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Daily Howler: Applebaum falls for the pseudo-lib impulse, turning those corpses to rumors
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HOW TO GET RID OF THE CORPSES! Applebaum falls for the pseudo-lib impulse, turning those corpses to rumors: // link // print // previous // next //

THREE CHEERS FOR WINERIP: Three (more) cheers for Michael Winerip! Again, the Timesman goes straight to the heart of an issue affecting the interests of low-income school-kids—the kids to whom this site (or its successor) will soon be dedicated. (The good news: Once this site is devoted to low-income kids, pseudo-liberals can all just stop reading!) We’ll discuss Winerip’s piece in detail tomorrow. For our original work on the test scores he discusses, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/5/05—part 1 of our four-part series, “Do urban kids matter?”

HOW TO GET RID OF THE CORPSES: Anne Applebaum almost gets it right in this morning’s Post. Why were there so many “rumors” about violence in New Orleans during Katrina? It wasn’t really the media’s fault, the scribe correctly says:

APPLEBAUM (10/5/05): Where did [the rumors] come from? For once, it's really not possible to blame "the media," although naturally many have...[Sociologists] point out that the main influence on whether people believe rumors is the reliability of the sources—in this case, senior New Orleans officials. Some of the stories of infant rape came from New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. The tales of armed gangs of thugs outgunning the police in the convention center came from the New Orleans police chief, Edwin Compass. More important, both told these stories on television, to Oprah Winfrey—possibly the most trusted woman in the nation.
Last week, pseudo-liberals were eager to blame the press for reports of violence in New Orleans (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/28/05). But as we noted, it was Nagin and Compass who repeatedly offered the most hair-raising reports of Katrina-week violence. But good pseudo-libs didn’t want to blame them—so they began to type more pleasing tales.

But even Applebaum—no political liberal—falls to the pseudo-lib impulse today. As she lists discredited “rumors,” just look at a few she includes:

APPLEBAUM: [M]any did believe the other rumors: the babies being raped, the rat-gnawed corpses floating in the streets, the police officers being shot point-blank in the head, or the snipers firing at helicopters. These reports surfaced not only in mass e-mails but also on talk shows and in the press around the world. And now it seems that they were no more real than the man-eating sharks. Although investigations by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the New Orleans police and the National Guard have turned up a few bad incidents, none of the more grotesque stories of the horrors at the convention center or the Superdome can be substantiated.
How absurd has the pseudo-lib impulse become? Now we’re told that there were no corpses in the streets, and no shots at helicopters! But everybody has reported that corpses were widely seen in the streets, and no one has debunked the well-documented reports of shots being fired at rescue workers evacuating patients at Charity Hospital. For decades, absurd, inane pseudo-conservative tales have made a joke of our public discourse. Now, with Bush’s numbers starting to tank and the press corps daring to jump off the bandwagon, silly pseudo-liberal tales are starting to afflict the land too.

For the record, Jim Dwyer reported on false crime reports in last Sunday’s New York Times. But his report made much more sense than a few earlier, ballyhooed pieces. He put Chief Compass in paragraph 1—and never did blame the media:

DWYER (10/2/05): After the storm came the siege. In the days after Hurricane Katrina, terror from crimes seen and unseen, real and rumored, gripped New Orleans. The fears changed troop deployments, delayed medical evacuations, drove police officers to quit, grounded helicopters. Edwin P. Compass III, the police superintendent, said that tourists—the core of the city's economy—were being robbed and raped on streets that had slid into anarchy.

The mass misery in the city's two unlit and uncooled primary shelters, the convention center and the Superdome, was compounded, officials said, by gangs that were raping women and children.

A month later, a review of the available evidence now shows that some, though not all, of the most alarming stories that coursed through the city appear to be little more than figments of frightened imaginations, the product of chaotic circumstances that included no reliable communications, and perhaps the residue of the longstanding raw relations between some police officers and members of the public.

Dwyer never blames the media. By contrast, he quickly cites Compass and other “public officials” who offered running reports of crime. And he doesn’t pretend that there were no corpses or gunshots; “some, though not all,” of the stories were false, he says, without trying to quantify. Indeed, as he continues, he notes that a good deal of violence did occur:
DWYER (continuing directly): Beyond doubt, the sense of menace had been ignited by genuine disorder and violence that week. Looting began at the moment the storm passed over New Orleans, and it ranged from base thievery to foraging for the necessities of life.

Police officers said shots were fired for at least two nights at a police station on the edge of the French Quarter. The manager of a hotel on Bourbon Street said he saw people running through the streets with guns. At least one person was killed by a gunshot at the convention center, and a second at the Superdome. A police officer was shot in Algiers during a confrontation with a looter.

It is still impossible to say if the city experienced a wave of murder because autopsies have been performed on slightly more than 10 percent of the 885 dead.

So yes Virginia, there was “base thievery” and other violence. (For a case of “base thievery,” check the Times photo.) Dwyer goes on, in the rest of his piece, to try to separate some wheat from some chaff. There is, of course, no way to say exactly what happened in New Orleans that week. But by the way: When Compass and other public officials change their stories after the storm, that doesn’t tell us which of their accounts were more accurate. And when we’re told that reports “can’t be substantiated” (see Applebaum), that doesn’t mean that these incidents didn’t occur—although it feels good to think otherwise.

After decades of pseudo-conservative clowning, it’s sad to see the pseudo-lib impulse start to assert itself on our discourse. It would hardly be surprising if there were crime in New Orleans after public systems of order broke down; to state the obvious, that’s why we spend all that money on police departments in the first place (in New Orleans and in your home town too). But the pseudo-lib impulse would wash that away; today, we’re finally asked to believe that even those corpses were just a big rumor! But then, there’s nothing so silly that we humans won’t say it—until we train ourselves to do better. In truth, there was disorder in New Orleans that week—and today, in our long-abused discourse.

Special report—A change in the Howler!

PART 2: Will follow tomorrow. For Part 1, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/4/05. This is boring, but it needs to be done.