In disasters since the invention of the news media, in each era coverage of disasters is highly mediated by the coverage of the most recent war. (I wrote an essay about this once, which I don't have to hand at the moment.) This is the era of "embedded" journalists and media complicity. I can't find words for what to say about this: [UPDATE: note transcript of segment below; two sequences were conflated.]
There was a striking discrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV.
ZDF News reported that the president's visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of 'news people' had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time.
The people in the area were once again left to fend for themselves, said ZDF.
A city is destroyed, people are dying in vast quantities, and job one for the White House image makers remains to get public opinion off Bush's back. This makes me feel physically ill. I'm not being hyperbolic or metaphorical. It gives me a slight feeling of vertigo, a tension across my forehead, and a feeling in the pit of my stomach like I'm going to throw up.
UPDATE: Rivka has tracked it down and found the TV transcript. The story is not quite as reported by Laura Rozen's reader, though it remains repugnant:
Anchor: President Bush also paid the almost completely devastated small town of Biloxi a quick little visit as a part of his tour. Claudia Rueggeberg in Biloxi, how did the citizens react to the visit from the President?
Claudia Rueggeberg: There was a lot of variation. We talked to people here after the visit: one woman said a symbolic visit like that was better than none at all, and it was good that the President was showing his face there and looking at the situation up-close. Others tended to react with desperation. One woman burst into tears and said, full of rage, that the President shouldn't come here, he should finally see to it that help comes. All of the people, his whole entourage, these cars, they should be loaded up with supplies and not with bodyguards, and he shouldn't play the good samaritan here, and a staged visit like this doesn't help. And it actually was the case that all of a sudden this morning helper personnel showed up here, people who cleared away the rubble, who went through the houses in search of bodies, but exclusively along the route where the President traveled. Two hours ago the President left Biloxi again, and all of the helper personnel along with him.
Anchor: We know that President Bush promised quick help. Can that be felt where you are? For example, is there clean water and food?
CR: There's nothing here at all. Aside from what was cleared aside by the helper personnel this morning, the rubble is lying all over the street exactly as it was several days ago after the storm. There are no reasonable provisions; there's an emergency medical station and otherwise nothing. There is a stench of decomposition across the entire city. There are bodies that haven't been covered up in the buildings. Everything has been reduced to rubble, and help--from what we can see here and what others from other cities have also said--isn't coming.
Anchor: Thank you in Biloxi, Claudia Rueggeberg.
(Translation by Idealistic Pragmatist, based on her transcript of the ZDF video.)
Looking at the transcripts, it seems easy enough to figure out what happened. Laura's commenter, who appears to have been reconstructing from memory a news story he'd seen on TV, elided the New Orleans segment (which had Bush speaking at "one of the few" supply distribution points) and the Biloxi segment (which had cleaning crews working only along Bush's route, and disappearing afterward). Combined, these two segments became a story about supply distribution points disappearing after Bush's visit.
That story fit in well with Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu's report that construction equipment had been brought in to the levee for Bush's visit, and then removed again. And it also fit in well with the lefty blogosphere's traditional distrust of the American media ("There was a striking discrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV"), and their perceptions that foreign reporters are more likely to get it right.
Thanks, Rivka. This is, I think one of the general problems of television disaster coverage. Viewers are emotionally flooded and take in perhaps not all of the actual information content. The images are constructed in memory at a gut level without giving the viewer easy access to reviewing the information. I have watched all of 10 minutes of actual television coverage of the disaster, since we don't have cable TV and live on the north side of a hill with almost no TV reception. I think this is a real advantage.