The plot thickens…

All the murdering and the raping in New Orleans? Mostly made up by an unscrupulous press, then disseminated widely because it was both a good story and one that fitted well with the appropriate cultural myths (chiefly, ‘blacks revert to the law of the jungle if not vigorously policed’. Popular throughout commentators on the disaster, although only people like Steve Sailer actually state it explicitly).

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23 thoughts on “The plot thickens…

  1. True, but as always such panics can tell us something about underlying power relations. At least that’s what I try to suggest here.

  2. That’s pretty depressing (the Guardian piece). The Independent on Sunday reporter said that he’d been told by the police "Don’t go near those guys: they’ll steal your cameras if given half the chance" while talking about people in the superbowl dome. The reporter and his cameraman ignored this and found, well, what you’d expect: lots of angry, tired, scared people who, surprisingly enough, had no interest in stealing cameras at all. The reporter also talked about wide-spread rumours of murder and rape, but only one or two clear stories, none of which could actually be verified…

  3. The trouble is that the popular image of America from the anti-American European left, is of an uncivilised country, where the people resort to violence at the slightest opportunity, the law of the jungle is king, where the rich are protected by their wealth, where the poor live in squallor and are neglected and hated by the state. Now for the most part this is not true, most americans i have met are not aggressive, greedy and selfish. However the events in New Orleans have only reinforced these views, I can think of nowhere else in the western world where rescuers would need to be armed. I mean, although the floods weren’t as bad, compare the actions of the authorities in New Orleans with the actions of those in Germany, Austria and Switzerland when a number of cities flooded a few years ago. Whenever I see the Americans try to organise anything a phrase involving piss ups and breweries comes to mind.

  4. However the events in New Orleans have only reinforced these views

    The media coverage of events in New Orleans, you mean? Which is a totally different thing.

  5. Andrew, and, erm, the quasi-official view of the police, the army, etc. You can’t blame this just on the media, or did you not read my comment above?

  6. Matt: Well, I was replying to Ed’s crude anti-Americanism. I don’t think the actions of a small minority of people who have been left pretty much to fend for themselves after a huge natural disaster really tell you anything about a nation as a whole.

    That said, the ‘quasi-official view of the police, the army, etc.’ that you talk about presumably came from the media, yes? And I doubt that ‘Rescue operation proceeding reasonably well, considering the circumstances; Western civilisation not descending into Hobbesian nightmare says Chief of Police’ makes that great a headline. No, reading it back – it makes a shit headline.

  7. Andrew, erm, no, I was talking about the police attitude to reporters: "Don’t go near those civilians, they’ll nick your cameras". Now, yes, of course I read that in a paper, but I tend to believe that there is a vast conspiracy by the press; they might hype, but they don’t tend to lie outright. The army/police in NO have also been shotting people dead on sight, which tends to add to impression of lawlessness; unless, again, you think the media is lying about that. Finally, I think JonnyB’s point was that while the media does hype things, the authorities can also choose not to correct the impression given by the media. This is precisely what happened in the De Menezes case (contrast to the army shooting IRA members on Gibralta, where there was a statement in parliament the next day correcting the wildly inaccurate press reports).

  8. Of course, I meant to type "I tend *NOT* to believe that there is a vst conspiracy by the press…"

    I’ll also add that the BBC has been consistently reporting that the Army/Police have been driving around, weapons raised and pointing a people, and generally behaving like they might in down-town Baghdad. It seems like the press might have hyped a few unsubstantiated stories, but the the army/police bought right into it, and started treating NO like a war zone. This gets reported by the press, and the whole cycle perpetuates. I don’t think, however, you can lay the claim purely at the doors of the press!

  9. Matt: I’m not really sure what point you’re making. I don’t think it is fair to extrapolate from the results of this disaster into critical commentary on the American psyche, political system, or social problems that may exist there. Now clearly there have been several fuck-ups in local and federal government, but that doesn’t mean that Americans in genarl are brutish, uncivilised people who can only be controlled in a panic at the end of a gun.

    My point was that the press will necessarily just tell us the bad news – good news isn’t interesting. So using the media reports of what is going on in New Orleans and the wider area isn’t really the best source to base political commentary on, particularly when, as we are seeing now, many of the initial reports turn out to be rumours reported without credible sources.

    Or to put it in a simpler way, Ed said: I can think of nowhere else in the western world where rescuers would need to be armed. Now, do you really believe that to be true? Let’s imagine a category 5 hurricane hits the UK, and floods vast swathes of the country, killing thousands. Do you think that rescuers from the army are going to come in unarmed, and hope that the ‘women and children first’ mentality will prevail?

