Katrina: The MSM Bites Back!

James Pinkerton argues at Tech Central Station that the relentless coverage of something like Hurricane Katrina proves that the mainstream media can simply overwhelm blogs and other alternative media.

TCS: – The MSM Bites Back!

Mainstream Media RIP? Not yet. Indeed, for now, the headline should read, “Mainstream Media Rips Bush in Wake of Katrina Crisis.” And in fact, the header atop The Boston Phoenix, “Katrina Rips Bush a New One,” was far harsher. As Mark Twain might have said if he had lived, reports of the death of the MSM are greatly exaggerated. The Old Media Empire is striking back.

This is followed by several paragraphs of examples of harsh criticism of the Bush administration’s response to the crisis.

[T]he MSM is still out there, and it’s having an impact.

How much impact? Let’s look at the polls, which show that Bush’s approval rating has dropped three or four points, to between 38 and 42 percent — here’s a graphic look at the same data.

So what happened? To put it plainly, the substantial pro-Bush contingent of the New Media — that is, cable news, talk radio, and the Net — was overwhelmed. Yes, the blogosphere could take down Dan Rather, but that was a dry and slow process of threshing out real and counterfeit typewriter fonts, military phraseology, and antique zip codes. By contrast, Katrina is wetly overwhelming; even Fox News is in high dudgeon. So while a few bloggers are hacking away at the accreting conventional wisdom that Everything is Bush’s Fault, that battle is being lost.

There’s no doubt that more people are watching television than reading blogs. That’s even more true in a major crisis situation.

But Pinkerton is wrong about the impact. As noted yesterday, the polls are already reversing course. A strong majority (58%) now thinks President Bush did a good job. Even the much-maligned FEMA scores (56%).

Further, that same poll–which Pinkerton later cites as evidence that the media has not paid a price for their liberal bias–reveals that the public thinks the media covered the crisis “responsibly” but “Nevertheless, 49% of Americans say the media are spending too much time trying to figure out who is responsible for the problems in the areas affected by the hurricane, compared with 48% who say that about Democratic leaders in Congress, and 31% about congressional Republican leaders.” So, after that deluge of coverage blasting Republicans in a country that has been more or less evenly divided for several election cycles, the Republicans are the ones seen as doing the least finger pointing.

Once again, we see that the mass public can make up their own minds when they are paying attention. They are quite malleable on issues barely on their radar screen, and can be manipulated by a clever ad campaign or a slanted news story. But watching hour after hour of coverage of something, that all filters out.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Rick DeMent says:

    Definition of “liberal bias” – any reporting not favorable to conservatives or their leaders.

    When will you all come to terms with the fact that any bias in reporting is driven by the need to create controversy where, in most cases, none exists. This is a function of competing entertainment channels (FOX news, CNN, MSNBC) competing for eyeballs and gets interpreted to be political bias by whoever’s ox is getting gored.

    You have the same discussion on many liberal blogs about the MSM not going after Bush et all “hard enough”. I realize it’s difficult for a fish to understand the concept of water, but the whole “liberal media thing is lame when you consider that the MSM is essentially the same people who did their level best to elevate a blow job (or rather the accompanying minutia of several pseudo scandals) into an impeachable offence when a democrat was in office.

  2. McGehee says:

    Just one problem with your thesis, Rick. The only people still denying there’s a consistently left-leaning bias are people who refuse to acknowledge their own left-leaning bias.

    It isn’t only conservatives who detect the bias, Rick. It’s also moderates and even mainstream liberals. Has been for years, and getting more so since Dan Rather’s Abilene memos.

  3. DaveD says:

    And I suspect that now that the President has taken responsibility for lapses from agencies over which the Executive Branch has control, the mood will soften some more. Although one has to feel the greatest empathy for those in greatest need, those who are the most unfortunate are really the only folks the MSM is interested in highlighting on audio and video. The MSM is very adept at ignoring what is working well. I also think that once the emotional phase of this has played out, folks do recognize the complexity of the situation. It’s the MSM that can’t let go of the emotional aspect because you can’t discuss nuance and complexity in two minute sound bites.