We all know that truth is the first casualty of war. And during the flooding of New Orleans in late August and early September, we often heard descriptions of the Crescent City as a war zone. So, as the murky waters from Hurricane Katrina recede, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that much of what we were told during those horrible days simply wasn’t so.
If, like me, you were glued to the tube for much of that horrible week, you knew that armed gangs had the run of the Morial Convention Center. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people were dying in the shelter of last resort at the Louisiana Superdome. Rape, even of children, was rampant. Snipers were firing on rescue helicopters and emergency vehicles.
If all you know is what you see on TV, you still believe those stories. But if you had the determination to stick with the Katrina story all the way through September, as it receded to the back pages, you eventually learned that none of the facts in my second paragraph were true. And even then, if you’re out in the boondocks of a minor media market, you had to wait for the word to seep through via the Internet.
So it was that I didn’t realize how much Katrina rumor and hyperbole had entered the hard news stream until late October, when the online news daily Salon published a detailed accounting by Aaron Kinney. For instance, as Kinney tells it, the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a story on Sept. 6 reporting that National Guardsmen had seen 30 or 40 bodies in the convention center’s walk-in freezer. A guardsman was reported to say that one of the bodies was a 7-year-old girl with her throat cut.