Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Media, Officials Were Wrong About Mayhem in New Orleans

Brian Thevenot and Gordon Russell, reporters from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, have investigated the widely broadcast reports of rape, murder and shootings that permeated the national press in reporting on the isolated and abandoned flood victims languishing at the New Orleans Superdome and Convention Center in the days after Hurricane Katrina flooded that city. The rumors could not be verified. An actual body count revealed that there were six deaths in the Superdome, none by murder. Four deaths were due to natural causes, one was a drug overdose, and the last was case of a man who jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, that had been well reported.

At the Convention Center, only four bodies were recovered by the authorities, despite press reports of corpses piled inside the building. One of the dead appeared to have been killed, said officials.

Evacuees had told reporters of hundreds of bodies -- evidently a myth created by the evacuees, and repeated by the media and even some New Orleans' officials, including the mayor and police superintendent.

Prosecutors report there were four murders in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. New Orleans averages about four murders per week, but of course on a per capita basis, with much of the city evacuated, this number is a high rate.

Read the Times-Picayune Weblog that examines the over-reporting of violence in New Orleans.

Was the fact that the evacuees were primarily poor and Black a factor in contributing to acceptance of the unsubstantiated exaggerations of heinous violence? Did the acceptance of these claims fill the stereotypes held by the middle-class reporters (and other middle-class commentators) that any gathering of desperate and poor and Black people, with an absence of established authority, was likely to be the occasion of heinous violence?

Or was it simply a case that in the reporting of a dramatic catastrophe, any fact that contributes to the sense of horror is part of the story? After all, at one point the predicted death toll was estimated to be greater than 10,000.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: