In response to Lori Thomson's "Between the Lines" piece in Sunday's Empire, I disagree that the media are only partially responsible. The media are directly and overwhelmingly responsible for the misreporting of violence that occurred during news coverage of the Hurricane Katrina response. The continued misreporting of violence during disasters is a self-fulfilling prophecy endemic to the national news media.
Social research, such as that done for the last three decades by the University of Delaware Disaster Research Group, has clearly shown that in times of crisis, people will band together and help each other. Violent crime rates generally decrease in affected areas immediately after disasters. New York City recorded record low crime rates for almost a year after Sept. 11, 2001. But for at least the last two decades the news media have fixated on the false presumption that violence follows all disasters. Data collected by the DRG shows that acts of goodwill/good news typically get reported twice by the national news media for every substantiated act of goodwill.
The unwarranted false reporting of violence following disasters is the direct result of an irresponsible national news media substituting sensationalism and rumor for real news, and will continue as long as the news media are more interested in market share than the truth.
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