One of the most shocking things for me over the past week has been the extent of the demonization and dehumanization of the black and poor of New Orleans, even in the middle of the direst of tragedies.
The US media constantly played up and fed the wildest rumors of violence, looting, and rioting, never bothering to check, never correcting when they gave false information, and rarely pausing to give a balanced assessment of situation.
The Guardian has a damning article. It ends with this vignette, which summarizes things well:
Similarly when the first convoy of national guardsmen went into New Orleans approached the convention centre they were ordered to "lock and load".
But when they arrived they were confronted not by armed mobs but a nurse wearing a T-shirt that read "I love New Orleans".
"She ran down a broken escalator, then held her hands in the air when she saw the guns," wrote the LA Times.
"We have sick kids up here!" she shouted.
"We have dehydrated kids! One kid with sickle cell!"
More after the flip.
There were repeated rumors of all sorts of violent and murderous activities, but always third-hand accounts. As Honore said, journalists could attest they were free to go anywhere without being accosted. Sean Penn was going around on his boat picking up people without being shot at. There a few substantiated cases, like the officer who was shot at and wounded by a criminal on Tuesday, and five or six people who were who shot and killed by the police yesterday in unclear circumstances (according to a radio report I heard only one of them was armed).
The Guardian doesn't pull punches about it, although I'm not sure they're right about whether it hastened relief, or instead delayed it by keeping many resources away until the Guard could 'secure' the Superdome:
Reports of the complete degradation and violent criminals running rampant in the Superdome suggested a crisis that both hastened the relief effort and demonised those who were stranded.
But, even in the Superdome, which was in fact a nightmare of hunger, dehydration, and rampant disease, most of the stories of violence appear to have been unsubstantiated:
There were two babies who had their throats slit. The seven-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in the Superdome. And the corpses laid out amid the excrement in the convention centre.
In a week filled with dreadful scenes of desperation and anger from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina some stories stood out.
But as time goes on many remain unsubstantiated and may yet prove to be apocryphal.
New Orleans police have been unable to confirm the tale of the raped child, or indeed any of the reports of rapes, in the Superdome and convention centre.
New Orleans police chief Eddie Compass said last night: "We don't have any substantiated rapes. We will investigate if the individuals come forward."
And 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.
The UK has the Guardian, we have the NY Times. What a joke. Why can't the US market support at least one, just one, mildly progressive national newspaper?