Wednesday, August 30, 2006

New Orleans Times-Picayune Reporters, Editors Win Duranty-Blair Award for Journalistic Infamy

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

By Nicholas Stix

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. The award’s previous winner was former CBS News producer Mary Mapes, who engineered what became known as the “Memogate” (aka Rathergate) hoax, shortly before the 2004 election, in an effort to swing the election toward Democrat challenger, Sen. John Kerry.

The Duranty-Blair Award is named for two of the most notorious characters in the history of journalism, Walter Duranty and Jayson Blair, both of whom were New York Times reporters. (See Jayson Blair I, II, and III.)

Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his feckless work as Stalin’s patsy, covering for the “iron man’s” tyranny and genocide, while Duranty was the Times’ Moscow bureau chief. Blair, a charming but incompetent affirmative action hire who already had a highly questionable past, wrote a series of stories in which he variously fabricated facts out of thin air, or plagiarized legitimate stories from reporters at other newspapers. After Blair resigned in disgrace from the Times, he was rewarded with a six-figure book deal for Burning Down My Masters' House: A Personal Descent Into Madness That Shook the New York Times (the title may be a play on Volunteer Slavery, by black former Washington Post staffer Jill Nelson).

Thanks primarily to the new Duranty-Blair winners, one year after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the general public knows less about what happened in New Orleans, that it did in early September of last year.

The two most influential stories on post-Katrina New Orleans were both by reporters at the Times-Picayune, the city’s only major newspaper.

In the September 6 article, “Bodies found piled in freezer at Convention Center,” Times-Picayune reporter Brian Thevenot wrote of visiting a room containing four corpses covered in sheets, and of the Guardsmen who accompanied him, reporting that 30-40 additional corpses were warehoused in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center’s blacked-out freezer.

“[Mikel] 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.”

Thevenot’s article caused a national sensation.

(In a featured article by Thevenot in the October/November 2005 American Journalism Review, “Apocalypse in New Orleans,” he repeated his most dramatic stories.)

Apparently realizing after the September 6 story that they had violated the taboo against presenting black folks behaving badly, and/or because Times-Picayune staffers remembered, ‘Hey, we’ve got to live here,’ the newspaper literally reversed course, and “untold” the story it had broken.

Unlike Superman, however, the Times-Picayune staffers could not reverse time by flying against the Earth’s axis, at speeds greater than the speed of light, so they had to be more creative.

In a September 26 story, “Rumors of deaths greatly exaggerated; Widely reported attacks false or unsubstantiated; 6 bodies found at Dome; 4 at Convention Center,” four Times–Picayune reporters claimed to have followed up on the most dramatic stories, including Thevenot’s September 6 story, and shown them all to be based on wild “rumors.” This story caused a new, reverse national sensation.

The claims of the September 26 story notwithstanding, a great many of the reports of violence were based on eyewitness and victim reports.

Nowhere in the 3,383-word September 26 story, did the reporters admit that it was their own colleague, Brian Thevenot, who had written the Convention Center corpse story (or that it was a Times-Picayune story at all), or that Thevenot had written that the National Guard troops he had interviewed in the Convention Center had said they had seen the dozens of corpses they spoke of. Indeed, had anyone spoken of merely having “heard of” mountains of corpses, the story would not have had the power to shock.

The September 26 story was reported by none other than Brian Thevenot, and co-written by Gordon Russell, with contributions from staffers Jeff Duncan and Gwen Filosa.

(Brian Thevenot did not respond to an October 11 e-mail from this writer asking him to explain the conflicts between his September 6 and September 26 stories. On October 3, blogger Eric Scheie had reported that Thevenot responded to his e-mail asking the same question by insisting that he had publicly retracted his September 6 story. However, at the time, neither Schneie nor I could find any such public retraction.)

The September 26 story claimed, among other things, to be rebutting a “rumor” that 200 corpses were piled up at the Convention Center. I believe that that example functioned as a straw man for Thevenot, et al., to “debunk” the truth about the New Orleans violence.

(In a second revisionist story, “Myth-Making in New Orleans,” Thevenot “refuted” another “rumor,” according to which 300 corpses were warehoused in “Marion Abramson High School in Eastern New Orleans.” But to my knowledge, at the time, that rumor also never made it to the national media, and thus had no influence on national perceptions of New Orleans.

The mainstream national media immediately began uncritically promoting the new Times-Picayune story, just as they had uncritically promoted the old story. Socialists, libertarians, and neo-conservatives, albeit for different reasons, found the story useful. (See also here.)

Thevenot, who is white, was rewarded for his efforts with the 2006 “Award for Valor Courageous Humanitarian Deeds,” from NAMME, the National Association of Minority Media Executives, at NAMME’s April 27 “Celebration of Diversity” Awards banquet.

In “Who’s Killing New Orleans?,” in the Autumn 2005 issue of City Journal, Nicole Gelinas provided, to my knowledge, the most comprehensive refutation of the Times-Picayune’s revised (September 26), official story.

