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November 25, 2005
Another Katrina Media Myth Bites The Bullet

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times reports that another myth of the Katrina hurrican and its aftermath has been exposed. The infamous "snipers on the bridge" incident that supposedly kept relief contractors from rescuing helpless victims turns out to have been a media-fueled urban legend, according to witnesses. The "five or six" snipers taken out by the police department turns out to be two, and one of those was a mentally-handicapped man whose only venture out of his house in years apparently came out of desperation for food:

Even in the desperate days after Hurricane Katrina, the news flash seemed particularly sensational: Police had caught eight snipers on a bridge shooting at relief contractors. In the gun battle that followed, officers shot to death five or six of the marauders.

Exhausted and emotionally drained police cheered the news that their comrades had stopped the snipers and suffered no losses, said an account in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. One officer said the incident showed the department's resolve to take back the streets.

But nearly three months later and after repeated revisions of the official account of the incident and a lowering of the death toll to two authorities said they were still trying to reconstruct what happened Sept. 4 on the Danziger Bridge. And on the city's east side, where the shootings occurred, two families that suffered casualties are preparing to come forward with stories radically different from those told by police.

A teenager critically wounded that day, speaking about the incident for the first time, said in an interview that police shot him for no reason, delivering a final bullet at point-blank range with what he thought was an assault rifle. Members of another family said one of those killed was mentally disabled, a childlike innocent who made a rare foray from home in a desperate effort to find relief from the flood.

The two families one from New Orleans East and solidly middle class, the other poorer and rooted in the Lower 9th Ward have offered only preliminary information about what they say happened that day. Large gaps remain in the police and civilian accounts of the incident.

News of the Danziger Bridge shootings roared across cable television for a time. But as with many overblown reports of crime and violence immediately after the hurricane, the facts remain elusive.

The LA Times has done some excellent reporting on the backstories of all the myths that we got fed during the Katrina hysteria: toxic flood waters, cannibalism, armed gangs raping and pillaging at will throughout the city. It seems now that almost everything the Exempt Media reported during the catastrophe either got exaggerated or never happened at all. This case seems particularly disturbing, as it served to rehabilitate the New Orleans PD in a time when their performance created serious questions about their leadership.

The Times reviews the details, such as can be established, of the Danziger Bridge incident. It's still not clear exactly what happened, but it seems clear that vigilantes did not shoot at relief workers in any organized attempt to claim turf for gangsters. That hysterical reporting only served to keep volunteers out of areas where their help could have been used to assist victims desperate for such assistance, and to make the local authorities appear more competent than they were about status on the ground in the city.

A week after Katrina passed through the Gulf, the media went out of its way to give itself a pat on the back for its coverage of the catastrophe, including allowing their emotion to guide their news processes. The string of urban legends they spawned give a much better clue to their utterly vapid performance.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 25, 2005 9:00 AM

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