  10. Andrew, Right, okay, yes, I fully agree! Maybe I was also arguing a bit with John’s original post. It seems to me that while the press has been hyping stuff, and only reporting the bad news, the authorities have also been singing from the same sheet. It appears, for example, that armed gangs and looting were not wide-spread, and in fact were not much worse than you might expect from general US style "gang warfare" (there are certain bits of certain US cities with a real gun-crime problem which is an order of magnitude worse than in Europe: that cannot be argued). However, the army and police seemed to massively over-react from this, and started acting like everyone in NO was a potential "insurgent" or something. I agree with you against Ed: the army in this country would most certainly be armed. But I rather think they wouldn’t instinctly start ordering people about with those guns without provocation. The BBC reported the police driving around in cars, waving guns and screaming at unarmed people and generally not helping at all. I really don’t think you can chalk that down purely to the media being biased!

    However, yes, it would be quite wrong to use NO to justify crude anti-American views, and I think this is what you’re really arguing, and in that I fully agree.

  11. it would be quite wrong to use NO to justify crude anti-American views

    Very true. You have to look at the bigger picture – at America in general – in order to justify one’s crude anti-American views.

  12. I’m amazed that if people’s first thought is ‘what naughty, uncivilised black people’ their second thought isn’t ‘For God’s sakes we shouldn’t let them have guns!’. Once you have frightened people with guns stealing things and threatening rescue workers if they don’t rescue their families then it will inevitably be harder to police than frightened people without weapons; that may be the biggest difference between US citizens in emergency situations versus Canadian or UK citizens. My guess is that media emphasis on rape etc is a combination of racial stereotyping and an effort to avoid obvious conclusions about gun control.

  13. Sarah, I’m not sure. Judging by reports I’ve read, the emphasis on rape was because lots of people who’d been in the superdome actually believed the rumours of rape. The media then interviewed these people and simply reported what they said. It’s not surprising that scared people in an overcrowded, pitch-black (at night, after the power failed) stadium, with no toilets working, would start to believe rumours like this. There is, I guess, an argument that the media should have checked the stories, and printed "rumour warnings".

  14. You misunderstand me, I did not mean to suggest that the events in New Orleans justify the opinion that all of America is a lawless hellish place. What I would say is that the events in NO have exposed almost all the negative aspects of American society at once, the racism, the extreme poverty, the aggressive individualism and ‘fight for survival’ elements of the american psyche.

    It is probably fair to say that there was a need to deploy armed forces in NO simply because of the number of guns available to american civilians, however what seemed odd is the posture of the rescuers, who seemed to be concentrating less on actual rescuing than protecting the property rights of people who had left.

    The way I see it, the US government should have done more to protect its citizens, instead it effectively ignored the problem until too late. The rich/white people from NO had the means to evacuate themselves, the government seemed to behave as though the rich people were all that mattered and the poor were left to fend for themselves. It then belatedly realises that there are people in NO who couldn’t get out and deploys its resources in NO in a heavy handed, aggressive, combat posture, rather than an aid and rescue posture, implicitly stating that the remaining population of NO were criminals and could not be trusted to behave in a rational manner. Never mind the fact that most of the looting would have been averted had there been an effective emergency plan

    I do not believe that in the event of a large natural disaster the British authorities would resort to treating everyone like criminals. I saw on the news yesterday, as the police went on a search patrol for survivors, everyone they met was made to put their hands up at gunpoint, that is not what I would call search and rescue. They also didn’t meet a single other rescue boat.

    The sheer mind boggling ameteurism of what I have seen, the fact that they seem to be completely unprepared for something which they knew was coming is what shocks me. America is the worlds most powerful nation, how did they become so powerful with such incompetent leadership?

    apologies for length

  15. To cross-post between two of John’s posts: See these:

    Senator Landrieu press-release

    German ZDF TV or Confusion

    In both cases, it appears that the relief efforts were largely "stage managed" for Bush’s visit, and then machinery was removed and workers disappeared after Bush left. This both makes Bush look bad, and it makes the US look bad to the outside world, and frankly it’s got nothing to do with media distortion…

  16. John, see this also.

    All this heat and light about ‘the crime stories are unsubstantiated’ is perplexing, as New Orleans has always been a very very violent city (I pointed out here that it’s murder rate is 22 times higher than London’s), so it would be odd for there not to have been violence, considering how much there is ordinarily, and the fact that the police command structure basically collapsed in the aftermath. Certainly some of the more outlandish stories will probably turn out to be untrue, but I don’t think you should invest too much in Gary Younge’s ‘unsubstantiated stories – paranoid whitey!’ line.

  17. Pearsall – while I suspect Gary Younge isn’t entirely likely to be a king of honesty, I trust his reporting more than NewsMax (ake The Right Wing Propaganda Channel). The local piece, while I’m sure it’s well-meant rather than outright black-hating, still only features the vile murder/rape bits as unsubstantiated anecdote rather than something the writer has observed.

  18. John, I got the impression from the local article that the journalist was with the Guardsman as they walked around the convention center and that the journalist did at least see some of the bodies.

  19. There is a difference between seeing a body and establishing a coroner’s verdict of unlawful killing, though.

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