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Friday, September 22, 2006

The Pulitzer Prize for Deception?

 
[Postscript, 9/2/12: Tonight, Peter Brimelow just published my VDARE Katrina update, “Revising Katrina for the Age of Obama.”]

Part II of an Ongoing Series
By Nicholas Stix

New Orleans Times-Picayune reporters Brian Thevenot, Gordon Russell, Jeff Duncan and Gwen Filosa; managing editors, news, Peter Kovacs and Dan Shea; and editor Jim Amoss, are the newest winners of the Duranty-Blair Award for Journalistic Infamy, for their September 26, 2005 attempt to “untell” the story of the savage violence that befell New Orleans just before and after Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29 of last year.

In Part I, I showed some of the discrepancies between Times-Picayune reporter Brian Thevenot’s September 6, 2005 (hereafter 9/6) story depicting mayhem and murder in the New Orleans Convention Center, in the days after Katrina made landfall; the September 26, 2005 (hereafter 9/26) story that Thevenot co-authored with colleagues Gordon Russell, Jeff Duncan, and Gwen Filosa, and which claimed there had been no violence at the Convention Center or elsewhere in New Orleans; and Thevenot’s ever-changing stories through two long American Journalism Review articles and one imperious e-mail he sent to blogger Eric Scheie at Classical Values.


* * *


In 1981, Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize for a story called “Jimmy’s World,” that she had fabricated out of thin air about a non-existent eight-year-old heroin addict in Washington, DC. Eventually, Cooke was caught lying about her education, which raised doubts about her credibility as a reporter. Her bosses at the Washington Post forced her to confess to the hoax, and she resigned from the newspaper, which returned its ill-gotten Pulitzer.

In 2006, conversely, the New Orleans Times-Picayune won a Pulitzer Prize for “9/26,” in which reporters Brian Thevenot, Gordon Russell, Jeff Duncan and Gwen Filosa took the very real, already reported story of New Orleans mayhem in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and “disappeared” it, replacing it with a cover story in which there had been no violence, only massive looting and mere rumors of violence. Thevenot has also enjoyed celebrity status, based on 9/26.

For a political analogy to Thevenot’s treatment, imagine Richard Nixon’s Watergate cover-up being exposed, but instead of Nixon being forced from office, Congress had given him a standing ovation, and New York City Mayor Abe Beame, gave him a tickertape parade down Manhattan’s Canyon of Heroes.

But things are even more crooked than they so far seem. For whereas 9/6 reported National Guardsmen saying that they had seen with their own eyes 30-40 corpses warehoused in the Convention Center freezer (in addition to four sheet-covered corpses they showed Thevenot in another area), or denouncing the Guardsmen as liars, Thevenot and his 9/26 colleagues cooked up a new story entirely:

One widely circulated tale, told to The Times-Picayune by a slew of evacuees and two Arkansas National Guardsmen, held that “30 or 40 bodies” were stored in a Convention Center freezer. But a formal Arkansas Guard review of the matter later found that no soldier had actually seen the corpses, and that the information came from rumors in the food line for military, police and rescue workers in front of Harrah's New Orleans Casino, said [Lt. Col. John] Edwards, who conducted the review.


Note that the two anonymous National Guardsmen, who on 9/26 are given a new story, in 9/6 were identified as Mikel Brooks and Phillip Thompson. But in 9/6, Thevenot had also mentioned “several other Guardsmen,” none of whom he named.


Scheie vs. Thevenot

By contrast, consider “A Tale of Three Freezers,” Classical Values blogger Eric Scheie’s September 27, 2005 take on Thevenot’s portraits of the Guardsmen in his 9/6 and October/November American Journalism Review articles.

As of yesterday, Mr. Thevenot was complaining about "rumors" which led to a "widely circulated tale" about dead bodies in the freezer ….

But the two Arkansas National Guardsmen were Thevenot's sources for the "tale" he now says was based on "rumors." They were presented almost as if they were his war comrades -- the type of people who'd never lie.

Here's the AJR version of the freezer tale -- from Thevenot's "Apocalypse in New Orleans"….

[Thevenot:] “They wouldn't take me to the freezer in the next room, which they said contained 30 or 40 bodies, a figure still unconfirmed amid a swirl of urban myths churned up by the storm. ‘I ain't got the stomach for it, even after what I saw in Iraq,’ Brooks told me.

I didn't particularly need or want to see more bodies, either. I'd seen quite enough.

“I could tell Brooks had, too. I'd seen his type of agitated mannerisms before in Iraq, the soldier's mind just clicking, clicking, clicking, the mouth spewing out details of death and anarchy. The scenes of bodies would live in his head for some time. I know they'll live in mine.”

[Scheie:] Reading about scenes that will live in his head for a long time, would you get the impression that this is a tale? Or a rumor? That the reporter has been had? I wouldn't.

