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The Myths of Katrina

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Remember that terrible story about how someone in New Orleans shot at a helicopter trying to airlift sick people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? And the seven-year-old girl who was raped and killed? The stories of rampant lawlessness and rape, of gangs of thugs running amok at the Superdome?

Never happened, according to this excellent article in Reason magazine. None of it. Instead, there were inevitable rumormongering, wild- and wet-eyed journalism, and irresponsible public officials, like Mayor Ray Nagin, who predicted that there'd be 10,000 New Orleans citizens dead from the hurricane. (The actual toll—still awful, of course—was about 900 at the time Reason went to press.)

The article doesn't mention a pet peeve of mine, which I'll bet my left pinkie could fall into this category of hysteria and hype: the reports of thousands of missing children which prompted CNN, in full milk-the-hurricane-for-every-rating-point-we-can mode, to run photos of "missing" children like advertisements before a movie.

Journalists, especially those on TV, have been pretty quick to congratulate themselves for braving the wilds of post-Katrina New Orleans. The truth is that by spreading alarmist and inaccurate stories, they might have actually made the situation worse....