Ed Driscoll

Our Absolutely Fabulist Media, Revisited

Back in April, in a post titled, “Absolutely Fabulist“, I wrote:

“Fabulous” is a word that has become primarily known for meaning great or wonderful or marvelous. But as Webster’s’ online dictionary notes, its primary meaning is:

resembling or suggesting a fable: of an incredible, astonishing, or exaggerated nature [fabulous wealth]

It’s telling that the synonym that Webster’s recommends for the word is fictitious.

So let’s look at how Webster’s definition of the word applies to the mainstream media’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

In a post titled, “No Accurate Death Toll Estimates Please, We’re The MSM”, Paul Mirengoff of Power Line writes:

James Pinkerton thinks Hurricane Katrina demonstrates that reports of the death of the MSM were greatly exaggerated. He’s right. The MSM was able to write the first draft of this story in a biased and misleading fashion, to the detriment of President Bush. Blogs and other new media were unable to prevent or counteract this. As Pinkerton puts it, “the MSM got there firstest with the mostest.”

However, though the MSM may have been able, in the short term, to trim two or three points from the approval rating of a president who can’t run for re-election, there’s a good chance it did so at a lasting cost to its diminishing credibility. For it seems likely that the one piece of critical concrete information the MSM supplied about the hurricane — the estimated death toll of 10,000 people — will prove to be wildly excessive.

It will do the MSM and its apologists no good to say that they were merely setting an upper limit. People will remember the frightening number, not the weasel words that may have accompanied it. Nor, as Glenn Reyonolds suggests, will it be much use to say, as some have, that the number came from Mayor Nagin. It was the MSM’s reliance on the ravings of Nagin that served as the springboard for the “blame Bush” coverage. The MSM hitched its wagon to an incompetent, hysterical mayor in full CYA mode. It will have to live with the consequences. The main consequence is that the MSM appears to have gotten the single most important fact about Katrina wrong. The public is likely to remember.

Well, some will at least.

Someone known for telling fables is a fabulist. And recently, several bloggers have been discussing the media’s willingness to openly embrace fabulism and run with it: CNN’s Jonathan Klein (the man who gave the Blogosphere its dress code) calls it “storytelling“. Ace of Spades pungently describes CNN’s “storytelling” as consisting of:

some sort of hybrid of news and strong dramatic narrative. You know–kind of made-up fictitious s*** with a pleasing emotional resonance.

In a way, it’s curious to see the media moving further and further way from the appearance of objectivity. As Newsweek’s Howard Fineman wrote a couple of months after President Bush was reelected:

A political party is dying before our eyes