Sunday, March 05, 2006

Life Cycle of an Extreme Media Meme

It began a week ago with a hyperventilating ASSociated Press report that videotapes of the briefings President Bush received on the likely damage from Hurricane Katrina included explicit warnings that the New Orleans levees would breach - directly contradicting the President's own words from several days later asserting that the Administration had no idea that outcome would transpire.

Or, in plain, fever swamp English, "BUSH LIED!!!!!," only this time on his deliberate destruction of the Big Easy. Proving that while a hurricane, no matter how monstrous, can only hit once, its media-driven public relations aftermath can strike again and again and again, as many times as it takes to drive from office a president the press utterly detests.

No sooner did this so-called "bombshell" splatter across front pages and evening news leadoffs than "journalists"' elected counterparts use it as yet another scandalmongering trampoline:

Lawmakers from both parties [i.e. Democrats and Louisiana's David Vitter] said Thursday a newly disclosed videotape of a pre-Katrina briefing for President Bush and top Administration officials raises new questions about government response to the storm that flooded New Orleans and killed more than 1,300 people.

The video, obtained by The Associated Press, "confirms what we have suspected all along," said Senate [Minority] Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, charging that Bush Administration officials have "systematically misled the American people."

Reid and House [Minority] Leader Nancy Pelosi of California renewed their calls for an independent commission to investigate the federal response to the hurricane.

Dr. Demented, not to be outdone by his Hill rivals, also leaped before his DNC looked.

And, right on schedule, the meme began to disintegrate within a matter of hours.

The New York Times made the chowder-headed mistake of actually printing the transcripts of the videoconferences from August 28th and 29th, which proved that there were, indeed, no warnings of levee breaches - an eventual misconception reinforced to federal officials by Donk Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. What there were warnings of was levee "overtopping," which is akin, as Dafydd ab Hugh cannily points out, to overflowing your bathtub versus filling it up and smashing a hole in the side with a sledghammer.

Cap'n Ed sums up the true story the AP didn't want to tell thusly:

In fact, the record shows that the White House had been fully engaged in the disaster and had repeatedly asked for updates. [Scapegoated ex-FEMA Director Michael] Brown himself notes (and NBC did report this) that Bush had personally called him twice that day, and it was still only noon. The White House also followed the media reports closely, demanding to know whether the reported breaches had actually occurred. (The fact that the media could not be trusted to get the story straight was later proven when the hysterical reporting about cannibalism, murders, and toxic flood waters all turned out to be false.) What answer did the White House get? The local and state authorities told them that nothing had happened, and that the flooding so far had come from the storm itself and not the lake. [emphasis added]

The Washington Times called this latest press kneecapping a "hit job" and a "despicable, costly lie." Despicable in that the AP waited until Friday night, the slowest news period of the week, to quietly and half-heartedly run a "correction" to its original "story" that amounted to actually watching its video footage and reading its transcripts when it would draw the least attention - the equivalent of a newspaper publishing a retraction between the tide schedules and the lingerie ads on page Z-97. Costly in that, as Brother Hinderaker laments:

I think this highlights, though, how hard it is for truth to catch up to error. Hundreds of newspapers printed the AP's misinformation, and it was the basis for television news on all of the broadcast networks. The correction (or "clarification") will never catch up to most of the tens of millions of people who heard the original story. The news business is all about impressions, and corrections, days after the fact, never take away the impression that the original story falsely created.

I would take issue with only one word above: "error." This "story" was no "error"; the AP knew exactly what it was doing. The only saving grace is that they and their fellow travelers have been at this memeing for so long that it faded into background static for the vast majority of the public a long, long time ago.

Not unlike "Spygate," "killing the Patriot Act," and the "Iraqi civil war" - which Mr. Morrissey reminds us was precisely what OIF critics were urging that we try and provoke as a means of overthrowing Saddam Hussein without invading Iraq.

One would think the Fourth Estate would begin to figure out that recklessly sloppy, ravingly hysterical Bushophobic witchhunts aren't getting the job done. But then you'd also have to attribute rationality to its crazed practitioners as well. And after five years that's a meme nobody could put over.