It turns out that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with the nation clamoring for information about what was happening in New Orleans, the media did what it does best: ran nuts reporting unsubstantiated rumors.
Who can forget Fox's Geraldo Rivera, a name we've all come to associate with stability and level-headedness, standing out in front of the New Orleans Convention Center breathlessly anticipating (fomenting?) the riot he was sure was going to break out at nightfall, while mostly bored-looking refugees yawned behind him?
And who can forget the many television reporters who kept assuring us there were "bodies everywhere" at the Superdome while only showing us that same, one, poor, covered woman in a wheelchair?
I even saw one report that said the crowd inside the Superdome had divided into different tribes, with each occupying a different level of the stadium, the top level besieged by roving bands of gangmembers shooting, raping, and beating the innocent at will.
It was all unbelievable, gripping, compelling stuff. And it was all crap, as we now know. There were no shootings in the Superdome. There were no young children (or anyone else) raped. There were just a bunch of blow-dried teevee reporters who were too gutless to actually go inside themselves, and instead stood outside passing off wild rumors as fact.
Rest assured of one thing, however: when all is said and done, the media will tell us that their colossal mishandling of the New Orleans story was somehow our fault rather than theirs. We pushed them too hard, demanded too much information, and were too ready to believe the worst about the mostly black occupants of the dome and convention center. Our insatiable desire for up-to-the-second information made things too competitive, leaving nobody time to actually check rumors before they report them.
What they won't say is "Gosh, we really blew that one. We got caught up in what seemed to be an incredibly dramatic scenario, and in a way we wanted it to be true, so we went off half-cocked." The one who does say that (if, indeed, there turns out to be anyone) is the only one I'll ever even consider believing again.