Embattled New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin took aim at what he said were the news media's errors and exaggerations covering Hurricane Katrina, giving props to local media and panning the national coverage as a "reality TV" take on the tragedy.
In a panel on Katrina coverage at the NATPE Convention in New Orleans Tuesday, Nagin didn't offer details of those errors or exaggerations. But in addition to the stark pictures and stories of actual misery and looting were electrifying, lurid -- and largely unsubstantiated -- tales of murders among displaced residents seeking shelter at the New Orleans Convention Center, children getting raped at the Superdome, and people taking shots at rescue helicopters.
Stories about the convention center likely hit home particularly with programmers, since it had been the venue for numerous NATPE conventions.
Nagin praised local media's initial coverage of the disaster, but said national and international outlets treated it as "the biggest reality TV show ever."
Initially, watching local TV and newspaper coverage, Nagin saw "everyone off balance but fighting to represent the facts and present an experience no one has ever gone through."
But speaking in deliberately measured tones, Nagin said that coverage changed when the national and international media entered the picture: "I watched media coverage go from reporting the news to making the news, expanding the news to a different level."
"I have been put on the hot seat, I have been criticized by some of the best in the world," he said. But he encouraged TV executives to "take a look at each other," adding, "Let's all do some self-critiquing and assess how we could have done things better."
Katrina coverage, which highlighted the stark divisions between rich and poor, black and white, "exposed the underbellies of things happening in urban America that we don't really talk about," said Nagin.