Well, it turns out this is what really happened.
I remember thinking at the time that these stories just too conveniently confirmed the fears and prejudices of suburban folk about dangerous (and all minority) inner cities. It turns out that the most dangerous people running riot after the hurricane were the police. None of the other stuff about roving gangs and shooting at military helicopters was true (but those stories would sure be useful to real estate speculators wanting to rebuild NOLA as a smaller, whiter, more affluent, and more profitable city).
The press broadcasts a lot of crap that turns out not to be true from trumped up reasons for invading Iraq to the ACORN "scandals" to "climategate." The crap always seems to be in someone's interest (think Matt Drudge, Swiftboaters, the Bush Administration, BP, a whole army of corporate lobbyists, etc.). A lazy and corrupt corporate press runs with the story without checking to see if they are being yanked. The Fox News Network always beats the drum, whips up the hysteria, and bullies the rest of the media into reporting their story on their terms. The story always ends up shown to be false. But by that time, the damage is done. Public attention has moved on. The NY Times publishes pages of retractions and apologies. The troops are in Iraq. ACORN is out of business. Any meaningful climate legislation is toast. Reputations are ruined, a whole lot of people are dead, and someone gets away with murder.
But, by that time, no one's paying attention, so who cares.
In all fairness, there are still a lot of first rate journalists out there, especially much needed investigative journalists. However, they get no support, and sometimes active resistance, from their corporate employers. Many are now working independently and have formed a non-profit corporation devoted exclusively to investigative journalism in the public interest, Pro Publica. In their short existence, they've already swept up a lot of prestigious awards and established themselves as the kind of news organization the for-profit corporations used to be but have foresaken. They spend a lot of time with trumped up stories following the money trails and trying to find out who is yanking who and to what purpose.