There's a distinct sense of being there, being led directly through the carnage, of the reporter on the scene being so horrified that the images are literally seared into his memory.

Likewise, returning to the first version (Thevenot's September 6, story, which I was gullible enough to link), one doesn't get a sense of tales or rumors, but gruesome atrocities, factually and courageously reported …

[Thevenot:] Brooks and several other Guardsmen said they had seen between 30 and 40 more bodies in the Convention Center's freezer. "It's not on, but at least you can shut the door," said fellow Guardsman Phillip Thompson.

The scene of rotting bodies inside the Convention Center reflected those in thousands of businesses, schools, homes and shelters across the metropolitan area.

[Scheie:] And now we are told that this scene -- so articulately portrayed by Thevenot, was a tale based on rumors.

I am not impressed. And I am even less impressed by the heavyhanded references to scenes of war carnage which Thevenot repeatedly invoked. It would be one thing had he limited himself to Iraq. After all, he was under stress and he'd been there. But Rwanda?

Yes. Rwanda….

[Thevenot:] But a week in post-Katrina New Orleans felt like a month in Iraq. Iraq was Iraq. This was home , suddenly plunged into a scene out of "Hotel Rwanda." We've all run out of adequate descriptors, words we couldn't believe appeared on our screens or notepads even as we wrote them: Armageddon, Bedlam, Chaos, Apocalypse, Hell.

[Scheie:] (I don't think I need to get into detail about Rwandan genocide, but Rwanda was not a place where hundreds of people died in flooding from a hurricane.)

Considering that such extreme hyperbole was based on rumors, I'm troubled by Thevenot's claim to ownership of the story:

[Thevenot:]...we've cranked out better journalism in the last two weeks than we have the last two years, and we're getting stronger every day. And Katrina remains our story to own, and we mean to own it.

[Scheie:] Well, he did write it, so I guess it's fair that he should own it.

(Story, tale, rumor, whatever.)



Rumors of Violence

Note that 9/26 used “rumor” in the sense of a lie spread by someone who claims that an unnamed person he knows, or an unnamed person who knows someone he knows, witnessed or experienced something dramatic. But as we shall see, the New Orleans “rumors” of horrific violence were based on the testimony of people, most of whom gave their names, and who claimed to have directly witnessed or endured violent crimes, or seen the corpses of people who had been shot or bludgeoned to death. Said witnesses are either telling the truth or lying, but they are most certainly not spreading “rumors.”

The 9/26 story was dishonest in its attempts to discount violence that not only had been reported by journalists from other news outlets, but which had been reported in many different stories by different reporters appearing on different days in the pages of the Times-Picayune itself.

The Times-Picayune reporters who reported on the savagery included Susan Langenhennig, Susan Finch, James Varney, and of course, Brian Thevenot. (Several other Times-Picayune dispatches on the violence carried no byline.)

For Brian Thevenot, Gordon Russell, Jeff Duncan and Gwen Filosa to have a chance at winning over a reader who has read both 9/6 and 9/26, they would have to have condemned National Guardsmen Mikel Brooks and Phillip Thompson as liars for their 9/6 claims. Not only did the reporters not do that, but in different parts of the same story (9/26), they alternately seek to impeach Brooks’ credibility without naming him, and quote him by name as a witness (see next section)!


Disappearing Crime, Times-Picayune-Style

Through a series of quotes from officials, 9/26 sets up the reader to believe that only four people – as opposed to the 34-44 reported on 9/6 – died, whether of natural or unnatural causes, at the Convention Center. The 9/26 team then seeks to shave that number down to only one “suspected” victim of violence.

Just one of the dead appeared to be the victim of foul play, said [NOPD Capt. Jeff] Winn, one of few law enforcement officers who spent any time patrolling the Convention Center before it was secured. Winn, who did the final sweep of the building, said one body appeared to have stab wounds, but he could not be sure. Baldwin also said only one of the dead appeared to have been slain, apparently referring to the same body as Winn described. Bob Johannessen, spokesman for the Department of Health and Hospitals, also confirmed just one suspected homicide at the Convention Center, though he said the victim had been shot, not stabbed. A Washington Post report quoted another soldier who concluded that three of the four people appeared to have been beaten to death, including an older woman in a wheelchair.

But Spc. Mikel Brooks [!], an Arkansas Guardsman who said he wheeled the woman's dead body into the food service entrance, said she appeared to have died of natural causes. Brooks went on to say that the woman had expired sitting next to her husband, who shocked him by asking him to bring the wheelchair back.



So, now we’re supposed to believe Spec. Brooks, even though he was utterly discredited in a different passage of the same 9/26 article.

As for NOPD captain and SWAT team leader Jeff Winn, the 9/26 team also reported his claim that in spite of “aggressively frisking” suspects in the Convention Center, his officers did not find a single weapon. In a building full of 20,000 desperate people, thousands of whom had criminal records, in America’s most violent city?

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