Wednesday, September 07, 2005

looting the rumor mill

following up on the idea that the media might be over-hyping the violence in new orleans and the gulf coast region (taken from locussolus and linked in my previous post), here's an article on that suggests that the media might not just be overemphasizing the violence, but that many of the reports might merely be false rumors that have worked their way into the record as "fact":

"By Thursday," the Chicago Tribune's Howard Witt reported, "local TV and radio stations in Baton Rouge...were breezily passing along reports of cars being hijacked at gunpoint by New Orleans refugees, riots breaking out in the shelters set up in Baton Rouge to house the displaced, and guns and knives being seized."

The only problem—none of the reports were true. "The police, for example, confiscated a single knife from a refugee in one Baton Rouge shelter," Witt reported. "There were no riots in Baton Rouge. There were no armed hordes." Yet the panic was enough for Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden to impose a curfew on the city's largest shelter, and to warn darkly about "New Orleans thugs."

Even before evacuees could get comfy in Houston's Astrodome, rumors were flying that the refugees had already raped their first victim, just like that seven-year-old in the Superdome, or the babies in the Convention Center who got their throats slit. Not only was the Astrodome rape invented out of whole cloth, so, perhaps was the case reported 'round the globe of at least one pre-pubescent being raped and murdered in New Orleans' iconic sports arena.

"We don't have any substantiated rapes," New Orleans Police superintendent Edwin Compass said yesterday, according to the Guardian. "We will investigate if the individuals come forward." The British paper further pointed out that, "While many claim they happened, no witnesses, survivors or survivors' relatives have come forward. Nor has the source for the story of the murdered babies, or indeed their bodies, been found. And while the floor of the convention centre toilets were indeed covered in excrement, the Guardian found no corpses."


And it's entirely possible that, like the chimeric Baton Rouge hordes, exaggerations about New Orleans' criminality affected policy, mostly by delaying rescue operations and the provision of aid. Relief efforts ground to a halt last week after reports circulated of looters shooting at helicopters, yet none of the hundreds of articles I read on the subject contained a single first-hand confirmation from a pilot or eyewitness. The suspension-triggering attack—on a military Chinook attempting to evacuate refugees from the Superdome—was contested by Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown, who told ABC News, "We're controlling every single aircraft in that airspace and none of them reported being fired on." What's more, when asked about the attacks, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff replied: "I haven't actually received a confirmed report of someone firing on a helicopter."

no further comment from me, but the original article is chock full of links, so i made sure to include the original hyperlinks in the sections i quoted here.

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