of the vulnerable audiences in less obvious ways, such as biased tone or word choice. This was a major issue when transferring information and forming opinions during Katrina. Sommers recognizes the issue of media taking advantage of word choice by saying, “Related to how language is used to depict events is the broader question of which aspects of a story the media focuses on” (6). A popular specific example where this is seen is in comparing the caption of two pictures. The picture of a black man carrying bags and sodas through floodwater was captioned “A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store”. On comparison, the photo of a white couple in a similar situation was captioned “Two residents wade through chest- deep water after finding bread and soda from local grocery store” (Sommers 4). This varying word choice is what started issues of race straying the news media away from the main issues of rescue and relief for all the victims of New Orleans.
These exaggerations and poor word choices revolving around the hurricane immediately became an issue of race and efforts of relief were hindered. “The mass media played a major role in propagating certain rumors and mitigating others, consequently presenting the concerns of the whiter community as both real and normative and subsequently neglecting the concerns of the black community” (Miles iv). As the media continued to dramatize the participation of blacks during the Hurricane, many were instantly criminalized and neglected. The media has the freedom to color their viewers perception through incomplete information as well as manipulation. Michelle Miles became suspicious of the media after discovering that more Latinos were arrested, during Hurricane Katrina, than blacks (6). To this day many people are unaware of misleading information such as this and continue to trust the media.
Not only does the Internet have the freedom of speech, but any form of media does as well. Research and studies have shown the blatant rumors and exaggerated information presented by the news media during Hurricane Katrina. Internet became extremely popular during this time when people realized it offered a source for the world to quickly search and experience the disaster first hand (Guion and Scammon). The power of the internet became very dangerous in situations such as the one that Sommers describes, “White supremacists and others espousing overtly racist ideologies responded to Katrina with a barrage of emails and postings warning that black evacuees would start crime sprees across the country, blaming the victims for their fate…”(9). With the exponential growth in Internet use we must be cautious of the information and images we see on the web.
Professor Christopher Curtis believes that communication needs to be a main concern if response to disasters is to be successful (1). Media has the opportunity to convey information to a large audience and has the power to positively impact during events such as natural disasters. With the media’s help different parts of the government could have been pressured to take action by distributing more resources for recovery and later on for future preparation (Barnes). With the power to form public attitudes, the media has the responsibility to unbiasedly and accurately deliver the news. Over the years new and different forms of media have used this power to their advantage. Taking advantage of their vulnerable audience the United States media has begun to effect the world in a negatively, exaggerating the truth to benefit them and mislead the public.
Barnes, Michael D., et al. "Analysis of Media Agenda Setting during and After Hurricane Katrina: Implications for Emergency Preparedness, Disaster Response, and Disaster Policy." American Journal of Public Health 98.4 (2008): 604-10. ProQuest. Web. 14 Apr. 2013.
Curtis, Christopher Adam. "Communication and Coordination among Service and Government Organizations in New Orleans Immediately Following Hurricane Katrina." Tulane University, School of Social Work, 2007. United States -- Louisiana: ProQuest. Web. 14 Apr. 2013.
Deirdre T. Guion, Debra L. Scammon and Aberdeen Leila Borders Journal of Public Policy & Marketing , Vol. 26, No. 1 (Spring, 2007), pp. 20-32
Miles, Michelle. "Levees, Looters and Lawlessness: Race, Rumor & the Framing of Hurricane Katrina." University of Colorado at Boulder, 2008. United States -- Colorado: ProQuest. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.
Sommers, Samuel R. "Race and Media Coverage of Hurricane Katrina." Columbia Edu. N.p., 2006. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.