“The New York Times’s own Dan Barry, a longtime metro columnist with no history of lying, hallucinating, or repeating tall tales, witnessed the corpse of a murder victim that had been lying out for days smack in the middle of New Orleans’s central business district. ‘A Louisiana state trooper around the corner knew all about it: murder victim, bludgeoned, one of several in that area,’ Barry wrote on September 8.”

Gelinas also cited and quoted from stories from the Associated Press, New York Times, Weekly Standard, and, again and again, the Times-Picayune itself (August 30 and 31, and September 1, 7, and 8).

The stories detailed corpses seen by reporters in the streets of New Orleans from shootings and bludgeonings; people shot dead by police officers; one policeman who survived being shot in the head by a looter; a gang rape witnessed by Jake Staples, an official of the National D-Day Museum; of gunmen who randomly shot at displaced families trudging across town; the experiences of Vinnie Pervel, who was assaulted with a sledgehammer and carjacked one day, and who watched as two neighbors shot two looters the next (as reported in the September 7 Times-Picayune) afternoon; of civilians and police alike facing or hearing constant gunfire.

Thevenot & Co. have claimed that the widely reported stories of shots being fired at rescue workers, which held up the rescue, were also based on mere rumors. However, his own newspaper reported on September 7 that a man was arrested for “shooting at a relief helicopter from an apartment window.” First-responders Dr. Charles Burnell and paramedic Toby Bergeron, who were “tending to the sick and wounded” inside the Superdome, were reported by Ellen Barry, Scott Gold and Stephen Braun, in the September 2 Los Angeles Times (“New Orleans Slides into Chaos; US Scrambles to Send Troops”) as having said “several gunshots were fired at helicopters - military and commercial - during the 24 hours they spent treating refugees at the Superdome.” The Los Angeles Times also reported, “Stray gunshots and threats from evacuees led some rescuers to suspend boat searches along New Orleans’ swollen waterways. ‘In areas where our employees have been determined to potentially be in danger, we have pulled back,’ confirmed Russ Knocke, Department of Homeland Security spokesman.”

Considering the many eyewitness reports by first-responders, journalists on the scene, and officials of snipers firing on the predominantly white folks who sought to help the people left behind – doctors, nurses, and medics; rescue workers in helicopters and boats; contractors visiting the levee to survey the damage; and National Guard troops – the Times-Picayune’s attempt to rewrite history is obscene. One recalls the comedy routine by the late Richard Pryor, who when his wife had caught him in bed with another woman, shouted, “Who are you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?!”

The more decent and honest thing for the newspaper to do would have been to disprove the real lies spread by racist blacks who have charged whites with “genocide.”

As Nicole Gelinas wrote in the Fall 2005 City Journal,

The coroner’s early report implies that the murder rate among those stranded in Katrina’s aftermath was at least five times New Orleans’s normal murder rate [i.e., fifty times the national rate]. This real, not imagined, violence prevented New Orleans from getting the level of volunteer and professional help it needed after Katrina.

(And as Gelinas emphasized, in speaking of a “culture of murder,” savage levels of violence were already the rule in “NOLA,” before Katrina made landfall.)

In the weeks after the Times-Picayune’s September 26 article was published, ever more outraged New Orleans crime victims and witnesses came forward from all over the country, to denounce the published crime numbers, as did first-responders who had treated some victims in the Superdome, but who were forced to flee after only 24 hours. By mid-December, even NOPD officials were forced to back down from the phony crime numbers (e.g., only four rapes!) they had brazenly peddled following the anarchy, as dozens of since displaced women reported from around the country having been raped in New Orleans and environs in the days immediately following Katrina.

Another blow to the mainstream media’s revised, official Katrina story came on November 14, when reports on New Orleans’ dead were published by the State of Louisiana. The mainstream media had promoted the notion that those who suffered in the Hurricane’s aftermath were almost exclusively black. After all, over 90 percent of those stuck in the city were reportedly black, with the blacks predominantly stuck in the Ninth Ward and environs, where the levees had been breached. And the whites who remained reportedly lived above sea level on dry land, in the city’s tonier precincts. One was given to expect that the dead would be virtually all black. But in fact,

Of the 562 bodies (out of 883) that had so far been identified by race, 48 percent (267) were “African American,” 41 percent (230) were “Caucasian,” eight percent (48) were “unknown,” 2 percent (13) were “Hispanic,” 1 percent (3) were “Native American,” and zero percent (1) was “other.”

Photojournalist-fraud Adnan Hajj notwithstanding, journalists don’t need “photoshop” or any other new technology, in order to foist hoaxes on the world. Words alone will usually do just fine.

In the world of comic books, Superman’s father, Jor-El, gave the former a piece of advice regarding the reversing of time that reporters would do well to follow: “It is forbidden for you to interfere in human history.”

But they never learn.

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