THE BLOG
12/11/2007 12:33 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

This Footage Is From When?

I'm not a big fan of surveys or polls. People who want to prove how dumb the public is--usually people in New York or LA--can always cite a survey showing that a significant slice of the populace can't locate China on a map. Or can't locate a map.

Nonetheless, Monday"s release of a survey by the University of New Orleans on Americans' attitudes towards the Crescent City contains a notable semi-bombshell:

Roughly one-fourth believed parts of New Orleans remain under water; one-third believed the tourist-oriented French Quarter was one of the hardest-hit areas when, in fact, the Quarter was largely unharmed. The floodwaters, too, are long gone.

"It's amazing," (UNO Survey Research Center director Bob) Sims said of those responses. "But it just goes to show how little people really know."

Of course, one reason people know so little is that television news has abandoned one of its few honorable journalistic rules: disclosing to viewers when the footage being shown is archive or file footage. "B-roll", or wallpaper, as it's come to be called now, is footage that runs on a loop to illustrate a talking-heads segment lest you get bored with the heads. Such footage is undated, its vintage undisclosed. It runs so continuously through a segment that a casual viewer could be excused from thinking it's real-time and live. If it's footage of Britney Spears at a press conference or getting out of a limo, as it so often is, no harm, just a very little foul. But when it's footage of the floods from thirty months ago, floods that never reached the heart of New Orleans (at least from an historic and touristic point of view), then the news channels, far from combating ignorance, are contributing to it.

PS: After thirty months, that water's getting pretty foul.