One of the trends I've seen in the years I've been out in the workforce is the one that has employees do self-evaluations. You know the kind of thing: "My strengths are…. My weaknesses are…." I've never been a fan of this approach. I don't mean this an insult (although it will sound that way), but most of us are woefully lacking in self-insight, especially regarding our failings. As a matter of day-to-day life, this is a good thing. Without this psychological self-defense, I suspect most of us would lapse into deeply depressed dysfunctionality.
Of course, some people are more far afield than others when it comes to self-insight. I vividly recall, in our small community, being insulted left, right and center by another Mom. She wasn't picking a fight with me or even intending to insult me. It was just that every word that poured out of her mouth was offensive. I didn't take it personally, although I was certainly surprised. I just wrote it off. What makes the story memorable in my mind is what happened about a month later. A group of us, including this Mom, were asked about our strengths. She proudly announced that her strength is being personally intuitive — understanding people, and giving them what they need. Clearly she discerned my hidden masochist (hidden even to me), and decided I needed a series of good insults.
I was reminded of both this business trend, and of the unusual cluelessness of this particular Mom, when I read Jonah Goldberg's slashing article regarding media myths about Hurricane Katrina. The single biggest myth is the media's belief that it did a spectacularly good job. Goldberg begs to differ. After detailing all the hideous rumors the media blithely promulgated, Goldberg has this to say:
This barely captures how badly the press bungled Katrina coverage. Keep in mind that the most horrifying tales of woe that captivated the press and prompted news anchors to scream—quite literally—at federal officials occurred within the safe zone around the Superdome where the press was operating. Shame on local officials for fomenting fear and passing along newly minted urban legends, but double shame on the press for recycling this stuff uncritically. Members of the press had access to the Superdome. Why not just run in and look for the bodies? Interview the rape victims? Couldn’t be bothered? The major networks had hundreds of people in New Orleans. Was there not a single intern available to fact-check? The coverage actually cost lives. Helicopters were grounded for 24 hours in response to media reports of sniper attacks. At least two patients died waiting to be evacuated.
And yet, an ubiquitous media chorus claims simultaneously that Katrina was Bush’s worst hour and the press’s best. That faultless paragon of media scrupulousness Dan Rather proclaimed it one of the “quintessential great moments in television news.” Christiane Amanpour explained, “I think what’s interesting is that it took a Katrina, you know, to bring us back to where we belong. In other words, real journalists, real journalism, and I think that’s a good thing.”
The flip side of this appalling lack of self-awareness is that, in order to make itself look good, the media has had to make something or someone else look bad. In this case, this has been the usual reflexive Bush Derangement Syndrome, with Bush as a demented storm maker who then sat laughing in his office as people died. In attention, as fallout from BDS, the media has steadfastly ignored the enormous accomplishments of people on the ground:
But in the race to prove the federal response incompetent, the “real journalists” missed some important details. As Lou Dolinar exhaustively documents, the National Guard did amazing work in New Orleans. From the Superdome, the Guard managed some 2,500 troops, a dozen emergency shelters, more than 200 boats, 150 helicopters (which flew more than 10,000 sorties moving 88,181 passengers, 18,834 tons of cargo, and saved 17,411 survivors), and an enormous M*A*S*H operation that, among other things, delivered seven babies.
The media would do better to be a wee bit less self-congratulatory and a little more self-critical. In a just world, their hubris should see them riding for an imminent fall. The fact is, though, that whenever one media member or outlet falls down, someone in that same media is standing there to erase any visible signs of sin. One wonders how long they can maintain this cycle of failure and coverage before the whole rotten media edifice collapses.