September 27, 2005

Who Ya Gonna Believe?

The aptly-named "Lying Eyes" blog says it well about the latest Conventional Wisdom about the New Orleans Convention Center anarchy:

Reports That Conditions in NOLA Were Exaggerated are Exaggerated

An article from the Louisiana Times-Picayune ( has been circulating around (it was on Drudge) which claims that the horror stories from New Orleans were greatly exaggerated. This claim itself appears to be overstated. The article employs straw-man news reports to make its claim.

Strawman #1:
"I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," Beron recalls the doctor saying. - Huh? I watched an awful lot of Katrina coverage, but never once heard anything like that - The real total was six, Beron said. - That's more like what I remember hearing - six deaths in the Dome.

Strawman #2
"I think 99 percent of it is bulls---," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lachney, who played a key role in security and humanitarian work inside the Dome. "Don't get me wrong, bad things happened, but I didn't see any killing and raping and cutting of throats or anything.... Ninety-nine percent of the people in the Dome were very well-behaved." Well, ok, but reports of chaos and anarchy were not from the Dome, they were from the Convention Center.

Strawman #3
Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of bodies never materialized [what piles of bodies?!], and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines say that although anarchy reigned at times and people suffered unimaginable indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened. - get that - it was a f****** nightmare, but it wasn't a complete and total f****** nightmare, dammit!

The article then attempts to ridicule one of the demonstrably true reports that a guardsman was shot in the leg - it turns out the wound was self-inflicted. Why did the soldier shoot himself? "In the darkness, as he walked through about six inches of water, Watt was attacked with a metal rod..." - so he shot himself while trying to fight off a thug beating him with a metal rod! Silly soldier, shooting himself in the leg; silly media, exaggerating again!

The Convention Center is where all the controversy was, because this ended up being an impromptu shelter - thus there were no weapons searches, no authorities in place. The article makes a half-hearted effort to whitewash the situation: Inside the Convention Center, the rumors of widespread violence have proved hard to substantiate, as well, though the masses of evacuees endured terrifying and inhumane conditions. Yeah, sounds like a lovely time. Probably the best that can be said about conditions at the Convention Center is that there is only one substantiated murder, that there was likely only a handful of rapes, and that gunfire in the center may have been only intermittent, not continuous. There is no doubt about the voracious and destructive looting that occurred and the general lawlessness that prevailed.

This "exaggerated reports" meme is going to have some serious legs. Right now it's being promoted by Bush apologists as a way to rub away some of the stain Katrina has left on this administration. It will then be picked up in due course (after they've let all the witless Republicans do the heavy lifting for them) by leftists to promote their view of an oppressive society in league with a racist media. It will be this latter charge that will take hold - the collective memory of Bush incompetence will stick while the media will pound away on the race angle for years to come.

I'd add just a couple of things: (A) I predicted exactly three weeks ago on this blog that we'd be hearing this revisionism, and that it would have some basis in truth since during anarchic times, rumors always outrun reality. (B) But, any level of violence toward rescuers has a catastrophic effect. As I wrote on September 6th:

In fact, you should expect for there to be a lot of revisionism about how the level of violence wasn't really as bad as rumor said it was. Of course, as one resident told a TV crew, if somebody shot him and left him floating, his body would swell up and it's unlikely anybody would bother looking for bullets in him when his body was found. I suspect that there won't be a strong effort made to figure out the precise cause of death of all those swollen bodies fished out of the water.

But, it's a key point borne out in many riots (such as Detroit in 1967), that violence, especially any level of sniping, has a paralyzing effect on rescue workers. Sure, rumors outrun the reality, but think about what it would be like to be a cop or fireman who is supposed to go out in a boat and rescue people. You're putting your life vest on because there's a chance that some desperate survivor in the water might pull you in. But then your wife rushes in and says there are reports of snipers shooting at rescuers, and she insists you put on your bullet-proof vest instead. But that's heavy and would drag you right down to the bottom. So, you say, screw it, I'm calling in sick.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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