Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Always respond with doubt

Since the Monday that Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, rumors have flown about life in the Superdome, car jackings in towns serving as refugee safe havens, increased drug activity and burgalaries, rapes, killings and more.

Rumors included:
  • On Sept. 1, with desperate Hurricane Katrina evacuees crammed into the convention center, Police Chief Eddie Compass reported: 'We have individuals who are getting raped; we have individuals who are getting beaten.' Five days later, he told Oprah Winfrey that babies were being raped.
  • On the same show, Mayor Ray Nagin warned: 'They have people standing out there, have been in that frickin' Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people.'
  • The ugliest reports - children with slit throats, women dragged off and raped, corpses piling up in the basement - soon became a searing image of post-Katrina New Orleans.
  • The stories were told by residents trapped inside the Superdome and convention center and were repeated by public officials. Many news organizations, including The Associated Press, carried the witness accounts and official pronouncements, and in some cases later repeated the claims as fact, without attribution.
After re-examination of the reports and facts, police are "finding that many of them have little or no basis in fact ... They have no official reports of rape and no eyewitnesses to sexual assault. The state Department of Health and Hospitals counted 10 dead at the Superdome and four at the convention center. Only two of those are believed to have been murdered."

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