Last Monday evening, in the midst of the uncertainty brought on by Hurricane Gustav’s landfall, KLFY TV-10 was in the middle of its continuous news coverage of the storm when anchor Darla Montgomery began to report shocking news from New Orleans: An Industrial Canal flood wall had breached, and the Ninth Ward was flooding. Images included water overlapping the wall, a stop sign half under water and several feet of water on the streets. It was eerily similar to the Crescent City flood images that became ingrained in our minds almost three years ago to the day of Gustav’s landfall, when Hurricane Katrina struck.
As it turns out, the images weren’t just similar; they were identical, with a chain of production room lapses leading KLFY, and possibly several other TV stations, to report old Katrina video as live Gustav footage. KLFY quickly realized something was wrong and retracted the video news report of Ninth Ward homes being flooded. When The Independent Weekly called KLFY General Manager Mike Barras to ask what had happened, the answer wasn’t clear. Barras initially said his station received the feed from WVUE in New Orleans. He then called back three times with a series of differing stories, as he continued to gather information on the incident. Barras insisted it was a “very simple” mistake on KLFY’s end. He says that the video came in tacked on with other live Gustav video and no audio.
“[The video feed] had ‘Live’ on it, so what else are you going to think?” he asks. His final explanation was that the footage was received as a feed from CNN with tags identifying it as live footage being filmed by WWL-TV in New Orleans. He also claimed that it wasn’t Katrina footage but actually earlier video from Hurricane Gustav.
“That wasn’t my tape,” says WWL-TV News Director Chris Slaughter. He saw the footage – which he says was from Hurricane Katrina – the same day it came down on feed from CNN to affiliates. When someone in the news room saw the WWL call letters on the video, Slaughter immediately called CNN’s national news desk to tell them somebody made a mistake. While Slaughter did not get the name of the staffer he spoke with, he says the person immediately apologized and said that someone at CNN had mistakenly pulled old Katrina footage, filmed by CNN, and it was mixed in with Gustav video sent to affiliates. How many stations across the country received the video, how many aired it, and whether CNN itself even aired the footage remains unknown. CNN has not returned repeated calls from The Independent.
“Basically it looks like CNN grabbed tape from three years ago from Hurricane Katrina of one of their reporters doing a story about a breach in a levee,” Slaughter explains. “They then apparently confused that with tape from the other day that WWL had shot of waves occasionally coming across a flood wall which did not breach. So CNN apparently put false tape on the air under false pretenses.”
Slaughter is quick to point out that the video never made his air. He adds that the incident is indicative of problems that arise from a roving national press corps that drives much of the content for major stories like hurricanes. “The networks parachute in at the last minute, don’t have everything together, and they make more mistakes than the locals in these situations. I know what I’m looking at, and they don’t,” Slaughter says.